HOW PERFECTIONISM CAN PARALYZE US
As a personal trainer, I spend a lot of time and energy with my clients on the importance of accepting yourself as imperfect. I’m adamant about always applying yourself 100% to what you’re doing and always trying your best. But these things must go hand in hand with the ability to love yourself just the way you are, first. Having the ‘imperfect’ mindset is like having wings or like having your shackles removed. You will find yourself fearless and courageous and able to undertake any task bravely as soon as you can own the fact that you’ve got flaws and that’s OK.
It is stated beautifully in a song called “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen:
“Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack, a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.”
If you can’t do a particular exercise or if you find a movement challenging, just do what you can do and eventually you’ll improve and soon you may even master that movement. Or if you fall off of your diet or skip a few days of exercise, don’t despair that all is lost because you’re not doing your program perfectly, just get right back on your program and start again from wherever you are.
Often, we procrastinate because of our perfectionism. We either worry that we’re not going to do it perfectly, or we get caught in the trap of thinking that we don’t have time to do it, so we do nothing. Eventually, we’re buried in whatever it is we’re procrastinating from doing. If, in stead of worrying about doing it imperfectly, we embraced imperfection and just started doing it, we’d at least be getting something done. For example, when my apartment is a big mess, I can easily look at it and say, “Wow, I don’t know how I’m ever going to get this perfectly clean.” And a sense of overwhelm from not knowing where to start can finally become frustration to such a level that I walk away and don’t clean anything. But another choice I could make is to set a timer for 15 minutes and just start doing something without worrying that I might not finish or that it might not be completely clean when I’m done. I tell myself that at least it will be “15 minutes cleaner.” And what usually ends up happening is that I get a whole lot more done in that fifteen minutes than I ever could have imagined. It may not be perfect, but it is certainly a lot cleaner.
Perfectionism piggy-backed with procrastination puts us in a coma. We can’t make a decision, we can’t act at all. It’s just easier to do nothing. But if you really examine what’s going on, you’ll realize that with the time and energy that it takes to talk yourself out of doing something, you could have easily gotten started doing it. The next time you hear yourself saying “I don’t have time to...” Then stop! Set your timer for fifteen minutes and start doing it. You don’t have to finish it, just get fifteen minutes worth of work done on it and then leave it, imperfect and unfinished. Do that same thing again the next time it comes up and eventually, following this technique, you will have done that very thing you ‘didn’t have time for.’
Another thing that perfectionism can do is stop us from really appreciating the efforts of ourselves or others. I was raised by a man who would respond like a typical perfectionist. If my sister brought home a report card, happy about getting a couple of A’s, his first response would be “only two A’s?”
As an actor, it can show up in performance or in audition monologues. If, as a performing artist, we are concerned with being ‘perfect’ that is when we get self-critical, sweaty and shut down. To be honest, no one wants to see a perfect performance. As Mr Cohen says, the cracks are how the light gets in. Those imperfect moments are what make a performance come to life. As an audience, I’d rather be assured that I was watching a real, live person than a finely tuned machine.
Besides stopping us, and making us nervous, perfectionism can also lead to body image disorders, eating disorders, depression and apathy. The thing to remember is that no one is perfect. You’re not the only one that has imperfections, and no one is expecting you to be perfect, so don’t put those expectations on yourself and you’ll be much happier and more productive than ever. The next time you go to perform any activity, whether its an art form, an exercise, cleaning your apartment, or whatever it is, be prepared to be imperfect. Embrace those tiny imperfections that make you and whatever you’re doing unique. It comes across as very confident to be able to calmly expose your imperfections to others.
Ring those bells!