Thursday, November 22, 2012

Removing the burden of perfection

No one likes making mistakes. Our culture emphasizes perfection, so mistakes are seen as failures, not as learning experiences. Nervous people go a step further by fearing the possibility of making mistakes. Just the idea of forgetting to sign a check, accidentally offending someone, buying the wrong gift, and so on can make our hearts race, our palms sweat, and our minds whirl.

Great thinkers have long recognized that making mistakes is key to learning. We should not fear what is human nature. Of course, mistakes make us uncomfortable—that’s only human. But Dr. Low advises us to have the courage to make mistakes. Notice in my list of mistakes we fear that I did not mention anything major. Anxious people, much to our surprise, usually perform with rational thought and calm intent when making life’s big decisions. Instead, it’s the daily trivialities that throw us into a tizzy. Yet Dr. Low (1997) notes, “Mistakes made in trivial performances are trivial themselves, and their possible consequences are just as trivial and not to be feared” (p. 249).   

Removing the burden of perfection is incredibly freeing. The next time you feel yourself tightening up over the need to be perfect, take a deep breath and remind yourself that it is indeed OK to make mistakes, that you have the courage to make mistakes. This realization has helped me in all aspects of my life. And when you “lower your standards” for yourself your performance will actually rise. Yes, making occasional mistakes actually leads to better results over time!

1. Low, AA. (1997). Mental health through will-training (3rd ed.). Glencoe, IL: Willett.


Cheryl Zelenka said...

I am what they call a pocket perfectionist. I am slowly giving myself permission to let things slip around the house.... dusting every other week, etc.

I am a brain tumor survivor. Last year I nearly died. The tumor was on my frontal lobe and therefore I suffered from clinical depression for years. Insomnia is now my issue as I try to put my life back together. It is getting better since anxiety is like a bunch of open windows on a computer screen. A friend told me to close each window and allow myself well needed sleep.

I recently started an encouragement blog for people going through depression and difficult trials. I hope you can visit it.

Dylan said...

Hey Doug,

Great article. Perfectionism seems to run rampant among anxiety sufferers. It definitely seems almost to be an OCD type tendency. Having severe agoraphobia, hypochondria, anxiety, and OCD. I would know. Even my perfectionism shows up in my music.

I think an important part of being a "perfectionist" is not being good enough for others, and more importantly, not being good enough for ourselves.

When you really rationalize it, perfection is a quality which doesn't truly exist, and a subjective one at that. Everyone has a different idea of what perfection really is. Who is to say any of them are any more right or wrong?

Not in a narcissistic type way, but I think a key to letting go of perfectionism is to start loving and appreciating ourselves a little more and say "we are good enough".

Great article.

If you'd like to chat sometime, I also have a blog on my experiences with anxiety disorders at .

I'd love to hear from you, Doug. Thanks again for the read.

Josh said...

Hey, I enjoyed your post. I have had anxiety for all my life and I always like reading about other peoples experiences. I write a blog on anxiety as well, mostly ways to cope and things of that sort. If you have time I'd appreciate it if you would check it out. I think it's cool that we can share our experiences and learn from each other.

I look forward to reading more from you.

Take care

Josh Gorton said...

My apologies, I forgot to add the link.

Hope said...

Excellent advice. Easier said than done I'm sure. For a long time I wasn't really sure what was wrong with me because, like you said, I became strong and marched through major life (divorce or death) events doing what needed to be done, but the everyday tasks can throw me into a panic. Glad to know I'm not alone there. I also think there may be some delayed anxiety associated with major events, because I tend to fall apart at inconvienient times when all is said and done and life is back to normal again. Anyway, I'm glad I found your blog. Seems like there is a lot of helpful information out there, even if just to assure us we are not alone. -Hope

StockholmBlend said...

Thanks Doug, and all commenters as well. Anxiety and OCD is tough, and it's great to see people supporting each other nad sticking together. Im new to blogging, but it's great to see that I'm not alone in a lot of my experiences.

Susan Johnson said...

Anxiety can be due to medical factors such as anemia, asthma, infections, and several heart conditions. It affects how we feel,react and has very real physical symptoms. Different Counseling for Anxiety and stress is the most effective way to deal with this disorder.