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Fire Your Perfectionist Voice

Articles Inspirational articles from Hay House authors

Fire Your Perfectionist Voice

It’s good to be good enough.
Robert L. Leahy
Robert L. Leahy More by this author
Nov 04, 2010 at 10:00 AM

Allen was having real difficulty getting things done at work. He was afraid he would make a mistake and then regret it. “I either spend an incredible amount of time working on something to get it just right,” he told me, “or I avoid it entirely. There’s no in between for me.” Working for a marketing firm, Allen had to write up reports on a regular basis. Allen’s fear of making mistakes led him to research every angle before completing a report, asking anyone he could for advice and reassurance. Rather than spending eight hours at work, he would stay at the office until late in the evening, then take home more work that would fill up his nights and weekends. When he wasn’t absorbed in trying to get things just right, he was worrying that he had made a mistake in a report and that it would come back to haunt him.

Allen mistakenly believed that acting like a perfectionist was a sign of his merit and his professional seriousness—not his insecurity. Many of us have high standards and work hard to make sure that we do a good job. Being conscientious can be rewarding. But when your high standards become unrealistic, they can drive you to the ends of the Earth trying to live up to your own expectations or what you think others expect of you.

If you have been living your life trying to obey your rules of perfection, you have lost any freedom you ever had. It’s time for you to stand up, rebel, and write your own Bill of Rights so that you can exercise your freedom to be a human being rather than a slave to perfection.

Allen could begin his Bill of Rights with the following:

  1. I have the right to pursue happiness and self-acceptance.
  2. I have the right to make mistakes.
  3. I have the right not to get everyone’s approval.
  4. I have the right to be good enough.

I suggested to Allen that his Bill of Rights could be universal—it could be applied to everyone, including himself. Everyone can pursue happiness (as he or she saw it), everyone can make mistakes, everyone can live a life that others might or might not approve of, and everyone can feel good enough. Exercising your right to being good enough is a first step in being assertive about the life you want to live.

Next, it’s time to deal with that voice in your mind that keeps telling you, “You’re just not good enough. You’re always making mistakes. How stupid can you be?” You’ve been listening to this voice, obeying it, fearing it, and thinking that you have to live your life a captive of your own mind. But maybe your perfectionism isn’t so smart, after all. It’s been taking this superior position with you, talking down to you as if you are a moron and you can’t think for yourself. Your perfectionist voice hasn’t been on your side; even when you do well, it doesn’t tell you that you are good enough. It just sets higher goals, or it discounts what you do, saying, “Anyone could do that” or “That’s what we expected, anyway.” This voice makes you feel bad about yourself, makes you feel ashamed, makes you avoid trying new things.

Let’s strike back.

“Okay, Allen, we’ve been talking about your perfectionism, so now let’s do a role-play. You can be a rational human being and I can be that terrible perfectionistic voice that has been beating you over the head with shame and guilt. Now, I want you to really go at me, make me—the perfectionist—realize how dumb I really am.”

BOB: You never do anything right. You are always making mistakes.

ALLEN: That’s not true. That’s your all-or-nothing thinking. I’ve done a lot of things right. I graduated from college, I have a job, I’ve gotten some good feedback. I don’t have to be perfect.

BOB:  Yes, you do have to be perfect. That’s what life is about—always being the best.

ALLEN: Why do I have to be perfect?

BOB:  Because that’s the only way to feel good about yourself—to feel good enough.

ALLEN: Well, that’s not working for me. I’ve been trying to be perfect all my life and now I realize it never makes me feel good enough or good about myself. It’s failing.

BOB: Are you calling me a failure? After all the hard work I’ve done to make you better?

ALLEN: Yes, you’ve failed me. You’ve made me feel like I’m inferior—and I’m not.

BOB:  But if you don’t try to be perfect you’ll end up mediocre.

ALLEN: I don’t even know what that means. I could end up accepting myself as a human being rather than listen to you all the time.

When you criticize your perfectionist voice you are not criticizing yourself—you are criticizing your critic. You are standing up for yourself. You are defeating what defeats you. As I listened to Allen arguing against his perfectionism I realized that he was getting distance from it, he was able to fight against it, and he was realizing that perfectionism is really dumb. It masquerades as a superior, condescending voice—but it fails in many ways. It fails to make you feel good, it fails in your relationships, it fails your self-esteem, and it fails to give you any satisfaction.

Is it time to fire your perfectionist voice?

About Author
Robert L. Leahy
Robert L. Leahy, Ph.D., is recognized worldwide as one of the most respected writers and speakers on cognitive therapy. Educated at Yale University, he is the director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy, president of the International As Continue reading