This week’s focus is to help private practitioners to climb out of the sticky wicket of perfectionism in order to get away from the crippling effects of this anxiety about never feeling good enough. I want to provide some actionable tips for combatingg the perfection trap. (Some of the links are affiliate links which provides compensation to us if you should use these links to make purchase).
“Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.”
Maybe you have always had a tendency to feel internal pressure to get everything just right followed by plaguing anxiety. Or perhaps the expectations others have imposed on you have caused you to feel like you’re on a hamster wheel of striving, never experiencing satisfaction. Regardless of the source of this pressure, it’s important to learn the skill of realizing when good enough is good enough.
When you decided to open your private practice, you made a decision to step out on your own, create a business where your career as a helping professional would be able to thrive. Taking that big step often comes with a lot of anxiety. There are some common fear thoughts that plague professionals I have noticed in my work providing practice-building training and consultation. Fear of failure. Fear of being judged by others. Fear of being criticized. Imposter syndrome. There is even the fear of having shining success. Perfectionistic anxiety can cripple a private practitioner.
Wondering if you have perfectionistic tendencies?
Here are some signs that perfectionism may be getting in your way:
- Finding yourself speaking harshly to yourself about the quality of your efforts with clients, record-keeping or other projects with resulting frustration, feelings of defeat or high anxiety.
- All good or all bad frame of judgment of your own work and efforts within your practice.
- Presuming the worst outcome propelling you to work harder, try harder, never feeling satisfied with your efforts. Assuming your supervisor will be critical of you or that your clients won’t progress with your interventions.
- Thinking and speaking to yourself with a lot of “should” statements. Feeling there is always MORE or BETTER you “should” be doing.
- Repetitive do-overs. Scrapping and starting over again and again on creative projects, feeling you just can’t get it right.
- Taking much longer to do a task than is likely needed.
- Obsessively checking and re-checking your work.
- Chronic indecision. Hemming and hawing over the smallest of decisions.
- Avoidant of new ventures or experience for fear of failing. Avoiding networking and marketing for fear of not feeling other professionals will respect you or take you seriously.
Identifying your perfectionistic tendencies is the first step. Once you realize these tendencies are at the heart of what may be blocking you from growing, blossoming and thriving in your private practice, as well as other elements of your life, you can begin to harness the courage you need to make changes.
Want to know how to get out of the perfection trap?
Tips for combating the private practice perfection trap:
- Make a firm decision to get out of the perfection trap. Regardless of whether your fear of falling short is rooted solely in self-referring thoughts and beliefs or whether you have one or more highly critical people influencing your beliefs about your abilities and actions, the work to be done is an inside job. You must recognize that you are the only one who can decide to untangle yourself from the perfection trap. Taking ownership of this process can feel incredibly empowering.
- Grab a cup of coffee or tea and read this book. Carve out a day to remove all distractions, curl up on the couch and delve into Brene Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection. Brene Brown is herself a therapist first and then became well known author, trainer and inspirational speaker. Do yourself a favor and take time to read and soak up the wisdom she shares with us.
- Practice, practice, practice letting go. Look for opportunities where you are spinning your wheels chasing perfection and practice letting go and accepting you’ve done the best you can for now. The more you practice this you will find yourself softening the self-criticism and loosening your grip more readily.
- Zoom out and have another look. People who suffer with perfectionism typically become hyper focused on the smallest details, becoming obsessed about absolutely accuracy or high performance. Much of the time this level of scrutiny obfuscates the relevance or value to the situation. Practice climbing up the tree and getting a bird’s eye view and ask yourself if this really is that important to the greater outcome. You may find this is an opportunity to let go.
- Build tolerance for imperfection. If you find yourself obsessing about the order of your office, intentionally leave your desk messy and breathe through it seeing if you can allow it to just be. If you feel you can’t leave the office for the day until you’ve completed that day’s progress notes, push yourself let that record-keeping sit until Friday afternoon.
- Train your brain to speak kindly and realistically to yourself. We all have an inner dialogue running all of the time. If you can become more conscious of what you are saying to yourself and purposefully employ affirmative, encouraging and realistic statements you will find yourself feeling more relaxed and less pressured.
- Set boundaries with overly critical people in your life. If you have a parent, a spouse, a friend, colleague or supervisor who is overly critical absent a balance of encouragement, learn to ask for what you need and set healthy boundaries. Learn how to assert yourself. For example you might say, “I appreciate your perspective and I want to receive constructive feedback but when you criticize my work or my efforts without noticing what I’m doing well it feels discouraging.”
Clarifying points about combating the perfection trap in private practice
- No compromising ethics or the law is ever advised. Our work as professionals calls upon us to ensure we are maintaining high standards when it comes to care for clients or patients and by no means should we lower those standards. Helping professionals have ethical codes, licensing requirements and laws that make it clear where the parameters are for ensuring integrity of ethics and law are upheld. Allowing your performance expectations to relax does to combat perfectionism is not the same thing as relaxing those clear ethical and legal guidelines and regulations.
- Ask for support. The common irony of being a helping professionals is that helping professionals often have a hard time asking for professional help for themselves. I am a humble and firm believer that all helping professionals need their own helpers in order to keep ourselves on track, maintain our life-work and self-care balance and to provide tools and support as needed. We are, after all, human. Perfectionistic tendencies can create a real trap causing professionals to avoid seeking help and support when they most need it. Breaking free of this trap often requires an objective source of support. Go to your own therapy, seek consultation or supervision with someone you know will be supportive and non-judging.
- Embrace the idea and statement: “This is good enough just as it is.” Even in the face of outside criticism. Sadly, there will ALWAYS be external sources of criticism no matter how hard you try, no matter how hard you work. Accepting that and training your own brain to go to “This is good enough just as it is,” is going to be a muscle you will need to grow in order to disallow the critics to take you down.
If you’d like schedule a consultation with me to discuss how to begin the process of combatting the perfection trap in your own private practice, I’d love to meet with you by video conference or phone. Schedule a 15, 30 or 60 minute consultation with me HERE.