Practice Makes Perfect


A few weeks ago, I saw a message on Facebook that said, Practice Makes Perfect. It made me think about a sweatshirt I had when I was a child that had the same phrase written across an image of a little girl. I loved that sweatshirt but even as a child I felt a little uneasy about the sentiment. I was afraid I never would measure up. It is normal to have some fears and to want to do well but when it become a barrier to our joy and success there may be more going on than we first realize? All of this got me to thinking more on this subject and I think I finally figured out my ambivalence about "practice makes perfect." The phrase is somewhat misleading. At least, I want to question if perfection really should be the goal. What does it mean to be perfect? Why is "perfect" our goal? Is anyone or anything ever perfect? Is perfection in the eye of the beholder? What if we practice and practice but still can't be perfect? Have we failed? "Practice makes Perfect" sounds like a reasonable idea. Certainly it is true that we get better at any task with practice. Dancing, basketball, art, cooking, writing, acting, bookkeeping, or horseback riding, as well as hundreds of other activities, require hours of practice if we wish to improve our skills or master an ability. So what is wrong with that? There is nothing wrong when we are motivated to be our best selves or excel in a particular area. (Aside from a few prodigies) we all need to give our time and attention to anything we wish to achieve. But what if our idea of perfection can't be reached? What if we believe we must be perfect to be loved and somehow we never will be perfect enough? Let's take a closer look at perfectionism. Often, in our world today, we can get more focused on the "perfect" rather than the "practice." We expect immediate gratification and instant success. The idea of "practice" along with "perseverance," and "patience" might seem almost a lost art. We really don't want to practice, we just want perfection instantaneously. This compounds the problem. "Perfectionism, according to Wikipedia, is a personality trait characterized by a person's striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others' evaluations. In its maladaptive form, perfectionism drives people to attempt to achieve unattainable ideals or unrealistic goals, often leading to depression and low self-esteem. Perfectionism is on the rise." Many of us have grown up doing everything we can to achieve a perfection that we secretly believe means we will finally be "lovable or successful." The problem with this mindset is it actually produces the opposite of what we desire. When we focus on perfection we tend to achieve less and stress out more. We tend to judge others, isolate ourselves, and avoid change or challenges. We tend to live in fear and spend a great deal of energy beating ourselves up and making it harder to accept love from others. Basically, being focused on being perfect often means we will have a harder time even reaching our personal best and it will suck the joy out of life. So what do you do? Question the heck out of your expectations and goals and take a look at what you value most. What really matters to you? Where did your ideas of being perfect come from? Is your desire for perfection helping you to succeed or ambushing you? It's time to have some clarity and compassion for that inner perfectionist and send him/her on a long vacation. Give yourself a break. Let me explore a few common traits of the perfectionist so you can be sure to spot the bugger and have a heart to heart chat about some new rules. (NOTE: We all experience elements of these traits but the perfectionist will experience more of them more often.)

  1. Perfectionists see anything less-than-perfect as failure (rather than growth or a step in the process of life.)

  2. Perfectionists are far more critical of themselves and others. They will spot tiny mistakes or imperfections and obsess over them. They are more judgmental and hard on themselves and on others when they think "failure" has occurred.

  3. Perfectionists tend to set goals out of fear and often create unreasonable goals or expectations for themselves. (Which means they will fail and prove to themselves that they are not good enough or not lovable enough.)

  4. Perfectionists often see in black and white. They have a hard time seeing grey areas. They focus on one goal or one expectation and prepare to be critical rather than enjoying the process of learning, growing, changing, or exploring as part of the process.

  5. A healthy motivated person will bounce back from failure or disappointment but a Perfectionist is more likely to beat themselves up and get stuck in negative feelings and self talk when they think they have failed or have been criticized or rejected in any way.

  6. While a Perfectionist appears to want to do well, they have a great fear of failing. They put so much energy into the desire to be perfect (in numerous ways) that fear drives them and that fear often keeps them from doing their best.

  7. Because of fear, Perfectionists also tend to be procrastinators. Because they want to do something perfectly they delay starting, become immobilized, or worry and fret so much they can't focus. They also may put off even starting something by saying, "If I can't do it perfectly, I won't do it at all."

  8. Perfectionists feel great pain when they have a less-than-perfect performance and find it hard to take constructive criticism or even assistance. They may be defensive even in the face of others trying to help them or cheer them on.

  9. Perfectionists also can be lonely or isolated as their critical nature and rigidity can push others away. This can compound low self-esteem.

As previously stated, we all have a little perfectionist inside of us. Don't despair. We all fall on a spectrum here and should not worry about having some of these thoughts and feelings at times. However, if this list sounds all too familiar and more like a daily habit then you can simply start by recognizing that a change or shift within yourself might be helpful and healthy. Self awareness is a BIG first step and worth acknowledging. And even if you only fall prey to your perfectionist at times, it is good to recognize the trap for what it is. What happens if you let go of some of that perfectionism? I believe letting go means you would have more energy and time to be joyful, at peace, laugh, and grow. More self-acceptance means more ease in life. Simply starting to recognize when perfectionism is driving the bus can help you to take back the wheel. Here is the point I am trying to make: You are more than enough and no amount of practice can make you more so. It's your bus. Drive it proudly and know you are loved just as you are. If I were to create a new shirt today I have some new ideas. How about one of these? "practice makes possibilities" "practice primes potential" "practice is part of the process" Yes, the more we accept ourselves, enjoy the journey, allow for mis-takes as part of the learning process, and play...we will have greater peace. The less we judge and shame ourselves the more we can accept others just as they are and the more we can allow others to love us. When we realize we are perfectly imperfect we can be proud of every effort toward our goals and personal growth. ~ Lori Sweet

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