Do you have a long-standing relationship with perfectionism? Is there something new you want to try, yet the thought of putting yourself out there before you have perfected it seems impossible?
Are you afraid that when you start at the bottom of the learning curve and perform in front of others, the thought of them judging you or being disappointed in you prevents you from moving forward?
I, too, have struggled with these thoughts, particularly when they create barriers to what I want to achieve and who I want to become.
I can relate to Brene Brown’s description of perfectionism: “It is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance.”
Perfectionism doesn’t seem as appealing when viewed through this lens, especially when it can be exhausting carrying around what we think will protect us but is really holding us back.
Wouldn’t it be liberating to lay down that shield, cease from trying to earn approval and acceptance through performance, and take flight instead?
Over the last handful of years, I have had dreams of developing my professional speaking and training skills, and more recently, starting this blog. As I thought about embarking on each endeavor, I felt a mixture of excitement and fear.
Fear and negative self-talk seemed insurmountable at times, yet I knew I needed to push through or my dreams of who I wanted to become would not become a reality. Here are seven practices I’ve used to overcome perfectionism when I am learning something new.
How can we overcome perfectionism?
Show up. Regularly. Even when fear is present
Anytime we start something new that stretches us past our comfort zone, it can be terrifying and debilitating. We can think of many excuses for not showing up to something that stretches us. Yet showing up regularly is the only way to get closer to what we want to achieve. Having a vision of who we want to become that is stronger than our fear will prompt us to push through.
Set a realistic goal and incremental steps
To prevent us from giving in to our fears, set a realistic deadline and then work backwards to break down the steps needed to accomplish the goal. The clincher is to tell someone else about the goal. This makes it more real in our minds. Also, ask them to be an accountability partner. It increases the likelihood we will follow through.
Seek help from trusted individuals
We may feel more comfortable learning something new when no one else is around to witness our imperfections. However, there are those we know and trust who may be highly skilled in what we are trying to learn. Seek out a trustworthy colleague or friend who will share their knowledge and provide input on our progress. This will allow us to more rapidly apply needed adjustments and thus speed up our learning process.
Overcome fear of disappointing others
This fear can seem difficult to overcome, yet it is a vital component in moving forward. We will never be able to please everyone, especially when we are learning something new. It is vital we start somewhere…anywhere and remember that no matter how bad our start is, “the essence of our value is safe” (Deborah Hurwitz). It is important to remind ourselves we are human, with flaws, like everyone else, and to give ourselves some grace during our learning process even if we may not receive it from others.
Quiet the negative self-talk
We are our worst critics most of the time. Our thoughts can be so self-critical that the barriers they create seem as insurmountable as a brick wall. It is at those times we need to be mindful of what we are saying to ourselves and reframe our conversation.
Become more mindful of the negative thoughts that cause us to spiral and think more realistically about what can happen if we move forward in trying something new. It can help us to see that the threshold is not as big as we thought.
I remember when I entered a speech contest and worked myself into a tizzy about all the ways I could mess up. I stopped my thoughts mid-stream and told myself that it was only a five-minute speech and if I wanted to grow as a speaker, I could get through it.
Find a safe environment
It makes a world of difference when we can grow in an environment where it is safe to take risks and make mistakes. It is also the best place to test our old ways of thinking and see if they are still true or if they need to be discarded.
Finding a place where we are accepted for where we are in our development, acknowledged for our progress, and encouraged to continue moving forward can help us to overcome perfectionism.
Understand experts weren’t always experts
It is encouraging when listening to experts in their field speak about their experience when they started. They confess they weren’t good at what they did. However, over time they kept at it and continued to improve.
The key was that they never gave up and continued to put themselves out there in front of others as they learned. They kept going because they learned how to recover. If they can do this and thrive, so can we.
It is reassuring to know that with practice, we can begin to free ourselves from our long-standing relationship with perfectionism.
With each step we take we become more of who we were truly meant to be, and fear and negative self-talk begin to lose their power. It is then that we begin to share our uniqueness with the world and truly take flight.
The world needs our uniqueness.
Let’s get ready for the journey!
Let’s start a conversation!
How has perfectionism prevented you from moving forward?
How can you apply one of the practices to your learning journey?
What additional practices have you used to overcome perfectionism when you are learning something new?