Is perfectionism sabotaging your happiness?

IMG_5853How often have you heard someone say ‘nobody’s perfect’? You probably accept that about your partner and your children, your parents, your best friends, your work colleagues… Everyone has their faults and they can drive you bonkers sometimes, but that’s life, right?

So do you apply the ’nobody’s perfect’ rule to yourself and your life, happily accepting your faults and being satisfied with ‘good enough’? Or do you find yourself striving for a level of perfection that you just wouldn’t expect from anyone else? You may think that wanting to be the best and have everything ‘just so’ is annoying but admirable, especially if you have come to motherhood from a competitive career. But wanting that level of perfect may just be your biggest saboteur. It can stop you getting things done and it eats away at your happiness. That’s the voice of experience speaking, by the way.

Perfectionism as procrastination

I’m a terrible procrastinator at the best of times. I struggle to get going on projects and love to put things off until a better time. Who knows when I’m going to learn that there is no better time? Right now is usually the best time. I’ve been mulling this over a lot lately and I can see the total genius behind Nike’s ‘Just Do It’ slogan. Generally if I don’t do something as soon as I think of it, or when it crops up, I forget it. It’s not uncommon for it to take me four months to reply to a text and even longer for an email. I know that if you have kids, you can’t always drop everything to do an urgent task, but it’s easy to hide behind that excuse as well.

What’s procrastination got to do with perfectionism? Well, haven’t you ever noticed how when you are waiting for the perfect moment to do something – start a project maybe, or develop a new positive habit – that moment never quite seems to materialise. Your mind comes up with loads of reasons not to begin just yet. There are things that need to happen first – you need more time, or more money, or the baby needs to start sleeping through because you’ve got no energy, or you can’t start exercising because you really wanted to lose that extra few pounds first so that you feel more confident in your workout gear (ironic, much?).

Or you put unrealistic demands on how something needs to play out. You don’t want to snatch 10 minutes here and there to paint the house or tidy the garden because that’s a bit annoying. You want a big chunk of time to really get stuck in. Only you have no childcare and your husband works away a lot so you never get that chunk of time. Consequently you never start that project, but looking at the messy garden makes you dissatisfied and the resentment about not having the time and not having a nice garden starts to build up and stress you out. That means not only do you have this garden of dreams, you aren’t appreciating what’s there in the sunshine that you could enjoy. The cycle of negativity just keeps going.

To be blunt: stop waiting for the perfect moment. It’s not coming. Whatever it is you want, it’s never going to happen unless YOU make it. Only YOU have the power to change yourself, your life, your feelings. You can start today. Right now.

Wanting to be perfect, feeling like everything needs to be perfect, will undermine your happiness completely and utterly. There are so many things in life that you can’t control and so chasing unattainble perfection is setting you up for a fall when these other factors sweep along and throw you off course.

Embrace good enough

Learning to let go of perfect and embrace good enough is one of the best presents you can give yourself. You will find life so much easier because you can go with the flow. If you expecting perfection, from yourself or others, you WILL be let down time and time again. Sounds harsh?

How often do you visualise a day out, a party, a holiday, even a simple mealtime and in your head you think it’s going to go a certain way? Does it ever play out in the exact vein that you have imagined? The weather changes your plans, a small human has a tantrum, someone gets ill, no one likes what you’ve cooked… So many possibilities for everything to go wrong! But what if you let go of expectations. If you can roll with the punches and adapt to how things are going, rather than how you wanted them to go, you will find fun and happiness.

That goes for being a mum too. The idea of being the perfect mother is a natural desire – we all want the best for our children – but it is self-sabotaging and completely unfair to yourself. You’re being a judgey mum… to yourself! Give yourself a break, lady. If you are remotely worried about your kids’ welfare, chances are you are doing a good job.

Your small people won’t remember the house being immaculate, or you staying on top of all the laundry, or you handcrafting artisan sourdough loaves and avocado-quinoa superfood salads day in, day out. They don’t want every minute filled with activities and being forced to attempt some rigid crafting sessions. What’s the point? It’ll never look like that pic on Pinterest. By all means give them a pen a paper if they want it but also give them the freedom to choose what they do with it. (They often come up with a good line in accidental cock drawings or hilariously rude misspellings that you might want to stick up on Facebook for a giggle.)

IMG_5627
The old perfectionist me would have freaked about my child looking so messy. The happy me sees a happy child, mouth sticky with food, worn out from running around barefoot at a festival and the bliss of being allowed to draw all over herself with a pack of felt-tips

 

Children want mess and fun and a walk in the woods or to soak themselves in a puddle. They want fish fingers at least once a week and to be ignored enough to find their own fun, which may or may not involve squeezing all the toothpaste out onto a fully pulled out toilet roll and emptying your new shower gel over the top. Kept ’em quiet for 10 minutes though, right? They want you to build a den with them or a sofa assault course, or to be allowed to bounce on the bed. Children want you – your hugs, kisses, time and attention.  They want to be seen and acknowledged by you but perfectionism takes you away from them.

You’ll be busy as there is always something ‘important’ to get done. You might be tetchy with them as you mentally berate yourself for not making the right choices. We make hundreds of choices every day and each one has the power to sit uncomfortably with you if you are in the perfectionist’s mindset. You may feel guilty for being a working mum or guilty for staying at home. So worried about their food choices that mealtimes become super stressful. Not happy because you don’t always look as polished as the mums you see on Instagram with their clean children and mess-free houses and perfect hair/nails/make-up/lives and who are mothering, running a business, bringing up smalls, doing some fundraising on the side and never appear to need a Paw Patrol/Peppa Pig marathon because they are too broken from sleep deprivation to string a sentence together and have put the milk in the washing machine, dirty socks in the fridge and fed cereal to the dog. Or is that just me?

As well as making sure you follow some of the more honest mums on social media (they still have enviable feeds, but they also tell like it is) all you have to do is your best in any given moment. You are allowed to make mistakes and misjudge situations. You don’t have to be the best, the most organised, the happiest, the funniest, the trendiest, the most creative, the coolest. Just be you. It’s OK to feel like you’re drowning sometimes. To love it all one moment and plan a moonlight flit on a one-way ticket to Brazil the next. Much like my house, life is messy. It’s OK not to be perfect. Nobody is, remember?

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