Why perfectionism is the toxic habit you need to quit right now

Newsflash: you don’t have to be perfect to be a perfectionist.

You might not believe me if I told you that I struggle with perfectionism. In fact, if you looked around my house, you might think I’m pretty laid back and content with things not being… just so. Ok, I’ll admit it. I don’t care if things aren’t particularly neat and tidy. But that doesn’t mean I don’t obsess over other things in my life. Things which are much more likely to keep me awake than whether all the furniture matches in my living room.

I’m talking about my career. My relationships. My health. I’m talking about every single social interaction I have in one day. If that person really likes me. If they think I’m funny, or if they just think I’m annoying. I’m talking about the tiniest constructive comment in a a sea of glowingly positive feedback. I’m talking about how I worry about whether my clothes, job and  finances measure up to that of other people’s, all of whom, seem to have it much more together than I ever will. You don’t have to remind me that it’s a game no one ever wins. It’s one I’ll play, over and over and again, until I’m an miserable wreck.

You might have gathered I’ve had something of an epiphany when it comes to removing toxic substances from my life in order to improve my health. My struggle from having chronic headaches has led me to jettisoning things like sugar, caffeine and alcohol out of the picture. But the worst culprit of all? Perfectionism. Because let me tell you, that stuff is nasty.

Perfectionism: Friend Or Foe?

In order to achieve amazing things in life, a bit of perfectionism is often necessary. I doubt Nadia Comăneci, the first ever Olympic Gymnast to score a perfect 10, was described by her friends as a “pretty chill chick.” Our attention to detail, high standards and refusing to settle for “anything less than the best” can be very useful.

What I’m trying to say is perfectionism should be consumed in moderation. I’m reminded of a wonderful piece of advice by the hillarious lifestyle coach Marie Forleo, who describes  complusively comparing ourselves to others to taking a big ‘ol dirty shot of “compareschlager,” which, like the drink Goldschlager, can leave us ready to hurl.

My point is, anytime you are being overly harsh, overly demanding and overly expectant of yourself, or indeed, trying to compare yourself or control what sometimes simply can’t be controlled, you need to be very careful. An over reliance on this behaviour can lead to obsessive thinking, complusive worrying and anxiety. Stressing ourselves out over the small, or indeed the big stuff, can end up putting our bodies into a heightened state of fight or flight that can fry our adrenaline glands until we’re exhausted and miserable.

“Don’t Worry! It’ll be fine.”

If you’re anything like me, phrases like “just let it go,” “don’t worry” or “it will be fine” can be both unhelpful and infuriating. What I have found most useful is thinking about what the cost of perfectionism is. It prevents us from being mindful, joyful and can allow us to belittle our own achievements into insignificance. A particularly useful trick I’ve learned is to think about what the worst possible outcome might be of a future event and to consider whether I’m willing to accept it. Understanding what might be good enough for ourselves might just be the thing that allows much more happiness into our lives.

We can learn a lot from Olympic gymnasts. But I think we can also learn more from those people in life who are willing to accept things as they are and enjoy the moment, rather than obsessing over how it could be better. And maybe it’s time to tell the critical friend living in our head we don’t care what she has to say about that dress we’re wearing, it’s time she buggered off home.







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