Last week, we looked at the symptoms of perfectionism and how they contribute to stress and substance abuse. Today, we’ll explore stress management techniques to overcome the perfectionism habit and live a lower-stress, more fulfilling, and higher-achieving life.
First, though, there are a few things to understand:
- Perfectionism may be a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder, which is not merely a bad habit but a mental illness. Like substance abuse, this condition requires professional treatment and ongoing support. Stress management techniques alone, will not solve it.
- Change takes time and perseverance. Most perfectionists have difficulty accepting that not everything can be accomplished by following the right steps in order. (They even want to be perfectionistic about getting rid of their perfectionism!) Your only hope of winning the battle are stress management techniques where you are willing to fail regularly at first and keep going no matter how discouraged you feel.
- Perfectionism is not synonymous with high standards or high achievement. I’ll say it again: Perfectionism is not synonymous with high standards or high achievement. Many perfectionists resist changing because they think giving up their “high standards” will condemn them to a life of mediocrity. On the contrary. Perfectionists are terrified of failure; high achievers fail regularly, and welcome it as a learning opportunity. Perfectionists work with half their minds on “getting it just right or else”; high achievers focus completely on their work, and thus get better and more original results. Perfectionists crave the rush of instant success; high achievers set long-term goals and work toward them daily.
Got all that? Okay, if you’re willing to commit to change, work long-term for change, and expect great things from change, here are seven stress management techniques you can do to become a recovering perfectionist.
Celebrate the Journey
Small wonder that most perfectionists have limited success with audacious long-term goals; the “rush” of completion means everything to a perfectionist, and if a goal takes two years, that’s a long time to wait! Give yourself permission to visualize daily the results you look forward to, letting yourself feel as if the goal were already accomplished. This is not being dishonest with yourself; it’s a well-proven tactic for becoming what you know deep down you can be.
Also, emulate the student working toward a degree and note “assignments,” “tests,” and “grade levels” you will complete along the way to the larger goal. Celebrate every successful step forward.
Finally, celebrate life itself; keep a journal of things you are grateful for, and remind yourself regularly how blessed you are with health, friends, opportunities, and beauties great and small. (And stop while you remind yourself; rush is the enemy of gratitude.)
Two questions most perfectionists hate are “What’s the worst that could happen?” and “What do I really have time for?” Forcing oneself to answer honestly requires admitting, on the one hand, that the world can survive without 100 percent success on this project, and on the other hand, that it’s impossible to do everything that comes to mind. Both questions strike at the perfectionist’s dream of being indispensable and omnipotent.
That’s why it’s essential to ask them regularly. It’s painful to realize how much you can and should let go of. But you’ll progress faster without dragging all that weight.
Love Yourself for Yourself
That doesn’t mean “excuse your faults.” It means accepting that you are inherently valuable by nature of being a unique human being. Good stress management techniques include making a list of your good qualities (or get your friends to list what they like best about you). When feeling discouraged for what you aren’t, say out loud: “I am valuable, loved, intelligent, attractive, and capable.”
Remember also: nobody always gets everything right, and no one worth having a relationship with expects you to be the exception.
Perfectionists often resist getting close to others. We fixate on accomplishments and control; and nothing is less controllable, less willing to be made over according to our best judgment, than other human beings.
Nonetheless, there’s far greater satisfaction in genuinely healthy relationships—the kind where all parties can accept each other “warts and all,” even sharing their struggles. Formal support groups offer a taste of this; but it’s also vital you invest your share in building such relationships with friends and family. And with people you meet in passing, count to a hundred before complaining (even to yourself) that they’re “slow” or “sloppy” or otherwise don’t meet your “perfect” standards. They’ll resent being resented, and that won’t help you.
Watch Your Health
Many perfectionists put self-care at the bottom of their priority lists because there’s no immediate and obvious reward of achievement. After a while, though, they definitely feel the punishing effects of neglect! Put exercise, rest, meditation, and mindful eating on your calendar first. It’ll also give you more energy for other behavior modifications.
It’s hard to go out these days without carrying a smartphone and passing multiple televisions tuned to “news.” Still, make the effort to limit “screen time” to set hours and to turn off your phone regularly. Why invite more reminders that the world is full of things you shouldn’t be trying to control?
Remember Your Higher Power
There are many definitions of “Higher Power,” but the universal principle is clear in the first three of the Twelve-step recovery: we are powerless to control our addictive compulsions, but the Higher Power will restore us to sanity—if we let Him, without trying to keep a share of the control. Surrendering our lives to the Higher Power is a terrifying, even painful leap into uncertainty. But it’s also a tremendous relief that infuses us with a fresh sense of hope.
Stress Management Techniques with Kemah Palms
In closing, we might note that perfectionism (and any other mental bad habit) is itself an addiction; the brain has learned to signal “abnormal” when things are done differently. If it “hurts” to act in a way inconsistent with perfectionism—you aren’t just imagining things. You’re straining a mental muscle by forcing its steering wheel onto an unfamiliar path. In time, though, the new habit gains the upper hand and the pain disappears. (It helps to develop other new routines, to reduce cues that trigger the perfectionism response.)
The substance abuse treatment programs we offer at Kemah Palms help set you up and provide the tools necessary to achieve lasting sobriety and wellbeing. Call us at 866.604.1873 today to learn how our addiction therapy services can help you implement better stress management techniques during your addiction recovery.