three strategies for perfectionism

When I first drafted a post on the unexpected blessings of knee surgery last November, my comment on perfectionism went unnoticed.

See if you catch what I wrote.

If I’m not perfect it’s not worth doing. (O. M. W!)

Normally, we write that as

If I can’t do it perfectly, it’s not worth doing.

See the difference? Apparently, I’ve taken perfectionism one step further than the norm. I’m not just worried about the things I do being perfect, I’m aiming to be a perfect person.

stop being perfect

Perfectionism stinks.

My poor kids get a double dose of it from both parents. While I freely admit that I struggle with perfectionism, my husband is still in denial. He says

I’m not a perfectionist. I just want things done the right way.

Sigh.

I find it easier to just admit that I struggle. I wish I didn’t, but I do.

Perfectionism carries a big price tag.

I can get caught in the planning trap. Before I start actually doing anything, I want a perfect plan. That means fighting the urge to type out my grocery list in alphabetical order by aisle.

I can get caught in over-thinking. I spent hours debating whether I should put my spices in alphabetical order or group them by function. I tried grouping them by recipe (all the bottles for Italian cooking on one shelf, all the ones for Tex Mex on the next) but I couldn’t figure out where to put the garlic.

I can get caught in the “whatever” trap. Since I couldn’t figure out the perfect way to store spices, I just dumped them all on the counter and left them there for months.

Whenever I get caught up in perfectionism, it costs me. I waste time. I spend time and energy trying to be perfect instead of on things that matter (like my family). I waste money on expensive planner systems. I lose a lot of time living with the mess that results when I give up on being perfect.

Here’s the truth about perfectionism.

God doesn’t expect me to be perfect (Romans 3:23).  

He’s perfecting me day by day. (Galatians 3:3).

Take a moment and bask in that truth. It feels good. It takes all the pressure off.

The truth is that no one else expects you to be perfect either. (Well, most people don’t. Some people are just demanding and self centered and need a little more Jesus in their hearts.)

(Yes. I said that last part with a distinctly southern twang. Bless their hearts.)

combat perfectionism

How to stop being perfect.

When you’re caught up in the desire to plan perfectly: take action. Get up and do the first three things on your list. Set a timer for five more minute of planning and then switch into do mode. Tell yourself that good enough is good enough.

When you’re caught up in analysis paralysis: decide something. Take a second and think about what the worst outcome would be if if you make the wrong decision. Then make the best choice you can and go forward. Chances are, the worst thing that will happen is that you have to re-do the spice rack. It really won’t be the end of the world.

When you’ve slipped into “whatever” and given up: refocus on the goal. Remind yourself of the original goal (buy groceries, stay on budget, put the spices away). Chances are good that somewhere along the way, you switched your goal to engineering the “perfect system” instead of solving the original problem. Go back and fix the original problem imperfectly.

Living proof.

After about the fourth time of reorganizing my spice rack, my husband started laughing at me. It was early in our marriage, and I had just freaked out because he put the tarragon back up where the dill belonged (and vice versa). He said

You may be able to make me put the bottles in the right place, but what are you going to do when I put the tarragon in the dill bottle?

(Yes, he actually would do that, just to mess with me.)

We settled on grouping things by color. All the green herby things went together. All the yellowish stuff went on a different shelf. On a bad day, I wanted them in rainbow order too… shading from light green to dark green. Yikes.

That was before kids.

These days, I’ve simplified it further. I’m just happy when the jars end up back in the drawer.

What did I miss? How do YOU cope with perfectionism in yourself or a loved one?

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Susan Baker
I have a passion for encouraging weary worn out mothers to find joy in everyday motherhood and peace in unlikely places. I have two elementary school boys, one nerdy husband, and two cats. I have a strange fascination for bad puns, the color pink, socks, and books. I worry about running out of toilet paper, wine, and chocolate.. I serve an amazing God. I live an ordinary life filled with wonder.
Susan Baker
Susan Baker

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Comments

  1. GREAT tips. I’ve always been a perfectionist. It’s *so* hard or me to decide that good enough is good enough. I’m always proud of myself when I am able to do it! I’m still working on it (but I’m better than I used to be!) –Lisa

    • Lisa – you don’t have to be perfect at being good enough. 🙂 (This from the woman who is clearly stuck in a “whatever” funk. It’s noon and I’m still in my PJ’s.)

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