Here’s the thing about perfectionism: It’s a good thing, until it’s not. I consider myself to be a “recovering perfectionist,” in that I’m starting to let go of the chokehold high standards and perpetual dissatisfaction – and in true ex-perfectionist style, I now focus on my victories instead of my (millions of) flaws. One of my biggest flaws: At 30, I still don’t have one healthy habit in place. Seriously, not one. Why? Because I’ve allowed my inner perfectionist to get in the way of my building them. Well, no more. Once I had my Scarlett O’Hara moment, I decided to enlist Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., psychologist and author of the upcoming book Better than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love, to help perfectionists like myself get it together.
Do any of these perfectionist excuses sound familiar?
I had one cookie and messed up my diet. Might as well eat the rest of the plate.
OK, so I just said this five minutes ago. (Bashfully, puts down the cookie.) Reacting this way is of course totally irrational — so why do we feel the need to binge out on the entire plate? “Perfectionism causes ‘all or nothing’ thinking: ‘I failed so my healthy diet is a failure,’” says Lombardo. “If you do eat a cookie, eat it mindfully without the guilt. Savor every bite, focus on how good it tastes, eat slowly and with gratitude instead of guilt. You’ll eat less and enjoy more.” Don’t mind if I do!
I have to get everything done before I can go to sleep.
No. You don’t. Scoring shut-eye is so much more important. “Getting to sleep at a reasonable time means you’ll be more productive and effective tomorrow,” says Lombardo. In other words, you’ll get more done in less time because your mind won’t feel the need to short circuit. Now, go to bed.
I’m too busy to hang out with my girlfriends. When I do take the time, I never feel like I’ve really earned it.
Start thinking like a professional athlete: They know the importance of working hard and resting hard. To function at your peak performance level, you have to take time out for yourself. “Connecting with friends isn’t just about fun: It reduces stress and will help you become even better at your job,” says Lombardo. If you find yourself wavering in this department, do what I do and add leisure activities to your to-do list. It’s an efficient way to trick your perfectionism into giving you a breather.
I want my clients to know I’m there for them, so I keep my phone on at night.
“Your clients, just like everyone else in your life, will treat you in exactly the same manner you teach them to,” says Lombardo. “If you answer emails at 2 a.m., they’ll expect that.” Set limits, such as an auto-responder telling your clients you’ll respond to emails sent after a certain time on the following business day. Most will respect that. Plus, by not keeping your phone on you’ll get a much better sleep, which will make you a more efficient worker bee.
I tried exercising (or eating right) in the past and it didn’t stick. I’m just destined to be like this.
It’s not failure — it’s data! Use your past mistakes to learn your triggers and what causes you to veer off course. Then use that information to improve your future. “For example, in the past you may have had trouble working out after work because you always had to stay late,” says Lombardo. “Use this information to your advantage by taking steps to workout before work, so even if you have to stay late, you’re covered.