Check this out for a day or so. Keep asking yourself: ‘Is this chair entirely comfortable, entirely uncomfortable – or is it really something between? Is that person completely attractive, completely repulsive, or again, something between?’ You will soon discover that it is too black and white to see anything as totally good or totally bad.
The same applies to people. Making mistakes is what humans do. You are a human being – so, surely, you would expect to make mistakes? Why, then, do you think you should never get anything wrong? This is like elevating yourself to the status of a supernatural being.
Mistakes are necessary for growth and development. When you stop making them, you stop learning. Remember, too, that one mistake is no reason for totally giving up on something. If you ate an item on your diet’s forbidden list, you do not have to abandon the whole diet. Learn what you can from the mistake, then carry on.
Remember, too, that you can accept yourself no matter what your performance. Question the myth that to be ‘worthy’ you have to match up to some universal standard. What standard are you using? Who set it? Anyway, why do you have to be ‘worthy’ – as opposed to just accepting yourself regardless of your performance or achievements?
I am not suggesting you reject any idea of improving yourself. Far from it. But you can set out to improve on specific aspects – for example, your appearance, parenting skills, or whatever – while still accepting the total you.
Also, self-acceptance does not depend on how others see you. Most people will not think badly of you for making mistakes. But even if they did, you are still the same person as you were before. Their views do not magically change you into something else.
As we saw earlier, people with perfectionistic tendencies often fear that if they let up they will become mediocre or their lives disorganised and chaotic. But this is just an illusion. For such a person to become disorganised, they would have to deliberately try. If you unbend a little, the most that is likely to happen is you approach things somewhat more realistically.
Note that perfectionism, anyway, leads to inefficiency. There is a time management principle known as the 80/20 rule which illustrates this. You achieve 80% of the value of a task in the first 20% of the time spent on it. The other 20% of value takes up the other 80% of the time. If you were smart, you would settle for doing five tasks to an 80% level (a total gain of 400%) instead of only one task to a 100% level. This illustrates the common paradox of demanding – thinking that you should or must achieve perfection will often reduce your performance!
To summarise, here is a list of questions to ask when disputing perfectionistic beliefs:
Is perfection really possible?
What are the advantages of striving for the ultimate?
If there are any, are they worth the hassle?
Does it help me achieve more – or does it lead to inefficiency?
Am I enjoying what I am doing – or am I only concerned with the outcome?
What evidence is there that life will fall apart if I drop my standards? Would it be any worse than it is now – or would it be a little better?
How does behaving less than perfectly make me ‘unworthy’ or a ‘failure’?
Perfectionism is a way of thinking