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Banishing the Perfectionista in You

Written by Featured Organization on 30 November 2009.

Throwing the perfect holiday party for your closest friends means planning months ahead, sending out customized invitations, finding the perfect appetizer plates with matching serving platters and table décor and so on – or does it?

Organizing a party or hosting a family dinner doesn’t have to be flawless, just relaxing and enjoyable. Here’s how you can banish the perfectionist in you during the holidays:

1. Learn to distinguish between healthy high standards and perfectionism.
• There is nothing wrong with wanting to do things well. However, having high standards is not the same thing as perfectionism.
• Perfectionism refers to a tendency to have excessively high standards – standards that cannot possibly be met.
• Perfectionists often experience intense anxiety, shame, anger, or low mood when their standards or goals are not met.
• Perfectionism may affect people’s functioning by causing them to spend too long on tasks, or to avoid tasks altogether (in other words, to procrastinate).
Before overcoming problems with perfectionism, it is useful to distinguish between healthy high standards versus standards that are unrealistic or that cause problems in the long run.

2. Take a step back – consider your perfectionist thoughts and shift your thinking to be more realistic and balanced. For example, if you are convinced that your home has to be spotless and perfectly neat and organized, ask yourself questions to challenge your thoughts:
• “What if a few things are not in their place?”
• “Does it really matter as much as it feels like it matters?”
• “Is it necessarily true that my guests will prefer a perfectly organized home, or will some people feel more comfortable if things are not so perfect?”
Remember, just because you believe that everything has to be perfect, doesn’t mean that your belief is true!

3. Expose yourself to imperfection. Just as practising driving can help someone get over a fear of being behind the wheel, allowing things to be less than perfect will reduce your fear of imperfection.
So, let the towels hang crookedly, purposely add a minor typo to your dinner invitation, or serve dinner a half hour later than planned. By allowing some flexibility in the way you do things, you will learn to be more comfortable with minor imperfections and unexpected changes to your plans.

4. Evaluate whether you may be creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. Because perfectionism is associated with standards and expectations that are impossible to meet, perfectionists run the risk of having events not turn out as desired and therefore develop the perception that they have “reason” to worry. Accept your inability to control the outcomes, but recognize that you can control your reaction.

5. Seek treatment if your perfectionism is a problem. If perfectionism leads to significant problems with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, or difficulties in your relationships, you may want to seek expert help from an experienced mental health professional, such as a psychologist or psychiatrist. Your family doctor is a good place to start if you are looking for a referral.

For the full list of holiday tips, visit:
http://www.ryerson.ca/news/media/spotlight/holiday2009/2009_holiday_catalogue.pdf