April 24, 2019

“The more I feel imperfect, the more I feel alive.” - Jhumpa Lahiri

I don’t outwardly label myself a perfectionist, mostly because if anyone saw the state of my bedroom they would see a gaping hole of incongruity. My subscription to perfectionism does not manifest in Marie Kondo-style tidy shoes, color-coded books, or how often I clip my toenails.

But now and again, when I least expect it, a shadow rises from the back of my neck and says, “If it’s not going to be perfect, give up now.” The voice often stops me before I can even start something—a trademark self-sabotaging move of a perfectionist.

“It may seem counterintuitive, but many people who procrastinate or avoid doing something are actually perfectionists: They're afraid they will fail,” Elizabeth Lombardo, Ph.D., writes for Psychology Today. “Their rationale is, ‘I might not be able to do it perfectly, so why bother at all?’”


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As soon as a situation arises that gives me a lick of doubt or uncertainty—whether it’s a conflict with a friend or a personal project—my inner perfectionist steals the mic and I start plotting my escape instead of pushing onwards.

As soon as a situation arises that gives me a lick of doubt or uncertainty, my inner perfectionist steals the mic and I start plotting my escape instead of pushing onwards.
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But recently, I’ve decided to listen to the other voice in my head, one I like to call my human voice. My human voice embraces every part of myself with compassion and understanding. Best of all, it doesn’t need everything to be perfect.

In fact, my human voice appreciates my idiosyncrasies, the imperfect nuances of myself and my relationships. It loves the parts of me that might seem “messy,” because it understands that humans are inherently imperfect. It understands that I can be messy and worthy.

My human voice embraces every part of myself with compassion and understanding.
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It’s an approach Brené Brown, Ph.D., (my intellectual crush) preaches both in her books and recent Netflix special, “The Call to Courage.” In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, she speaks about living wholeheartedly, rather than striving for an unrealistic ideal of flawlessness.

“Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best,” she writes. “Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.”

Brown writes that challenging our inner perfectionist means switching from a “What will people think?” mentality to one of “I am enough.” It’s no easy feat, but it’s a worthwhile switch to make. Her reasoning why: “However afraid we are of change, the question that we must ultimately answer is this: What's the greater risk: Letting go of what people think, or letting go of how I feel, what I believe, and who I am?”

“Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield."
-Brené Brown
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We can spend our whole lives trying to be the Marie Kondo version of a perfect human—neat, tidy, and constantly sparking joy. But in doing so, we sacrifice losing how we truly feel, what we believe, and who we really are.

When we greet our inner perfectionist with compassion, we give ourselves the space to accept rather than fight our so-called imperfections—and we spark action rather than a slow retreat away from a situation.

Find Your 'Perfect' Mantra

One of my favorite ways to do this: with the help of a mantra. Perfectionism, similar to anxiety, exists on the axis of the FUTURE—“I want to be perfect. I will be perfect”—as opposed to the NOW—“I am who I am. I am me. I am human.” Creating a mantra or affirmation in the present tense can help you tap into your human voice and ground you in the moment.

When we greet our inner perfectionist with compassion, we give ourselves the space to accept rather than fight our so-called imperfections—and we spark action rather than a slow retreat away from a situation.
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“I am” is a fantastic phrase to include in your internal or vocal affirmations, mantras, or meditations. It is a powerful use of your identity and the present moment. It implies that who you are in the moment is enough and exists with all the exciting immediacy of the now. I am complex. I am accepting of all my feelings.

These phrases are a wonderful way to validate our complicated thought patterns that can turn into overthinking, pessimism, self-doubt, or self-loathing. Instead of “I need to be better at x,” try “I am growing” or “I am working on myself” or “I am proud of my progress.”

The next time you find your inner perfectionist stealing the mic, try affirming yourself in the now. Try taking a moment to accept your imperfections and simply be. What you’ll find with practice: You’re more worthy being who you are rather than striving for who you could be. And that’s an act of bravery.

You’re more worthy being who you are rather than striving for who you could be.
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“If we want to live and love with our whole hearts and engage in the world from a place of worthiness, our first step is practicing the courage it takes to own our stories and tell the truth about who we are,” Brown writes. “It doesn't get braver than that.”


Read next: How to Make Perfectionism Work For—Not Against—You

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