An immaculate house, a flawless appearance, and never stopping until you've absolutely nailed that work project – it can be easy to get caught up in striving for that perfect life with all of the boxes ticked. But, have you ever considered the heavy weight of expectation that inevitably comes with it? Our experts reveal the best ways to ditch the high standards and go with the flow...
1. Acknowledge that perfect doesn’t actually exist
What does it mean to you? What is the perfect body, job and life? “Think about your need to be perfect for a moment,” says life coach Lucy Atkinson (findabalancedlife.com). “What is it trying to fulfil – is it about feeling validated and worthy as a human being? Seeking recognition from others? Because the idea of perfection is subjective, what other people think is perfect might not be the same as you. It can’t be counted, quantified or measured on any scale. So, you are trying to accomplished something that doesn’t have an achievable outcome. No wonder you’re feeling frustrated and unfulfilled – it’s not just that the goal posts keep moving, you don’t even know what they look like or where they are.”
2. Become your own best friend
“Imagine if a friend was talking to you about her life and all the ways she was trying to be the best, criticising herself for any silly mistakes, what would you say to her?” questions Lucy. “It's likely that you’d tell her to stop being so hard on herself. You’d say what a great job she was doing. You’d point out the things that were beyond her control and the ways in which she was absolutely doing her best with the resources she had available to her at the time. We all mess up sometimes or handle things badly. Learn to say the same things to yourself that you would to your best friend. We all need to feel like someone has our back but make sure you’re rooting for yourself too. Tell yourself it’s okay when things don’t go to plan and congratulate yourself when you’ve done something good. Enjoy that feeling of having your own best friend on board with you!”
3. Be in the moment
Perfectionism often relies on hindsight. Looking back at what you have done gives you a different perspective and you can easily fall into the habit of thinking ‘if only I had done this’ or ‘I should have behaved like that’. “This really taps into any insecurities about not being good enough, or not handling things well, ” warns Lucy. “It can become a really unhelpful habit to keep going over past events, thinking of all the ways you could or should have done better. What would happen if you kept yourself focused on the present? Think to yourself right here and now that you're doing the best you can. With hindsight, you might see a better way of doing things, but currently you're doing okay. Define what is good enough for this moment. Keep your goals and intentions focused on what is happening presently, instead of wasting your energy on worrying about what went on before. If you find yourself dwelling on past events, find a way to feel grounded in the present moment. Learning mindfulness techniques can really help with this.”
4. Take a chance
Conversely, if you are always waiting for everything to be perfect in the future, you might be missing out on all sorts of opportunities. “What would happen if you started to think differently about success and failure?” asks Lucy. “What if you found the courage to take a chance on something in the knowledge that if you don’t get what you were after you haven’t failed, it just hasn’t happened this time? Is it really failure to apply for a job and not get it? Does it really affect anyone but you? Remind yourself that you can't succeed if you don't try. Some of the best entrepreneurs have started projects that were far from perfect, and turned them into successes along the way.”
5. Set achievable, not ‘must do’ goals
We can often set ourselves up to fail as our own perfect expectations outstrip our achievements. That important task of the day may not get done but it’s okay as long as we have shown up and given it our best shot. “Make time at the start of each day to prioritise your goals,” recommends life coach Claire Nicole (clairenicolecoaching.co.uk). “When you avoid overthinking things, life is so much easier. Start with small steps to reach that goal and you’ll be surprised how much more motivated you will be when the next task comes along. Share your bigger targets – is there anyone you can ask to accompany you on your journey of self-improvement to monitor your progress? When we share our goals with those around us to support and cheer us on, life becomes so much easier.
6. Practise gratitude
Begin each day by focusing on three things you are grateful for. “Those two little words – 'thank you', are ones which we might say hundreds of times a day but it’s time to start thinking about what you are actually thankful for in life,” says Claire. “Focus on just three things and practise the art of gratitude regularly. Many of us take the love and friendship of our families for granted. Start by sitting quietly and examining those times in life where you got a helping hand – who was it that aided you? Why did they do it? And what are you grateful for? By overcoming our monetary values and placing our gratitude above them, it then becomes easier to focus on the parts of life which mean the most. Sometimes, saying the words thank you can become a reflex, as something polite to say. Really focus on the words and they will become meaningful, expressing your heartfelt gratitude when required.”
7. Eat well
“Although I always recommend eating the rainbow diet (consuming colourful fruit and veg) this may not be achievable every day of the year and at each meal,” says Claire. “It's scientifically proven that when we eat fresh foods it boosts our immune system and makes us feel better. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t eat well at all times though – sometimes life gets in the way and it just isn’t possible. Get back on track the next day as you will feel immediately better and this will naturally lead to another small change the day after. Food is a huge part of our lives – what we eat has so much of an impact on how we feel on the inside and how we look on the outside. Stop obsessing about perfection and start thinking healthy, mood-boosting foods such as bananas, blueberries, lentils, eggs and ginger.”