Deep into my dieting experiment, counting calories obsessively, exercising, etc. I can’t help but wonder how this is different from having an eating disorder like anorexia or bulimia. According to Portia De Rossi’s book Unbearable Lightness, a memoir about her struggles with anorexia, there isn’t. …
The act of setting a goal triggers a perfectionist reflex in many people and particularly in successful people. If your goal is targeting an area of weakness, you may unrealistically assume that you can easily achieve the same stellar performance in your area of weakness as you do in your areas of strength if you just approach it in the same way.
Sadly, we often find that there is a good reason why it is an area of weakness for us and that perhaps part of the reason why it is an area of weakness is because the same strategies we are comfortable with and that lead us to success in other areas of our lives just don’t work for this particular problem.
So, when failure inevitably occurs, it is tempting for a perfectionist to assume:
1) “This must be a sign that I am a ‘bad’ person and that the way I do things in general is wrong.”
2) “This is something that I will never achieve.”
Both of these assumptions lead to general feelings of depression and often the perfectionist assumes that the way to feel better is just to forget about this depressing goal.
Remember that the perfectionist has an “all or nothing” mindset. Either everything goes perfectly 100% of the time or it is a complete failure. There is no middle ground, no baby steps, no milestones and no room for improvement.
If you find yourself falling into this trap, it may be helpful for you to think of “restarting” your goal process. In the restarting process, you re-energize yourself by applying selective amnesia to all that has come before. Forget about the fact that you had a prior goal. Forget that you failed to achieve it. Make the same goal today with new energy and try it again.
In many ways this technique is similar to rebooting a computer. You may have lost some data that you will have to painfully reenter but in the end you will probably end up with something better than what you started with.
Sometimes giving yourself this gift of forgetting is all that is necessary to shed all the negativity and doubt that holds you back and to go attack and achieve that goal with new energy. But often it’s not. For the best results, you need to restart but with a smarter or different goal than before.
For example, if your New Year’s Resolution was to exercise 3 times a week and as of today you have yet to exercise even once, give yourself a break and “restart.” Your mindset would be to stay, “As of February 15, my goal is to exercise once a week.” If, by the following week you still have not made your goal, “restart” again. “As of February 22, my goal is to exercise 20 minutes every Saturday by going for a brisk walk with my dog.” You can still work your way up to exercising 3 times a week but it may take you a while before you get there. Documenting your different goals and their results (like a human science experiment) will really help you to learn the boundaries of the mindset that will ultimately work for you.
Mental traps can be so detrimental to our achievement potential. Giving yourself a break and a fresh restart can be one simple and powerful way to refocus and a great coping technique if you find yourself adopting a perfectionist approach to your goals.
Do you struggle with perfectionism when it comes to achieving a difficult goal? What techniques work best for you to cope with failure or subpar results? Please share in the comments.
Hard to believe but summer is 2/3 over and it is time to recap this month’s discussion of perfectionist parenting! I started the month sharing with you some of the Google search keywords people have been using to query perfectionism and the parent-child relationship and …