Overcoming Perfectionism in a Pandemic

Well here we are ladies and gentlemen, another national lockdown. It feels like March 2020 all over again, except with less optimism and 8pm clapping for carers. We’ve moved on from baking soda bread and hosting zoom quizzes to gritting our teeth and hoping the vaccines save us all by April. Whether or not that’s the case, I have found the most helpful approach to getting on with the dreaded ‘new normal’ is by accepting that there is no perfect way to cope with this pandemic. I am doing my best, and that is good enough. I don’t mean in response to government regulations and face masks. Definitely follow those guidelines. But I no longer beat myself up if I didn’t manage to wake up early enough for my morning walk or if I haven’t written a blog post in a few months. This may not sound revelatory to some, but it is to someone who grew up chasing the idea of always being ‘perfect’.


What is perfectionism?


Perfectionism is often defined as a refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. This means that you hold yourself to an impossible ideal in your life, and are often left feeling inadequate. Perfectionism is not striving to do your best with a healthy focus on self-improvement. It is about gaining self worth from the external validation of your achievements.


Are you a perfectionist?


  • Do you usually feel dissatisfied with what you achieve?

  • Do small mistakes feel like huge failures?

  • Are you weighed down by the idea of not being good enough?

  • Have you ever cried because you needed two fillings? (...really, just me?)


If you answered yes to any of these questions, it is likely that you are being held back by an attachment to perfection. Welcome to the club. I realised I was obsessed with being perfect after reading Daring Greatly by Brené Brown. If you haven’t heard of Brené Brown (do you live under a rock!?) her viral 2010 TedxHouston talk on the power of vulnerability is well worth a watch. In Daring Greatly, Brené discusses the idea that wanting to be ‘perfect’ in any aspect of our lives often stems from a place of insecurity and a wish to avoid judgment or criticism. That’s definitely the case in my experience.


So how do you join Brené in becoming a recovering perfectionist?


Everyone is different and there are no magic steps to overcoming perfectionism. However, I have found the below well worth remembering when I start on a perfectionism spiral.


  1. Understand your motivations for perfection. Are you trying to avoid judgment and shame? Do you strive for perfection in order to find belonging? Once you understand the root of your perfectionism, you begin to see that it isn’t just a pesky quirk of your personality. It is something that can be worked on and eventually changed for the better.

  2. Self compassion. Instead of engaging in negative self talk, be kind to yourself. Maybe you only managed one workout this week. Congratulations! One workout is better than nothing. Maybe you’ve been argumentative and critical towards someone you care about. Understand that you’re coping with a situation that is scary and unprecedented. Apologise and move on.. and then celebrate that you were able to do so! Honestly, I’ve started celebrating every little achievement and couldn’t recommend this more.

  3. Schitts Creek. If you haven’t seen it, watch it. Find something that lifts you up and helps you not to take life too seriously. Maybe it’s hugging your cat or calling that friend who always knows just what to say. Laughing really is the best medicine, and connection is definitely second on the list.


I am not an expert and do not have all the answers. But my approach to this lockdown is much kinder and gentler, and I’m better off for it. Hopefully you feel inspired to question your own attachment to perfectionism. Let me know if you have any tips below.


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