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Three Antidotes to Perfectionism

(Guest Blog Contributor: Cecilia Culverhouse)

Perfectionism hounds many of us on the healing journey. Even as we heal, an inner critical voice continues to say that we are “not enough”. We may react to it by loving, parenting, partnering, meditating, working, and exercising more, longer, and smarter, believing that this approach will make things turn better. Yet, the harder we drive ourselves to get it right, the further find ourselves from feeling how we want to feel and having our life look how we want it to look.

The drive to get it right, to be perfect, is hardwired – and – like many self-defeating mental patterns, you can change it. Its psychological and evolutionary roots will remain in our subconscious. However, we can plant on top of them. A self-accepting and compassionate way of being, thinking, and acting that fills us up and brings inner peace can grow roots on top of dormant perfectionism, sprout and grow up in the sunlight of our spirit.

It takes time for self-acceptance and compassion to take root and grow over the roots of perfectionism. To start and aid in this process here are three simple practices, three antidotes to perfectionism. If you practice them regularly and consistently they, coupled with healing work, will transform self-criticism to self-acceptance.

Lower the bar.

Instead of setting the bar for work, home, creative time, romance, and fun at 15 feet, set it at 5 feet. Or, to set yourself up to win, set it a foot and a half. That way you can step, rather than vault yourself, over it. What might this look like? Say you decide that next month, you’ll work out for an hour six days a week. You tell yourself you need to do this to loose weight and to look and feel like you used to. Instead, what about lowering the bar and working out for 35-minutes three days a week?

If this sounds like giving up, you’re right. It is. It’s giving up unrealistic expectations. Because the higher we hang the bar of expectations, the deeper we fill the well of self-loathing and resentment.

In reality, lowering the bar allows for something greater than our own will power to work through us. And, paradoxically, when we lower the bar we, and the people in our lives can meet our expectations more easily and more often. It feels good to be disappointed less often. Actually, it feels really good.

Take in the good, especially your accomplishments.

Humans are evolutionarily hardwired to focus on the negative internally and externally. In Hardwiring for Happiness psychologist and author Rick Hanson explains that this negativity bias evolved over two million years as our nervous systems evolved as a way to ensure our survival. Perfectionism is a reaction to this evolutionary bias. We feel fear or another difficult emotion and our limbic system registers it as a threat. Then we react unconsciously by trying to control other people, our surroundings, and ourselves.

Good news though – although we are hardwired for negativity, we can re-wire our minds for self-acceptance and positivity. One way is by taking in the good. What is “good” in your life may be different from what is good in another person’s life. Here are some examples though: You took your first yoga class after months of recovering from an injury. You paid your student loans this month. You participated in your first healing retreat. You baked cupcakes for your child’s birthday. You got a new job or side-hustle that you like. You supported a friend going through a rough time.

There is so much good in our lives. Taking it in is a simple practice. When something good happens, pause for two minutes to feel the sensations of good in your body. Start by grounding yourself by feeling into your feet, legs, and back – or other places in your body that feel solid and neutral. Then feel the sensation of this good event or accomplishment. Does it feel soft and warm in your belly? Is your jaw relaxing?

By pausing to feel the sensations of good each time we accomplish something, however small it may feel to you or something good happens in your life, you can shift your internal voice from demanding to accepting.

Check in with trusted person in your inner circle.

Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little. Together, we can do so much.” Perfectionism grows in isolation. While it can be hard to get together with a trusted family member, friend, mentor, and community in wintry weather, they are only a text or call away. So, when you notice that your mind is being critical to you, and whatever you do is not enough, pick up the phone and reach out to a trusted friend. Let it be someone who supports you and who does not go along with your perfectionism’s story. Let this friend know what stories the perfectionism is telling you. And, while it may be really uncomfortable, ask for what you need: for them to comfort you, to call you out on the perfectionism’s stories, to meet you for a coffee so you can get out of your house.

Reaching out to our people, even our most trusted friends, sponsors, mentors, and family members, takes vulnerability. Perfectionism tells us that we are separate. Vulnerability shows us that we are all human, and interdependent.

Lowering the bar, taking in the good, and checking in with a trusted person are simple antidotes that will soften perfectionism and strengthen self-acceptance. To get started with these practices, pick one, maybe two, practices and practice them for two weeks. Observe how you feel and think. Watch too, if you can practice lightly, without making it a “to-do.” And, if you forget, simply begin again. No judgment. Just begin.

Guest Blog Contributor: Cecilia Culverhouse

Cecilia Culverhouse is a spiritual practitioner, meditator, and recovering perfectionist who lives with her family in San Francisco. She coaches and teaches people managers about healthy working relationships and social intelligence. Cecilia also blogs about mindful parenting, and writes for spirituality and mindfulness blogs like Elephant Journal.

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