A Coaching Power Tool Created by Katherine Rutkevich
(Transformational Coach, CANADA)
- Have you ever had clients who felt like what the’ve accomplished was never quite good enough?
- Or maybe you have a habit of delaying turning in papers or projects, waiting to get them just right?
- Or maybe you have that feeling you must give more than 100 percent on everything you do or else you will be mediocre or even a failure?
If so, rather than simply working toward success, you may in fact be trying to be perfect. This is exactly how one day I came to realization that I’m a perfectionist.
Perfectionism refers to a set of self-defeating thoughts and behaviors aimed at reaching excessively high unrealistic goals. Perfectionism is socially and personally constructed and is often mistakenly seen in our society as desirable or even necessary for success. Even research confirms, that “perfectionistic attitudes actually interfere with success”. The desire to be perfect can both bring you a sense of personal satisfaction and cause you to fail to achieve as much as people who have more realistic strivings.
In that regard, it is important to have that clear distinction between the “healthy perfectionism” and one that causes so many people to experience such emotional states as guilt; pessimism; depression; rigidity; obsessiveness for order & structure in life; compulsive behaviors, such as compulsive use of alcohol, drugs, gambling, food, shopping, sex, smoking, risk-taking or novelty; lack of motivation, believing that goals or changes will never be able to be ideally or perfectly achieved and lack of belief in self.
Can you relate to any of these?
I sure could, when I started my self-awareness journey, looking to understand why does everything I achieve, everything I do never feels “good enough”.
I started questions like: “Does feeling “not good enough” somehow relate to my selfesteem level? What might be a potential cause of feeling either too good or too bad, but never being fully satisfied with any outcome? And finally, what could be done about it? Is it permanent or constructed? What are the chances of being able to overcome that?
AWARENESS: the great awareness comes slowly, piece by piece, question by question.
I’ve read hundreds of articles, books, talked to close friends, written reflections on my past experiences, before I was able to answer my first terrifying question. Being highly accomplished individual, both personally and professionally, I had extremely law level of self esteem, when I finally found the root cause of it: my “unrealistic strivings to be perfect”. That was a my first significant cognitive shift. Not that I was extremely happy about realizing that something was wrong with me. It wasn’t easy to accept the fact that I’ve created some kind of illusionary unrealistic expectations around myself, successfully projecting them on other people. I had to face that striving to be perfect was a hard, but very much unnecessary work I was doing. That needed to be changed. And I’ve started to look for a completely new pathway, often going back and force from “working hard” to working “from the heart”.
ACCEPTANCE: meant understanding that something is what it is and that there’s got to be the way through it.
I then began to realize that many things have influenced the construction of my perfectionism. Not only circumstances, but people played a huge part in it as well. I started to clearly see, where my significant others played a role in developing me as a “high achiever”, and how did that, early in life, contributed to a false belief, that people value me because of how much I accomplish or achieve. No wonder I tend to rely too much on other’s people approval, always looking for some sort of validation, as well as being extremely sensitive to their criticism. I had to protect my self-wroth and the only way to do that, to secure my self-esteem, I understood, was to become ideal, to be perfect, so no one would ever have to say anything negative about me, and the only feedback I would receive from others would be in a form of acknowledgement and pride. But even that thought was unrealistic one, since I have never been able to accept any complements given to me, thinking that people don’t really mean them, when they say them.
Journalling really helped me to dig dipper and become aware of disempowering patter of thoughts and behaviors that were associated with my “unrealistic strivings”. The following questions really guided me through:
What characteristics of perfectionism are true for me? What irrational beliefs of perfectionists do I hold? How do these beliefs influence my life? What are some negative consequences of perfectionism in my life?
What I discovered, was that I’ve tend to set unreachable goals for myself. And I was failing to meet these goals, because the goals were unrealistic to begin with. Failure to reach them brought about self-criticism and self-blame, it really effected my effectiveness and productivity, and through time effected my self-esteem. Not only that. I finally found that my anxiety symptoms were in the root of perfectionism as well. Symptoms, that would usually show up when being overwhelmed with unrealistic tasks and responsibilities I set to myself.
I would be trapped with the though, that giving up on my goals would of made me “a looser”, so to motivate myself more, I was thinking the thought, that “I just have to try a little bit harder this time and I will succeed”. This thought, I realized, was so destructively motivative, and I would set another unrealistic goal just to prove myself that “I can do it”, and the only reason I haven’t achieved it yet is because “I haven’t tried hard enough”.
I’ve noticed similar pattern in a way I deal with people I love. It was, and it is the most challenging part to accept. Not only I was rejecting some parts of myself, I was rejecting it in others. I remember, I gradually alienated myself from people who criticized me, because any sign of rejection or disapproval from other caused so much of emotional pain, that it was easier to end the relationship, than to handle it.
Another thing that came to my awareness was my constant desire to apply my unrealistically high expectations and standards to others, especially to the people I love. I was obsessively trying to control their behaviors, trying to change them, being critical and demanding of them, until I realized that I’m projecting my personal expectation on them. This shift, which didn’t happen overnight of course, completely transformed my relationship with friends, family and saved my almost “dying” marriage. Once I’ve started to notice these patterns, I realized why I had so much difficulty being close to people and why do I need to build strong trust with them, before I can open up. It was my inner doubt, that caused me to seek for outer trust from others and my inner What characteristics of perfectionism are true for me? What irrational beliefs of perfectionists do I hold? How do these beliefs influence my life? What are some negative consequences of perfectionism in my life? insecurity that forced me to seek those signs of acceptance. Once I got that, that was it. I was clear I can do something about it. I was open and ready for a change.
I kept asking myself:
What new rational behavior do I need to develop in order to overcome the negative impact of perfectionism? How will these new behavior traits help me to fully achieve change in my life? What rational alternatives can I adopt to reduce the negative impact of perfectionism in my life?
The answers followed. I started with my thoughts, I really needed to find the answers that will be able to perfectly “feed my brain”.
I was fascinated to find the work of magnificent, extraordinary philosopher, Osho, right on time to validate my desire to experience the wholeness. He virtually walked me through my journey, confirming I was moving in the right direction.
To live here now with no idea of the future at all. The future will be born out of ! your lived present. If the present has been lived totally, the future will have even ! more totality to it. Out of totality more totality is born. But if you have an idea ! what ! you want to be in the future, today you will live very partially because ! your main concern becomes the future. Your eyes become focused on the ! future, ! you lose contact with the real and the present — and the tomorrow !will be born ! out of the real with which you are not in contact. The tomorrow will come out of ! today, and today was unlived.
Once I was able to accept the “dark side” of my perfectionism, fascinating things started to happen. First time in my entire life, I was able to see both sides of myself, balancing each other out. I started appreciating me being imperfect and this imperfection
APPRECIATION: is clearly hearing “old song” and “new song” in unison gratitude
suddenly appealed so attractive to me, that I even started to enjoy it. First time in so many years I was able to hear it clearly. It was the first time I was able to recognize and acknowledge myself for being unique not only based on my future or “ought self” image, but also based on my real self image. It was something like meeting the person whom I only knew in the past and whom I wanted to meet in the future, but never getting a chance to be introduced in the present. It was worth taking a moment to get to know me, closer.
I’ve created mantras, repeating word after word, sentence after sentence after him, Osho:
I am Whole. Whatever I am doing, I’m doing it totally. Because when I’m doing it totally I am not worried about the result.
Any time the fear of making a mistake would arise, I would reach those mental notes , mantras, reminding myself, that:
I did it totally. Im finished. More I can not do. I’m not holding anything; I have put all my energy to it, I was whole in it. Now if I fail, I fail. If I succeed, I succeed. But whether I fail or I succeed, I am fulfilled all the same. A deep satisfaction arises because I have done whatsoever I could do.
I reached the state of mind, where I was fully aware of what was happening at the moment without wishing it were different. A state, defined by many as Mindfulness. I was truly enjoying the pleasant without hesitating when that changes, and I knew it will. I was trusting being in unpleasant state without fearing it will always be this way, which I knew it won’t. It was the moment of being. The moment of being me.
So, I started to search for the strategies to be able to prolong this moment. I knew it took me while to get from disempowering state of being, so it would take me a good while to be able to completely transition into empowering one and sustain it.
STAINABILITY: implementation of a desired emotional, cognitive and behavior state into designed actions
Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener, in their book Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, referred to perfectionism as “pessimistic cognitive style” in which people “strive to be faultless rather than just successful” as he explains, “often paying more attention to the small details that went wrong than the big picture of everything that went right.” On the opposite side of the spectrum is positive cognitive style, which is optimist. He describes optimists the people who who retain a sense of hope for the future and interpret life events in a positive way. What he emphasizes, that: “optimism is not simply a matter of inborn temperament, but is also a skill that can be learned by recognizing unhelpful thinking strategies and replacing them with more positive ones. “ Interpretation is important for happiness. He suggests that by avoiding a pessimistic cognitive style, such as perfectionism, and by instead using more positive interpretive strategies, such as appreciating what you have, is what can make a very powerful effect on the level of personal well-being.
And did it work! I’ve gradually developed a gratitude habit by simply starting noticing and appreciating small things.
CONTINUOUS ENHANCEMENT: recognizing current emotional state and “self-talk” associated with it & attaining to a previously created “mental note” to question and reframe disempowering stories or improve current practices by doing better what is already working
I still have to remind myself to take a moment and celebrate small things in life I’m grateful for, but it became much easier to do that, once I recognized all the things I am proud of. My thoughts are “talking” to me every day. Sometimes, Im bombarded with “I could of done that better” messages, or “I will visit it, publish it, announce it, develop it, change it, only when the skills, tools and circumstance will be perfect”. I still hear the voice saying: “I’m always….” or “I’ll will never…” a bit louder, while the voice saying: “Just this time…” or “Sometimes” attempting to balance it out to feel the wholeness, the unison again. And I do still assume that “its all my fault” or “it’s all their fault”, but I have learned and gained power to be able to recognize these destructive thoughts and acknowledge the fact that it could of been situational, “just a mistake I’ve made”, and I fully accept myself being Imperfect, since that is what makes my behavior, my thoughts and my emotional state so Unique and so Complete .
- Think of an experience in which you observed negative thoughts, feeling and beliefs associated with perfectionism?
- How were you able to transition from being a “Maximizer” to becoming a “Satisficer”. What helped you become one?
- What makes your wholeness, your “unison” so unique?
- How do you reach your “wholeness”? how do you sustain your “unison”? how do you enhance your empowering state?
- How do your Imperfections make you Unique?
Those are a few first steps I took to make a cognitive, emotional and behavior transformation happen. I realized, that it doesn’t stop right there. Transformation requires small changes, that happen through constant acts of self-awareness and selfmastery.
I have heard about a great painter. He was seventy years old, and one day he finished his painting and started crying and weeping. His disciples surrounded the master and said, Master, why are you crying? What has happened? The master said, I cannot see any imperfection in this painting. It seems I am dead, finished. It seems I have lost my imagination; that’s why I’m crying. This is the first time I cannot see any defect in my painting. I must have lost my imagination.~OSHO
As coaches, we help the client to recognize the disempowering state(s) of perfectionism and assisting them in creating a new or/and building on existing desired, empowering emotional, cognitive and behavioral state of perfectionism.
There are three major phases we take the client through: Self-Awareness, Self-Mastery, Self-Transcendence.
We begin, by helping the client to transition from unconscious state to the state of awareness. We access the current or repeated emotional or cognitive state.
A number of the following negative feelings, thoughts, and beliefs may be associated with perfectionism:
- Fear of failure. Perfectionists often equate failure to achieve their goals with a lack of personal worth or value.
- Fear of making mistakes. Perfectionists often equate mistakes with failure. In orienting their lives around avoiding mistakes, perfectionists miss opportunities to learn and grow.
- Fear of disapproval. If they let others see their flaws, perfectionists often fear that they will no longer be accepted. Trying to be perfect is a way of trying to protect themselves from criticism, rejection, and disapproval.
- All-or-none thinking. Perfectionists frequently believe that they are worthless if their accomplishments are not perfect. Perfectionists have difficulty seeing situations in perspective. For example, a straight “A” student who receives a “B” might believe, “I am a total failure.”
- Overemphasis on “shoulds.” Perfectionists’ lives are often structured by an endless list of “shoulds” that serve as rigid rules for how their lives must be led. With such an overemphasis on shoulds, perfectionists rarely take into account their own wants and desires.
- Believing that others are easily successful. Perfectionists tend to perceive others as achieving success with a minimum of effort, few errors, emotional stress, and maximum self-confidence. At the same time, perfectionists view their own efforts as unending and forever inadequate.
Awareness of one of few of these states brings the client to the state of Acceptance, where client have control over making a decision of whether continue following the recognized patter or to look for a possibility of changing it.
Coach then assists the client to see the consequences of each rational and irrational states of perfectionism and further decide which are are need to be “highlighted” and which ones “relaxed” and reconstructed.