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Hey there! Did you know that perfectionism is closely linked to anxiety? Yikes. If you’re like me, you probably catch yourself trying to be perfect pretty often. And other times, you don’t even notice you’re doing it. So, how can you recognize the signs that you’re trying to be perfect? And what do you do when you notice them? Let’s talk about it!
You know the feeling – you’re deep into an important project at work. You’re concentrating, working hard and staring at your laptop (probably not blinking), feeling so much pressure to get everything done well. Perfectly well. Your brain might feel zapped, you have a huge imaginary weight on your shoulders, and you keep pushing yourself till the end.
Or maybe you’re at home expecting dinner guests at any minute. And you’re running around trying to make your house spotless before anyone arrives. You feverishly wipe down a counter for the third time, then run to the couch to refold a blanket.
I’m totally not speaking from experience or anything.
Sometimes when you’re trying to be perfect, you think about a certain situation or person over and over again.
For example, do you stay up all night obsessing about work? That one email you didn’t send, something you said that was “wrong,” that meeting you wished had gone differently?
Another example would be in social situations. Do you ever find yourself repeating a certain social interaction over and over again in your head and critiquing yourself?
For me, sometimes I can totally lose myself obsessing about things that happened earlier that day or week and picking myself apart.
Such as one time where I told my friend that she didn’t seem comfortable in her relationship and that I thought she should relax. At the time, she responded and said, “I am, don’t worry!” And that was the end of the topic. Everyone moved on and we kept laughing and having a good time.
But then that night when I went home, I started obsessing about it. What if she thought I was being judgmental? What if she thought I was a bitch or looking down on her??? Oh God maybe she wouldn’t be my friend anymore!
Oh yes, my friends. I spiraled over a tiny interaction that no one but me ever thought of again. I even apologized to her the next day and she had no clue what I was talking about.
When you start obsessing, it can be pretty difficult to stop. But rather than stay stuck in your head, there are a few things you can do instead.
For me, I tell my husband pretty much everything. Whenever I’m obsessing, he’s really good at stopping me in my tracks. He also helps me rationalize my thinking and helps pull me out of my spiral.
So, try to talk to someone you’re close to about the situation. It’ll help you calm down and get an outside perspective. The chances are that you’re going overboard and just need some new eyes on the topic.
Another thing you can do is to literally walk away from the situation and take a break. Sometimes at my last job I would obsess about things in my head and drive myself crazy. So, I would just take a break and go to the bathroom or a little stroll around the building. Stepping away can help you gain literal space and give your brain a break.
Another great option is to write it down. Just spill everything out onto paper. However, it’s important to be completely detached to what you’re writing. If you internalize the things you write down, it might make things worse.
How do I know? Oh, um…it’s happened to me. More than a few times. To avoid getting attached to what I’m writing, I imagine that all my spiral-y thoughts are spilling out of my brain, down through my arm, and out of my hand onto the paper. Sometimes I don’t even look back and read it. I just close the journal or rip up the page and move on.
While there are a lot of reasons we procrastinate, one sign that you’re trying to be perfect is that you avoid starting a project entirely.
As a content writer, I’ll avoid writing intimidating articles or projects because they just seem too big for me. I subconsciously tell myself that I can never reach that non-existent bar of perfection, so I never start at all.
One thing I like to do is to break my projects down into smaller pieces that I know I can accomplish. When you make teeny, tiny steps, it doesn’t seem as intimidating.
Also, I try to be as realistic with myself as possible when doing this.
For instance, if I wanted to eat healthier, the perfectionist in me would try and cut sugar 100%. But for me, I know that I go super crazy when I try to stop eating sugar altogether. Instead, I would try to eat fruit instead of sweets at night, then let myself eat a few more sugary treats on the weekends.
You can also spread out the steps over time.
For example, if I have to paint the entire inside of my house, I could break it down into doable phases. The first to-do would be to wipe down the walls. Then I would schedule a day to run to Home Depot. After that I could schedule a day to tape the edges off. From there, I start painting one room at a time.
Yes, it takes much longer. But it’s better to take a long time to do something than to never do it at all, right?
And all along the way, make sure to give yourself a pat on the back for your accomplishments!
If you catch your inner voice being a big fat meanie, chances are that you’ve been trained to try and be perfect. Thoughts like, why did you do that, or, did I really just say that, or even outright, I’m such a f*cking idiot, are all the voices of perfectionism.
Working on your inner dialogue is the best way to curb perfectionism. And the good news? You’re 100% in charge of this! You’re totally the key to making your inner mental space a place that you’re happy to be.
The very first thing to do when you notice you’re being self-critical is to catch yourself. Even just the fact of noticing these degrading thoughts will help you stop them eventually.
If you just thought, you’re so stupid, you can start to question it. “Am I really stupid? Is what I said actually that stupid?” Chances are that it wasn’t. You’re a legitimate person, and you have the right to say what you think.
Or maybe it was stupid! But guess what? Everyone says stupid things. So, give yourself a break and know you’re only human.
My inner voice can be super mean and aggressive. I’ve actually had to work on my inner dialogue with a professional therapist, and it’s helped me so much. I’ve learned to call that inner, mean voice “the Blob.”
And whenever I catch that voice running its mouth, I try to minimize it and take its power away. Not today, Blobby. No thanks. I hear you, but that’s totally not true. Or, Blob you’re sooo funny. K, go away now.
Improving your inner dialogue takes a long time, but once you start doing it you’ll begin to feel much better about yourself. And maybe you’ll even let yourself off the hook of perfectionism.
One of the strongest signs that I’m trying to be perfect is that I get a ball of stress in my stomach. It feels like I have a huge knot at the point where my ribcage meets, just below my breast bone.
Another sign is that I start getting an eye twitch. You know, one of those annoying twitches that just won’t stop. And you can’t stop noticing it, either. For the love of God, won’t it just stop already?!
Side note, my eye is totally twitching as I’m typing this. I want this article to be perfect ha! I’m still a recovering perfectionist, so what can ya do?
So, a lot of people have different physical signals that they’re pushing themselves way too far into perfectionism. Try to pay attention to how you feel when you’re overly stressed and keep track of the signs. That way, when they start popping up you can take a step back.
Since the physical signs vary from person to person, the solution will be different for everyone. However, here are a few things you can try to apply to yourself.
Taking some deep breaths can really bring your stress levels down. And there are actually nerves in your belly that if you breathe deeply, they send a signal to your brain that everything is alright
Whenever I feel that knot in my stomach, I take a second. Then I take some big, deep breaths from my diaphragm. I’ll also send all my breath to the knot.
If I have time and am able to, I’ll also follow along with this video for breathing. It’s five minutes and I always feel calmer afterward (FYI it’s in French but you just have to follow the ball).
Our bodies are pretty smart, and they give us signs when something is off. So, when I get a stress signal like the eye twitch, I try to say thank you to it.
This is because when you’re thankful for it, then you can connect to it and try to understand where it’s coming from. From there, you can start noticing the perfectionism.
Being a perfectionist isn’t fun, and it can lead to a lot of stress and anxiety. Luckily, there are a lot of ways to recognize it. From there, you can start to take steps to dissolve it and learn new habits.
What are some of your personal signs that you’re trying to be perfect? Let me know in the comments below!
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