4 Ways To Stop Perfectionism From Stealing Your Focus

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4 Ways To Stop Perfectionism From Stealing Your Focus

The desire for perfectionism can do more harm than good in our lives. 

"As it should be..."

"You should..."

"I should..."

How often do you hear some variation of these kinds of statements, either within yourself and your thoughts or from others in our world?

RELATED: 3 Good Reasons Why You Need To Stop Trying To Be Perfect (And Focus On Something More Attainable)

We are all inundated with information about what we "should" be doing, which essentially becomes a list of the ways we are failing or ways for others to impress upon us their values and what they think about our lives and choices.

I’ve decided that I’m done with statements like that.

You see, as a recovering perfectionist, these statements are like poison for my brain. In the past, I would agonize over the "shoulds" in the world and use them as ammunition against myself.

My list of shoulds was a list of failures and ways to remind myself that I’m lacking.

A trend at my work right now is that a lot of people seem to be bumping up against their ideal expectations of others or themselves.

Fueled by perfect images on social media, our own thoughts of what we, our kids, and our partners "should" be like or be doing right now will impact us going forward.

The mixed messages between "Take care of yourself, it’s a pandemic!" and, "You should really get your beach body, have a color-coded parenting chart, etc." are downright confusing.

Additionally, we are all operating in more isolation than we have in the past, so we have less-positive input from others as well as fewer opportunities to feel supported interpersonally.

This leads us to be ripe for insecurity and uncertainty about our choices. We are especially vulnerable to shaming statements that lead with the idea of "should."

It’s important to note that our ideal thoughts of who we should be or want to be are just that — an ideal.

It’s great if you use the idea of your ideal self as motivation in a kind and self-compassionate way. But trouble comes once we weaponize the ideal.

Here come the shame and shoulds and feelings of "not enough."

During this challenging time in our world, any increased feelings of internal struggle or shame are just going to make this harder to get through in a healthy way. 

Here are 4 ways to stop perfectionism from stealing your focus with "shoulds."

1. Find the narrative.

When I find myself feeling either overwhelmed, irritated with obligations or people, sad, or in a state of shame, I've learned to try to pause and think things through before reacting too much.

I try to check in with myself to see what the narrative or story is that I'm telling myself about the situation.

RELATED: Why Being 'Perfect' Won't Make You As Happy As You Think (And 6 Things That Actually Will)

2. Recognize when your expectations are unrealistic and based on ideals.

When we have expectations of ourselves based on ideals, they are usually rooted more in fantasy than reality.

For example, I bump up on the idea that, as a mom who is also a therapist and parent consultant, I should always be able to set effective boundaries with my son. He’s a toddler, so this is entirely unrealistic.

But in my head, effective boundaries equal him listening to me when I ask him to do things. And, well, that apparently is not the way it goes on any day ending in "y"!

So, this is one of those expectations that was unconscious and unknown until the quarantine. We are home so much more with him, so we feel tested and lack patience.

And the moments when I'm at my least patient and just want him to listen are when the "shoulds" come in.

Thoughts like, "If only I was parenting better, he would listen all the time...," or, "A better therapist would always be caring and patient with a toddler," and, my favorite, "When I babysat and nannied, the kids listened to me and I didn’t take it all so personally."

Honestly, deep in my heart, I know that kids generally listen better to everyone but their parents. But when it’s my kid not listening to me, it feels so much harder!

3. Figure out the language so you can pay attention and reframe it.

Figure out what language is a good cue to pay attention to, so that you can take a step back and work through your expectations a bit more.

For me, "should" is a big one as well as anytime I bump up on ideal kinds of expectations, which honestly almost always include the word "should," as well.

However, some might have other words that come up while feeling this way or that trigger these feelings.

It's up to all of us to try and figure out how we interact with language, expectations, and ideals so that we can better manage our responses.

4. Ask if there's a deeper emotional need to tend to.

Often, I've found that if I'm feeling frustrated about "shoulds," it might indicate a lack of balance or unresolved feelings about a decision I've made.

It's crucial for parents to try to learn to check in with themselves about their own needs and ask themselves if they are being met. This helps ensure that we're reacting from a place of intention and our best selves.

Even in our current "shelter in place" situations, we need to try to figure out what is missing and what on Earth we can do about it.

RELATED: Stop Caring About Perfection And Start Caring About Yourself

Erica Wollerman is a licensed clinical psychologist who has held a passion for helping people since beginning her career in psychology in 2006. If you would like to read more about her work, check out Thrive Therapy Studio for more information.

This article was originally published at Thrive Therapy Studio. Reprinted with permission from the author.