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Mindfulness and Perfectionism

Perfectionism, a major disease for a new generation’ was the opening header of a major Dutch newspaper. A large report (2016) showed that people between 20 and 50 spend an average of 51 hours on ‘compulsory’ activities, such as work, education and care. Even in their free time, the report showed, many are living a busy and rushed life. The increased speed of living and our response to it (often trying to control it) can take us hostage. So time for a blog on mindfulness and perfectionism and the illusion of control.


Fear, the engine of perfectionism

In my work as a coach I work a lot with Millennials and perfectionism is one of the major topics to tackle. It does not matter whether the initial question is career orientation, stress / burnout or performance anxiety. Perfectionism has a direct link with fear, the fear of doing it wrong (not perfectly). To avoid this, we lose ourselves in details and try to keep control of the situation.


My own experience

Recently I have been noticing how i tense up when in front of the computer when a challenging to/do presents itself and only after a few hours I feel that my shoulders and neck are getting stiff. Then I realize that there is some anxiety (fear) and my strategy is to get rid of the unrest by completing all my to-do’s as quickly as possible. This, at least for me, does not work and more often I become less effective and certainly more stressed.


The Paradox of perfectionism

Paradoxically, the chances of failure, for example at work, are greater because of perfectionism. Too much time is spent on detail, overtime is more likely but also poor sleep, rushing or not meeting deadlines and loss of job satisfaction are often increasing. Which again resulted in stress and yes the B-word, Burn out. Do you already recognize things? Then let’s see what can help to turn the tide.



 80/20 rule

This rule shows that you can achieve 80 percent of the result with a 20 percent effort. For the remaining 20 percent, much more is often required. You then go over to details and fine tuning. Often the achievement of 80 percent is more than sufficient, so you can ultimately work more effectively. To do this you have to be aware of your behavior and see (admit) that you might lose yourself in the remaining 20%.


Mindfulness and perfectionism

Mindfulness is the perfect way to become aware of your patterns. Only then you have the freedom to choose and apply for example the 80/20 rule but also to make a conscious decision to decide to give time and attention to the remaining 20%. This awareness prevents you from becoming a slave of your fear of failure and you will lose perfectionism in your automatic response.


How do you become more aware?

It is hard sometimes to notice stress but the body often gives the first signal. Your neck and shoulders get stuck, your breathing becomes restless and / or you feel that you hold your tension in your stomach. If you notice this, you can distance yourself (often literally) from what you were doing.

You can have something to drink, go outside, do a short (3-minute) meditation in a quiet place or something else to breaks your usual habit. The point is to zoom out and go back to the topic at hand with a fresh(er) outlook. Chances are that you apply an 80/20 rule (or another tool) more often.


Face your fear

The real gain, however, is to face, allow, feel and relax with your fear. Easier said then done. So it is not surprising that people decide to do this with a coach or deal with it in a group. It requires courage to face yourself. An 6-weeks mindfulness course is major step in doing exactly that. What a relief and liberation if you manage to no longer be enslaved by your fear. You break the engine behind perfectionism.

A beautiful and short video of Prince Ea to kill this fear in just 5 seconds.