Here’s a fifth way to deal with a New Year’s desire for perfection:
Along with the “1% Principle,” I learned the difference between perfection and excellence. This helped me to fight the tendency we perfectionists have of “good is never good enough.” We tend to feel dissatisfied thinking that we should, could, and would do better if…. But such an attitude just makes us dissatisfied, frustrated and unhappy.
Dr. Kevin Leman writes, “Perfectionists often mistakenly label their compulsive ‘I’ve got to do it right’ behavior as a ‘quest for excellence.’ In truth, excellence and perfectionism are poles apart. The seeker of excellence tries to do her best and is satisfied with a solid, honest effort. The perfectionist seeks to be the best and is continually frustrated and defeated because she knows she ‘could have done it even better if…’ (The Pleasers: Women Who Can’t Say No And the Men Who Control Them(Old Tappen, NJ.: Revell, 1987) 158).
I knew I’d been obsessed with the “even better if’s” and I asked God to help me change my attitude. He helped me to look for the positives, to credit whatever good was in the situation even if it wasn’t all I’d hoped. My focus became, “I’ve done the best I can do and that’s excellent. It’s doesn’t have to be perfect, especially since I never reach perfection anyway!”
Just identifying my “should” words made a huge difference. If I thought, “I should have made a better dinner,” I changed it to, “I made the best dinner I could and it was tasty.” Or if I hit myself over the head with, “I could have been more loving,” I corrected it with, “I did the best I could. Next time, I’ll listen more and talk less.” Instead of only focusing on what I hadn’t done wrong, I asked God’s forgiveness for any wrongdoing and focused on how He could empower me the next time. Little by little my “shoulds, woulds, and coulds” didn’t have as strong a hold over me.
Now that I’ve been working on my perfectionism for over twenty years, my perfectionism is not cured…but it currently is in remission. We perfectionists are never fully freed from our perfectionistic tendencies but it can be diminished so that we allow the Holy Spirit to be in control—and that’s when we’re “in remission.”
I’m amazed as I look back over the journey God has taken me through. As He healed my perfectionistic heart, He also healed my family relationships. My daughter, Darcy, is 26 and we are wonderful friends. Larry and I recently celebrated our 30th anniversary and we speak together at couples’ events. I no longer put those “great pains” on others and myself like I used to and life is much less pressured.
I know that you also can diminish your perfectionistic tendencies. Start by focusing on God’s unconditional grace and then work through other areas like unrealistic expectations. You’ll find greater peace and joy, just like I have.