Perfectionists are never happy, no matter how fit they get. If you’re a perfectionist, you’ve probably accomplished many of your goals in life through sheer willpower and determination. But while your dedication and high standards are admirable, you often get results by driving yourself too hard and sometimes driving other people away. Happiness depends on balance and your challenge will be to find that happy medium in your life.
The perfectionist lives in a world of rigid conformity, which, by most all accounts, is largely unachievable. They are a constant worrier. Their worries extend to all aspects of their life that they perceive to be out of control. With any changes in their routine, their life feels more out of control, and they have trouble adapting. The perfectionist operates out of a constant feeling of anxiety. As perfectionist attempts to arrange all aspects of their life to meet these unrealistic standards of perfection, what they are actually doing is attempting to compensate for an internal world that feels very out of control. As perfectionist doesn’t feel adequate, or in control of their inner world, they attempt to control everything outside of them. It is as if they want to make the outside world perfect to make up for the inside world that is not perfect. Often the sense of inadequacy and lack of control comes from a childhood experience of chaos, lack of nurturance, and acceptance. As a child, the perfectionist likely experienced a distant or cold relationship with their mothers. The mother of the perfectionist may have been distant, cold, or emotionally unavailable, in turn, the child internalizes this lack of affection and feels rejected, and inadequate as a result. Frequently, the perfectionist also attempts to achieve a sense of control at this time by becoming super responsible. This overly-developed sense of responsibility is often in response to a chaotic childhood, with little, or no support. As the child feels inadequate, and out of control, she adopts a pattern of assuming responsibility for the chaotic environment. The attempt to make the chaotic environment perfect is often the perfectionist’s only way to achieve a sense of control and adequacy. However, the internal world of the perfectionist child remains out of control. As the inner world remains out of control, the perfectionist again attempts to compensate for this through attempts to make the external world even more perfect. But no amount of perfection of the external world can compensate for the internal world that feels out of control. This is often why, the perfectionist, as an adult, is frequently disappointed. The perfection they are desperate to achieve is not only impossible, but it is also poorly aimed. Often, this need for perfection extends to relationships as well, and those around the perfectionist frequently describe them as difficult to be around. They may be unable to just “let go” and have fun, and instead needs to control everything. But the more they try to control the relationships, the more they pushed people away, and ends up feeling lonely. What the perfectionist really experiences is an internal world that is out of control. The more they attempt to compensate for this by controlling the external world, the more they neglect the reality that their internal world is actually what is out of control. What this cycle sets the perfectionist up for is disappointment and constant frustration. As perfection is a make believe concept, and not attainable, they eventually will give up. This explains why, when perfectionists attempt to lose weight, their rigidity, and need to be on the “perfect” diet, makes their diet unattainable over the long term, and they end up giving up. When they do, they feel defeated. This explains why perfectionists have such trouble with setbacks. Setbacks to a perfectionist are felt as a complete failure, but are also felt as a world that is completely out of control. So when they give up on a diet program, they feel as though they have lost their chance, and there is no way to start again. While perfectionists struggle with setbacks, they are also the people who are very disciplined in their approach to the world, making them very responsible, dependable and reliable. These characteristics have been invaluable in helping them to achieve their goals. In fact, without these characteristics, they most likely would not have achieved their goals. In this respect, perfectionists make great leaders, managers, athletes, and entrepreneurs. In many eyes, they are the emblem of success. Unfortunately, in their eyes, they are not.
Cindy is an example of a perfectionist. A former marathon runner, is used to the discipline and determination it takes to run a marathon. In fact, she runs most of life like a marathon. She was a 4.0 student in high school, and worked very hard to achieve the SAT scores to get into U.C.Berkeley. Once there, she maintained her GPA, continued to run marathons, and worked to support herself. She won many marathons, and even set the course record on a marathon that was ranked 4th most difficult in the nation. However, her intense training schedule resulted in an injury that she neglected to rehabilitate, and worsened to the point that walking was painful. As she was not able to run anymore, her outlet for stress was gone, and she felt completely out of control. Additionally, she had used running to manage her weight, and when should couldn’t run, she had no way to control her weight, and she began to overeat. Eventually, everything gave way, and she dropped out of school, quit her job, and became very depressed. While she had accomplished many things at a very young age, she now felt as though her entire world had collapsed, as she was not able to run, work, or even go to school. As her entire life had been out of balance, she could not maintain the intense schedule, and rigid determination she imposed on herself. Finally, she reached out, and asked for help. In order to be successful at health and weight loss, the perfectionist clearly needs to learn to live with the imperfect. Where she has been using an unrealistic standard to measure her self worth, she will need to adopt a more realistic standard. As the perfectionist’s need for perfection is rooted in her anxiety, she will also need a way to regulate her anxiety. This concept may not be as difficult as she may think. The perfectionist’s sense of responsibility and self discipline can actually help her here. Once she becomes aware of the effect of her unrealistic standards on her attempts at weight loss, she can learn to check her behavior. To do this, adopting a set criteria for what is considered successful, from which the perfectionist can measure her self worth is necessary. Then, she can notice when she attempts to overshoot this standard, in an attempt to achieve more, and be “more perfect”. When she catches herself doing this, she can then use her discipline, and sense of perfectionism to only achieve the set criteria, no more, no less. For example, she may have a goal to burn 5000
Workshop 1 – Who You Are: As a perfectionist, you want everything just so and often drive yourself crazy making sure that everything is in its proper place and corresponds with your image of how things should be. For many of you, perfectionism is an attempt to bring order to the external world because your inner world feels out of control.
Why You’re That Way: Many perfectionists grew up in unstable or chaotic households and made a decision at some point to deal with the distress by exerting control over their lives. Many react by becoming super-achievers and super responsible. While this pattern of behavior may have helped you survive a difficult childhood, it has outlived its usefulness.
Characteristics of a Perfectionist:
Often a sense of frustration or disappointment
Fear of failure
- What areas of your life have you excelled or been successful having this trait?
- What areas of you or your life has this trait not served you as well?
- Has it affected your health & lifestyle? Your happiness?
Workshop 2 – How You Feel: Perfectionism leaves you drained and squeezes joy out of your life. Many times, you set impossible goals or try to exceed your personal best. You have forgotten how to relax and enjoy life.
- With this personality trait, do you expect the same of others, loved ones?
- Has this skewed your judgment towards others if they do not measure up?
- Are you able to be carefree if everything is not perfect?
- How would you like to see yourself differently
- Do you give up if it’s not perfect?
- Has is affected your health & lifestyle? Your happiness?
Affirmations for Perfectionists
It’s okay to let go.
I value life in its perfections and imperfections.
I don’t have to fix everything.
I can sit back and enjoy things as they are.
I appreciate myself as I am.
I appreciate other people as they are.
I have dreams but can be realistic with my goals
Inspiration for Perfectionists
“The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.”
⎯ Anna Quindlen
“Done is better than perfect.”
⎯ Scott Allen
“If the world were perfect, it wouldn’t be.”
⎯ Yogi Berra
Zeyad’s Perfectionist Story
Zeyad came to our camp from Saudi Arabia, weighing in at 305 pounds. He definitely wanted to lose weight, but his primary goal was to look better. He wanted to look perfect. It was evident how he became a perfectionist; someone somewhere had instilled certain qualities in him, specifically that work ethic is extremely important and anything less than perfection was not okay.
These traits are difficult to deal with, because in so many ways they are positive and enable people to achieve high levels of success. However, in Zeyad’s case they were dangerous, because when things didn’t go exactly as he wanted or expected, he wanted to quit. He must have said, “I don’t think this will work” 10 times. After each 12 pounds he lost, he would question whether or not what he was doing was working the perfect way it’s supposed to. He believed he would just put the weight back on, so we had to convince him that nothing is perfect.
Eventually Zeyad began to understand the one thing that perfectionists have a difficult time grasping: Nothing is perfect. If he thinks a woman is the most beautiful creature on the planet, there will be another person who doesn’t share that opinion. That’s the beauty of beauty⎯it’s in the eye of the beholder. This revelation made all the difference to Zeyad. He lost more than 120 pounds, but the real success for him was accepting himself as someone who isn’t perfect, and that his past failures stem from the fact that he was too hard on himself and worked himself too hard.
I know that he is perfect because of his imperfections. It’s not the perfect person he is trying to become, but the perfect Zeyad that he already is. He is well on his way to believing this himself, and this will happen for him, as long as he forgives himself, practices moderation, and keeps his life in balance.
Workshop 3 – Relationships/Family: When you’re in a relationship, you find it difficult not to criticize your partner and are surprised when the other person is offended. Hey, in your mind, you were only trying to help and make things better! Often this desire to improve the people around you manages to push them away. This leaves you feeling lonely and frustrated.
This is often why, the perfectionist, as an adult, is frequently disappointed. The perfection she is desperate to achieve is not only impossible, but it is also poorly aimed. Often, this need for perfection extends to relationships as well, and those around the perfectionist frequently describe her as difficult to be around. She may be unable to just “let go” and have fun, and instead needs to control everything. But the more she tries to control her relationships, the more she pushes people away, and ends up feeling lonely. What the perfectionist really experiences is an internal world that is out of control. The more she attempts to compensate for this by controlling the external world, the more she neglects the reality that her internal world is actually what is out of control. What this cycle sets the perfectionist up for is disappointment and constant frustration. As perfection is a make believe concept, and not attainable, she eventually will give up. This explains why, when perfectionists attempt to lose weight, their rigidity, and need to be on the “perfect” diet, makes their diet unattainable over the long term, and they end up giving up.
- How has this affected you?
- What have you missed out on by having this trait?
- What is important to you at the end of the day?
- If you look back at your life would you feel fulfilled
Workshop 4 – Watch Out For: Sooner or later, you will get tired of trying to make the world perfect. That’s when you experience burnout and just let everything go. When you embark on a weight-loss and fitness program, you tend to become too ambitious, which leads to poor overall results.
Recommendations: The key is to stay within balance, to set realistic goals and stick with them. With your great potential for discipline and drive, you have the ability to stay on track and achieve your weight-loss and fitness goals for the long-term.
Set calories a week, and eat 1400 calories a day, every day. This is the set criteria that she then works to achieve every day. In this way, she can learn to put a limit on her perfectionism, and use her discipline in her favor. In learning to regulate her anxiety, she can also use a set criteria for stress management. Especially in this area, it is important that the criteria be set, as the perfectionist may not always notice her anxiety as it is played out much more through her behavior, than the emotions that she actually feels. For example, she can use a set criteria of one hour meditation per day. This criteria is something that is expected to be achieved, regardless of how she feels. Once she can learn to manage her perfectionism through the use of a realistic, set criteria for success, she can eliminate the possibility that she will use an unrealistic ideal to attempt to achieve, and in doing so, burn out. She will also learn to be content with this criteria, and indirectly with herself. The set criteria for managing her anxiety can be very helpful here too. Perfectionists are not used to managing their anxiety, but instead have been managed by their anxiety. What this means is that they have been reacting to their anxiety, but have had no way to control it. In fact, their anxiety has helped them remain so rigid and driven. So in learning to regulate it, it is not uncommon for the perfectionist to complain that they are more tired than usual. This is the effect of lowered anxiety. But this is also what it feels like to learn to be content. As they learn this concept, and adjust to the lowered anxiety levels, their energy levels will actually increase in time. As they do, their mood will likely improve as well as they learn to live in a world that is not perfect, and learn to accept themselves as not perfect as well.
- List some realistic goals that are important to you with a realistic timeline or timeframe