Recovering from Perfectionism

This book may save my life!

I have always been a perfectionist, but it wasn’t until about 6 years ago, that I really understood how this mental malady was wreaking havoc on my life.  Still,  awareness alone wasn’t enough to turn me into an easy-going, go-with-the-flow, realistic goal-setter, mistake-forgiver type of person.  I felt powerless to overcome perfectionism’s relentless hold on me.

Eventually, I came to view my perfectionism as a chronic condition in need of management and care.  It might go into “remission” for a while, then flare-up. Occasionally, I will an experience acute episode and really have to take therapeutic measures.  I now consider myself “in recovery”, a state that requires vigilance, self-care, and self-awareness.

Buy I can’t do it alone.

That is why I was so excited to discover a terrific book called, The Seven Secrets of the Prolific: The Definitive Guide to Overcoming Procrastination, Perfectionism, and Writer’s Block by Hillary Rettig.  Hillary shows how perfectionism is more than a “destructive habit or way of thinking”.  Her book demonstrates perfectionism’s toxic effects on your view of “yourself, your work, and the world.”

As soon as the author began describing the characteristics and behaviors of perfectionists, my eyes popped.  Hey, this woman really knows me!   I downloaded the 182 -page book in the summer and still haven’t finished it (and that is okay!).  Rettig’s book is not meant to be read in one sitting.  It is a step-by-step guide and you don’t go to the next step until you have made progress. There are clear steps to take, exercises to do, behaviors to practice, and practical changes to make. I was going to wait until I finished to blog about this wonderful book, but every page of her book just keeps getting better. So, I thought I’d share it with you today, and then write about my progress in future blogs.

By the way, this book is aimed at writers, but anyone who is trying to finish a major project or has difficulty with output due to procrastination will benefit.  And speaking of procrastination…did you know that Perfectionism is at its root?

I will leave you with one defining characteristic from Secrets of the Prolific:

“Perfectionists hold unrealistic definitions of success and punish themselves harshly for the inevitable failures.”

Yup, that’s me.

Are you a perfectionist?  What tactics have you taken to tame this unruly condition?  What guides or programs have you found helpful? 

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5 responses

      • It was basically to repeat over and over to myself that this does not have to be perfect, this does not have to be perfect, this does not have to be perfect. And then force myself to walk away and leave it as is. Or, ask someone else to do the dirty work for me.

        For instance, I never throw out papers, because maybe they’ll be important. So, I would always ask my sister to help me. I would ask aloud, “Is this important? Do I need it?” and is she said no, I gave it to her – and she threw it away. Or I would rewrite everything (in the days before computers) until there was not even a speck of a mistake. So I’d ask my sister (or a friend) if this was good enough, and if it was, I’d ask them to hand it in for me, or take away my pen, etc. Eventually it became second nature.

        Or, I don’t have enough time to mop the floor to perfection on Erev Shabbat. If I try to do it “kind of”, I end up doing it perfectly, and it takes an hour and a half. So, I ask my husband to do it, close my eyes, turn around, or read a book. In other words, I ignore the issue until it is already done and I can’t do anything about it. It’s not fun, or completely productive, but it works.

        Or I have to get the stains out, because obviously, stains are not perfect. But, if I think about it – it will just get re-stained. So I do the best I can, and then toss it in, convincing myself that the world will not end. (And then I mentally obsess about it.)

  1. Hello, my name is Amy and I’m also a perfectionist. 🙂
    I never realized that procrastination is caused by perfectionism–but makes sense. I’ll look forward to seeing what tips you share so I can follow them too.

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