What does practise make? Hint: it doesn't really exist.
In my head, I've sat down on numerous occasions during the past few weeks to write this post.
The reality? Well, I could bore you with the minutiae of a busy working Mum's juggle of balancing both family and a business, but instead I'll just bundle it all neatly together under the umbrella of a title called 'life'.
Life got in the way. You know, that thing where we try to fit in 354 "to do's" on a daily basis and then allow ourselves to feel rubbish if we don't complete them all? Yep, that.
Instead of allowing myself some grace, patience and acknowledging that things are quite hectic at the moment, I've given myself a very low-level, barely perceptible telling off for under performing; the equivalent of an adults tut of disapproval from when I was a child.
But maybe this time it's actually worked out in my favour.
I'd planned this post to be all about perfectionism and, inadvertently, I've been gifted a great example of how that double edged sword of a behaviour can show up in disguise. You see, my belief was that this article should have been published a few weeks back, so the fact that it's late leaves me with feelings of inadequacy and disappointment in myself. Why? Because it means I've acted imperfectly.
Even reading that last sentence back to myself feels faintly ridiculous. I mean, it's just a few words put together on a website that I doubt very much any of you have noticed were absent. But the feelings of imperfection that pop up are about as uncomfortable for me as watching the early audition stages on The X Factor. Yes, that uncomfortable.
Doing the job that I do, you'd think perfectionism would be a valuable quality to have, right?
Well, yes and no.
It's so very important to me that I make a piece of jewellery to meet my clients expectations. And why wouldn't it be? I'm asking them to part with their hard earned money and invest in a piece that should last a very, very long time. Attention to detail is vital.
But, it's not so helpful when a commission has left the workshop and I keep checking, and re-checking, my emails, to see if said client has taken delivery of it and what their response is. Do they love it? Does it fit? What if it's a little bigger/smaller/darker/lighter/bolder/more subtle than they had anticipated?
When I don't immediately hear back from a client, I think the worst. When the reality is, they are probably just getting on with their day. A day in which a new piece of jewellery is just a small part of.
Sometimes a week will go by before I hear from them, and most often it's because, strangely enough, they also have a busy schedule. Plus, it's jewellery at the end of the day, not life saving surgery that they are reporting back on.
So I guess my perfectionism is accompanied by a lovely side dish of people pleasing. And you know what? It's really wearing. I'm placing so much on the pleasing of people, that I lose sight of what I need and deserve too. Like a rest from work, like not logging into my emails to check them at times when it's completely acceptable not to be working (i.e. the weekend and just before bed), like genuinely taking time off from work when projects are completed and sent out to their new homes.
When I asked my Instagram community how perfectionism can present itself for them, the responses varied. Quite a few said it prevented them from trying new things because they were worried they wouldn't be good enough, straight away. Another example was over working to make sure a job was done to such a high standard that they felt burnt out as a result. "Doing all the jobs because then I know that they would be done correctly" was another response.
Perfectionism can show up in some areas of our lives and not others. For example, I'm not really bothered about having everything neat and tidy at home and I don't mind people taking us as they find us when they visit. However, until not so long ago (I've been working on it, using some of my tips below) if I were to post a picture of my work on social media that wasn't what I deemed as absolutely perfect, it would cause genuine anxiety and feelings of 'not good enough' because I had allowed something that wasn't 100% perfect out into the world.
But here's the thing, there really is no such thing as perfect. Yes, we can view something as perfect, but it is really just subjective. For instance, what I might view as a perfect cup of tea (for the record, it's a builders brew made with PG tips) you might find less than satisfactory.
My idea of a perfect evening would be sitting under a blanket on the sofa watching re-runs of Columbo with my husband. However, I'm guessing that might not quite be up there with how you'd choose to spend a perfect night?
So whilst perfectionism can take many guises, the impact it can have has a common thread running through it and it isn't necessarily a positive one. It can prevent us from doing things, trying things, finishing things, saying things, making things, writing things, for fear of it not being good enough.
Having high standards is great, but how can we prevent it from becoming a hinderance, whereby it has not such a great impact on our lives?
Five tips to overcoming perfectionism
1. Try to accept that being perfect is a myth. Being perfect isn't actually possible. Nothing or no one is perfect. We can try our best and that's enough. A great friend reminded me today to "strive for excellence not perfection", which I thought were wonderful words of advice.
2. Ask yourself whose putting these expectations on you? If it's the person staring back at you in the mirror then in some ways that's actually good news! Why? Because if it's you placing this unrealistic expectation on yourself, then you're the one who can give permission to let it go. It may seem slightly unbelievable, but it's true. You really have the power within yourself to tackle these unhelpful responses, and no one can take that away.
3. Try doing something imperfectly. Ok, hear me out! This was a really tough one for me to get my head around too. I mean, who would be crazy enough to purposely leave something as finished that they knew wasn't perfect? But then I looked at how that could work for me. For example, it might mean finishing this blog post, reading through and checking it over for mistakes and then hitting publish before I allow myself to start editing it again...and again...and again.
Of course, there will always be ways of improving it, but I'm getting better at recognising that it isn't the single most important part of my day. I have other roles to fulfil, other activities to spend time on and enjoy. This article is important to me, but I don't believe it to be so important that I spend time perfecting it to the detriment of other things that I value.
4. Try doing something imperfectly and then sit with it. To us perfectionists, leaving something finished as not quite perfect can feel very uncomfortable indeed. So what do we do? It all comes down to practise. To give you an example, I made fun video Reel for Instagram recently and after I'd edited it, I knew it wasn't going to win any Baftas for Best Cinematography; the lighting was a little inconsistent and the continuity was slightly off.
But rather than scrapping it and starting again because it was less than perfect, I decided to share it as it was. The uncomfortable feelings that came up for me were very familiar. I was anxious and I wanted to go back and hit 'delete'. But I didn't. Instead I decided to sit with those icky, uncomfortable feelings and take no action whatsoever. That was the hardest bit.
But, on my home about an hour later, I noticed that I wasn't thinking quite so much about the video. The uncomfortable feeling had softened just a little. My mind was now thinking about what we were going to be doing with the kids that weekend instead. As the evening progressed I realised that I'd become just about ok with it not being perfect. I wasn't singing from the rooftops about it, but I was tolerating the imperfection of it. Which brings me on to.....
5. Practise, practise, practise. There is no magic wand to wave and whilst I don't believe that practise makes perfect (remember the first tip?) practising tip number 3 & 4 whenever the opportunity arises really helps our brain to become ok with imperfection.
For example, if you normally respond to emails immediately for fear of being seen as 'not good enough' at your job by the sender, try leaving them for a short while. What were you doing before the email popped up? Continue with that. Not only does it help you to stay focused on one task at a time, but when you do reply later on it will help demonstrate to your brain that it was completely acceptable to do that. And I bet no one notices.
The next time you decide to hold back on an immediate reply, it will probably feel just a little bit easier. This is because your brain already has some evidence that it's ok to do this. It remembers that the world didn't stop turning the first time around, nothing terrible happened as a result and you still did your job in a really professional manner; it is building up a tolerance to being 'imperfect' each and every time it's given the chance to.
So, if you've read this far, it means I've hit 'publish' and am now enjoying a cuppa somewhere else other than at my computer, not combing through the post for mistakes, practising being ok with a possible typo.
And if you do find any, I'm ok with not knowing.