crooked perfectionism

Is Perfectionism Sabotaging You?

crooked perfectionism

“Once I find a free weekend, I’ll get my garage sorted.”

“It’s silly to email my readers until I can commit to doing it weekly.”

“I had a donut for breakfast so I guess today’s healthy eating is out the window.”

Does any of that sound familiar to you?

Maybe you’ve uttered something similar?

If so, welcome to the Perfectionist Club.

Despite wanting so badly to make changes in your life, there’s a little part of you who would much rather stay put — though she doesn’t always feel so little!

Although I am not a card-carrying member of the Perfectionist Club, my wife, Melissa just might be the president. Oh baby, have I seen it throw some wrenches into her plans!

She has always had high expectations of herself, which isn’t a bad thing, of course, except when they’re completely unrealistic. Then these expectations become a looming, harsh critic, and who wants to work under those conditions?

Likely born out of a lack of control when younger, from a parent’s high demands, or an atmosphere of competitiveness, perfectionism makes self-love transactional — that you’re not good enough unless you do everything just so.

You may think that you simply want the project to be perfect, but what your younger self hears is “You have to be perfect.”

And to complicate matters even more, guess who is perfectionism’s best buddy? Procrastination. They’re like tag-team wrestlers taking turns tossing you around.

Let’s say you want to improve your health but you put off exercise because perfectionism is telling you 30 minutes isn’t enough to get in a good workout.

So you procrastinate some more, beating yourself up while doing so.

When you’re annoyed enough with dragging your feet that you’re ready to take action, in comes perfectionism again to tell you why now isn’t a good time.

Both perfectionism and procrastination are go-to tactics for your resistance to keep you stuck. But believe it or not, neither really wants to sabotage you.

Like any other kind of clutter, they’re just an effective way for your fearful, younger self to stay safe. And like any other kind of clutter, the antidote is small steps.

By gently guiding your fear into “good enough” territory, she will begin to see that you have her back and that your love for her is ever-present.

Stumbling and flailing along at times is a necessary part of the journey. It’s in those clumsy moments when you can learn a lot about yourself, and you can actually relax after knowing that imperfection isn’t nearly as bad as you thought.

In fact, in some cultures, flaws are valued.

In traditional Japanese aesthetics, wabi-sabi (侘寂) is a world view centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is ‘imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete.’” — Wikipedia

It’s sort of like when you get that first scratch on your new car. It’s infuriating at first, but then there’s a sense of relief that it’s over; that the car is no longer in perfect condition so you needn’t worry so much about it. OK, maybe that’s a stretch, but you get my drift.

The bottom line is, with all or nothing thinking, nothing always wins, and some action is better than no action. And in honor of that, I present you with….

The Half-Ass Challenge

This week, I want you to look for ways you can intentionally do things less than perfectly, yet still do them.

For example:

  • When doing dishes, leave one item in the sink,
  • Go to the gym and walk on the treadmill for just 20 minutes and then leave, or
  • Set a timer and spend only 15 minutes sorting a pile of physical clutter.

Listen for that inner voice telling you to do more, go faster, or bail all together, and then challenge it. Help your fear see that nothing catastrophic comes as a result of “good enough,” and in fact you can actually feel freer.

Finally, here’s a secret (but don’t tell perfectionism): This trait isn’t all bad. Perfectionists tend to be very organized and detail-oriented and those are some great qualities.

So perfectionism isn’t always clutter, but you need to sift out what’s working and what’s not.

How does this behavior add to your life? If it leads you toward healthy excellence and makes you feel proud, it isn’t clutter.

But if it’s stopping you from even getting started, it is.

It’s up to you to determine which is which.

Now I’d love to hear your take on all of this.

Will you be taking on my Half-Ass Challenge?

Is perfectionism a tool of choice for your fear?

What will you “wabi-sabi” this week? (Yes, I just made it a verb).

Join the conversation in the comments below.

18 replies
  1. Anne
    Anne says:

    I needed to hear this. Sometimes, I confuse myself as “lazy” when at the bottom of it all, I am a really hardworking perfectionist who gets blocked from taking action, and procrastinates. I’ll do some half-ass diet and exercise this week. Thanks Kerri! 😊

    • Kerri
      Kerri says:

      Yes, Anne! As a perfectionist, I want you to lower those expectations a bit and practice embracing “good enough.” Often times, something done “half ass” is better than not done at all! And most importantly, remind yourself that it’s totally fine to just do a little here and there — Little Anne needs reassurance that you’ll still love her!

  2. Karin
    Karin says:

    Wow, Kerri, just like Anne, who also replied, I really needed to hear this! So much so, that I will print this blog post out and read it again and again. Yes, my perfectionism is a life partner with procrastination; that’s so incredible to see written in words to open my eyes to what’s going on. I just had to shake my head and realize that this is the explanation for me, and I’m sure for so many others. My issue is paper clutter. (and maybe piles of stuff in the garage that I have to find the ‘perfect’ way to get rid of…recycle…give to someone…donate, etc.). I just don’t want to deal with the piles, and I’ll take care of the needs of everyone else in my house, just to avoid having time to get to the piles of paper that I need to deal with. Thank you so much for this thought provoking blog; you are such an inspiration!

    • Kerri
      Kerri says:

      Thanks for joining the conversation, Karin! I wonder if it’s not so much the papers or garage piles that you don’t want to deal with, but what they represent. It is so tempting to tend to others when we want to avoid our own stuff, however, you needn’t clear all the clutter to uncover the message or feel the rewards of success. You need only begin. Consider starting with journaling about what the items remind you of, mean to you, or make you feel. Doing this will make space for your fear and resistance to be heard and you might just find that once you know what’s going on underneath, you’ll clear things with ease!

  3. Theresa
    Theresa says:

    Wow Kerri! Sometimes I think you are looking directly at me and my life. This post hit me hard!! Perfectionism and procrastination have been tag teaming me for years and seeing it explained in the post was very meaningful for me. I am into the Half Ass Challenge! Getting something done Half Ass will certainly be better than not doing it at all! What an epiphany!!

      • Theresa
        Theresa says:

        Oh boy, where do I start! Cleaning……….if I don’t have time to do a massive deep down cleaning I’ll wait till I have the time. Yesterday I just did general pick up. My house already looks better! I can do something half ass and feel good and see results. I also do the all or nothing laundry outlook. All the laundry needs to get done. Ugh, the pressure!! Most of this stems from the way I was brought up. My Mom had a cleaning day, a laundry day……I just don’t have the kind of life my Mom had therefore I should not expect to devote a whole day to cleaning the house or doing all the laundry. Thanks Kerri, I’m learning…..stopping and thinking and journaling why I think the way I think has helped me sooooooooooooo much! I’m loving being a half ass!

  4. Ann
    Ann says:

    Wow too !!! This hit me with the answer I have been struggling to find for quite a while! Why won’t I exercise ? Why won’t I go through the mountains of things my mom left for me to sort and get rid of instead of just stacking everything in the “big room” ? Why wont I etc ? I feet like this was written to me. I had parents who had perfectionistic expectations of me as a child which of course followed me through the rest of my life. Yes I do take on the half-ass challenge. This is what I need since I am an all or nothing. Ha ! I have permission. Thank you 🙂

    • Kerri
      Kerri says:

      Yeah, Ann! Half-ass away, woman! And take that why inquisition in a bit of a different direction. Ask yourself why you think you should exercise? Why you think you should go through the mountains of things your mom left for you? I bet when you connect with they “why” a bit more closely you’ll be able to determine what’s important to you and what isn’t and you’ll feel much more motivated to take action on the former. You got this!

  5. Carol
    Carol says:

    It’s a tough road to bypass these repeated thoughts telling one that things must be done correctly. I’m a huge procrastinator with the additional burden of fear to correct my delays. It’s terrifying to overcome imperfections.

    • Kerri
      Kerri says:

      Thanks for joining the conversation, Carol. I see in your comment that Little Carol was having a say, so Hi LC! 😉 It needn’t be terrifying to overcome imperfections, but I know it can feel that way. Help your little one feel loved and safe even as you both work on shifting your mode of operation. Baby steps and lots of reassurance. And it’s all about progress, not perfection. <3

  6. Dawn
    Dawn says:

    Oh my gosh Kerri. I loved this!! The Half-Ass Challenge made me laugh out loud. I am so doing that! Wouldn’t that just irritate a perfectionist seeing the person next to them doing everything half-assed 🙂 Like one time I know a lady who went to the car wash (the you do it yourself car washing stalls), just to get some winter grime off but she didn’t really wash her vehicle properly and sparkly (I guess she figured she was just going back in it), so before they let her pay to leave the car wash attendants wanted her to come back to show her how it’s done. She seemed quite taken aback that her intention to wash it that way was not understood and confidently stated that that’s how she wanted it and she was done.

  7. Roni
    Roni says:

    Thanks for this Kerry! I read this post a couple of years ago, and it had wonderful impact for me. Then over time I forgot about it. This morning I read your “How are you with “good enough”?” email and reconnected with this. Both together have given me new understanding at a perfect point in my life. Thank you!

    • Kerri
      Kerri says:

      I’m so happy to hear you’ve found the posts helpful! I appreciate you taking the time to comment. Remember, perfectionism is just a form of protection we use when we’re scared. Whatever you’re talking yourself out of doing, identify one SMALL Action step you could take today to show your fear all is well!


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