Hey perfectionists, here’s how to be free of sky high expectations : A book review

A review by Grace Jennings-Edquist Oct 22, 2016

Think back to the last time you gave yourself a mental high-five and reminded yourself, “My life is completely up to scratch.”

Erm—you can’t remember that happening, can you? Neither can I. That could be because, like so many women I know, we’re perfectionists. Our standards are higher than Iggy Pop in the ‘70s, and we expect that we’ll not only competently do our jobs/stay in shape/raise our kids, but give Wonder Woman a run for her money in each of these fields. Simultaneously.

The problem is, this perfectionistic mindset doesn’t often actually lead to success.

Psychologist and author of Killing the Perfectionist Within Honor Jane Newman tells me perfectionism is a contributing factor to a range of mental health conditions including anxiety, eating disorders, postpartum depression, low self-esteem, burnout, obsessive compulsive disorder, alcoholism and major depression.


Perfectionism is “very common” in women aged 25-45, Newman confirms, citing causes including cultural pressures to “have it all”; the myth that motherhood is the ultimate fulfillment; and media portrayals of feminine beauty and desirability. (“Being parented in either a highly critical manner or an over-indulgent manner both give women an unrealistic sense of self,” Newman adds.)

Whatever the cause of your everything-must-be-perfect tendencies, it’s possible to rein them in using a few expert-approved tips.

Master these four and you’ll be on your way to a happier life—no sky-high expectations required.

1. Ditch the “should”

Newman tells me women can benefit from eliminating the word “should” from their vocabularies.

“Every time you tell yourself you should be this or that you automatically feel under pressure and obligation, which is a negative emotional state,” she suggests.

“Instead try, ‘I’d like to–do, have, achieve…’” she suggests. “With this there comes the acceptance of what you wish for but also some room around that not happening to the extent you might like.”

2. Stop with the comparisons

You know when you’re having a pretty sweet day—until you’re scrolling through Instagram and see that drop-dead-gorgeous girl you knew at college celebrating another award for her off-the-charts successful career? Blah. All of a sudden your office job is mundane as hell, your last vacation in Vermont looks hokey, and you’re itching to lose 10 pounds.

This social-media-comparison phenomenon has been confirmed by experts: Studies have shown our subjective perception of wellbeing and life satisfaction may be undermined by platforms like Facebook.

Here’s a little trick that works for me: Remove stimulus that seems to trigger life-comparisons that bring you down.

Sneakily unfollow those humblebraggers, #inspo bikini body types on Instagram and Facebook, so you’ll be less likely to desire their seemingly perfect lives/jobs/abs.

And keep reminding yourself of this: Social media only features the highlights—not all the mundane pyjamas-and-hangover moments—from your acquaintances’ lives.

I mean, that girl on a private jet probably has really bad IBS or terrible taste in men; she just neglected to mention it in her latest post about #blessed she is.

3. Put pen to paper

Reflect on what it would mean for you to be imperfect—what thoughts and feelings and insecurities does this bring up for you?—and write these down.

“Think about where these thoughts, insecurities and self-pressure started. How long ago?,” Newman says.

“This increase in self- awareness is the first step to change as you can start to challenge the truth of these thoughts, feelings and assumptions.”

4. Challenge the all-or-nothing mindset

Perfectionists tend to think in black and white terms: Either a project they’re working on is absolutely glorious, or it’s a goddamn embarrassment that needs to be hidden from sight.

The problem with that mindset: It can deter us from trying things at all. (Women apply for a promotion only when they meet 100 percent of the qualifications; meanwhile, men apply when they meet 50 percent, The Confidence Gap authors Katty Kay and Claire Shipman write.)

“Though we all want those instant, perfect, voila moments, most things take time and don’t look like much at first,” writes psychologist Tamar Chansky, author of Freeing Yourself from Anxiety: 4 Simple Steps to Overcome Worry and Create the Life You Want. (Van Gogh’s first painting probably looked like a car crash in comparison to The Starry Night, for example. And I bet Orwell’s first draft of 1984 was a typo-fest.)

“So when you stop to do a spot-check and see the unfinished or rough spots, rather than judging how this is falling short, keep moving forward to what’s next,” Chansky says. “Don’t confuse the unfinished-ness of the moment as a sign of the health of the project overall; it’s just a step along the way.”

Next time you slip up, learn from your mistake rather than throwing in the towel altogether.

Which gets me thinking…If you don’t master these four tricks to challenge your perfectionism immediately, don’t beat yourself up and quit trying.

That’d be way too ironic, right?

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