In a world saturated with social media and its ubiquitous highlight reels, the pressure to “have it all together” is greater than ever. No matter where we turn, we’re inundated with images of perfect bodies, perfect relationships, perfect homes and perfect careers. For some, these projections can be inspiring and positive, but for others (and I would suspect, most of us), these images have become fuel for one of life’s hidden vices: perfectionism.
Though often associated with overachievers and workaholics, in truth, perfectionism affects us all to one degree or another. We’re social creatures, after all, and are hardwired to evaluate our lives according to the world around us. Yet, it’s one thing to hold ourselves to high standards and to pursue excellence in the different areas of our lives and another to obsess over our inevitable flaws and failures. In the case of the latter, we experience disappointment when we don’t live up to our ideals and when we fail to live up to our unique potential in the process.
I’ve had perfectionism manifest itself in several areas. When I was growing up, friends and strangers alike praised me for how graceful I was and for how effortless I made things look. Though intended as a compliment, their words instilled a deep desire in me to live up to this standard. As a result, I began gravitating toward the tasks and activities I knew I could perform with precision rather than risk the embarrassment of looking awkward while attempting something new. In hindsight, this would lead to struggles with self-criticism, avoidance and the fear of disapproval.
Your battle with perfectionism might be found in something else: chronic procrastination, exercise addiction, excessive rumination or a million other things. In the end, however, all perfectionism is rooted in people-pleasing and a need for validation. In order to overcome this, we must gain control of our internal experience.
All perfectionism is rooted in people-pleasing and a need for validation.
In practice, this looks like living “inside-out” as opposed to “outside-in.” We live outside-in when we let the opinions and approval of those around us determine what happens within us. On the other hand, to live inside-out means our thoughts and actions are direct expressions of our inner being and intentions. Outside-in living asks, “What will people think of me?” Whereas inside-out living is concerned first and foremost with remaining true to oneself.
This simple shift in thinking allows us to stop thinking in terms of good and bad, worth and failure. Instead, we can start to accept and work with whatever is present before us. It takes practice. We won’t overcome perfectionism in an instant, but reflecting on the narrative in our minds is a sure means of determining whether our focus is on ourselves or on others and their opinions.
Reflecting on the narrative in our minds is a sure means of determining whether our focus is on ourselves or on others and their opinions.
The next time we’re confronted with perfectionism or overwhelmed with “perfect” social media posts, let’s strive together to set aside our initial reactions and flip them inside-out instead.