Is a fear or failing getting you down? Reframing “failure” and “perfection” can help.
Failure as a feature of the journey
According to clinical psychologist Dr. Diana Brecher, “it’s almost impossible to know at what point one can judge whether we’ve actually failed at something, or succeeded. We’re all works in progress. If we define a setback as a failure, we often stop trying.”
“Failures can help,” explains Brecher, “if we are willing to learn from them. They teach us where we went wrong, or fell short of the mark.” And, she stresses, if we’re open and willing to try again with the new information bestowed by a setback, we’re likelier to succeed.
Pressing pause on perfectionism
“Having standards and wanting to do well,” says Dr. Martin Antony, Psychology professor and author, “can lead to positive outcomes, so long as they don’t become unattainably high, or become the gauge against which we measure our whole self.”
Antony points out that perfectionism can also manifest in “arbitrary ideals, where everything has to be just right and lined up perfectly.” Again, while being detail-oriented can serve us well, if taken too far, it can leave us bogged down, feeling like delegation is impossible, and that no one can do it as well.
So what do we do?
When perfectionism interferes, Antony says, “cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) can help, by offering treatments that involve identifying and challenging one’s thoughts like, ‘I can’t make mistakes,’ and such beliefs as, ‘I am how I achieve.’
“Self-compassion is necessary,” says Brecher, “to forgive ourselves for not quite reaching perfection. It is how we can quell our self-critical inner dialogue, and become satisfied with good enough. There is, in fact, an inverse relationship between self-compassion and perfectionism.”
Antony suggests, “Do what you can to succeed, do what gives you a sense of meaning, but can you respond in more flexible, adaptive ways? After all, there is no path to success without failure. The only way to be a brilliant pianist is to be a bad pianist for a long time. Failure has a function. It is designed to teach us how to improve our skills and get better.”
4 tips to help focus on the journey, not the destination
- Effort, not perfection, is what leads to success.
- Being willing to fail, and learn from your mistakes, is an acknowledgement of being human.
- Mistakes = Mean I Start to Acquire Knowledge, Experience, Skills.
- Self-compassion and perfectionism are never found in the same place; the more you have of one, the less you have of the other.
4 tips to pause your perfectionism
- Question and challenge your perfectionistic thoughts.
- Don’t assume your thoughts are true.
- Reconceptualize failure as an opportunity to learn.
- When procrastinating, break things into smaller, less overwhelming tasks, and set time limits and constraints to complete.