Thursday, September 25, 2008

Perfectionism vs. Excellence

Sunday night, I let my perfectionism get hold of me and I ruined our evening and made my headache even worse. I had a wicked migraine Friday night and then unpleasant headaches Saturday and Sunday. When I was home by myself Sunday night (Mr. Math Tutor and the kids were at church for our teenage small group), I decided that I absolutely had to do something about the messy house. And, of course, I didn't just straighten up, I cleaned and cleaned. When the rest of the family got home, I was obsessed and got them into the act. We were all miserable, and my headache got worse instead of better.

I let my perfectionism get control of me again. The house needed to be straightened, but I sacrificed my evening and my relationship with my family because I needed it to be perfect. After some reflection and prayer, I have come up with some thoughts on perfectionism and excellence (which is the alternative to perfectionism - NOT mediocrity). BTW, my perfectionism tends to come out in housekeeping, but it can also show up in all kinds of things - homeschooling, yardwork, etc.

Perfectionism is "all or nothing". Excellence can accept gradations. In the above case, I could have very reasonably straightened the house, even asking for my family's help, without requiring that it be perfectly, eat-off-the-floor clean.

Perfectionism sacrifices relationships. Excellence keeps relationships primary. When I'm pursuing excellence, I don't run over my family in order to get done what I want.

Perfectionism is trusting in myself and taking control into my own hands. Excellence is trusting God and letting Him be in control of my life.

Perfectionism believes that the product is all important. Excellence acknowledges that the process is also important. If I decide that I need the house to be completely clean, I want to involve the children in a healthy way, not just yell at them to do what I want that instant. I need to show that I love them and want them to work and learn with me, not just be my servant.

So, how do I get from pursuing perfectionism to pursuing excellence? I start with prayer. Then, I can ask myself these questions:
1. What is the worst that will ahppen if I don't do this task "perfectly"?
2. How is my relationship with my family while I'm working at this task?
3. What is my goal?
4. Am I pacing myself?

Here are some messages that I can tell myself when I start sliding toward perfectionism:
1. My worth is not based on my performance.
2. Doing more is not necessarily better.
3. Resting is not laziness.

During my counseling session today, my counselor and I concluded that my worst perfectionistic episodes usually are preceded by an episode of some kind of anxiety. I use perfectionistic behavior as a way to manage unpleasant anxiety symptoms. We came up with a list of ways to manage this anxiety without going overboard.
1. Prayer
2. Exercise
3. Drink a glass of milk or cup of tea
4. Kntting
5. Engage in the task, but place limits.

Hopefully, in the next few months, I will be able to use these strategies and see some improvement in my anxiety and perfection. What works for you? Any other ideas for me?

1 comment:

KC said...

Apathy is something I've learned from C. I've always been a perfectionist---stems from my music background. Through the years, it's rubbed off a bit, although I do find myself still trying to get spots off the floor after a few weeks of driving me crazy! Flylady helped me a great deal with housekeeping. It's not good to procrastinate, but with anything, you have to find a balance. And take everything in moderation--that means eating, exercising, cleaning, etc. I'm still not where I would like to be, but I keep reminding myself of my priorities and what I want the end result to be.

Something I do from time to time, is to keep a notebook/list of things to do and mark them off as I do them. Otherwise, I really feel like I don't accomplish anything. When I make a list, I put things on there such as make dinner, laundry, grocery shopping, emptied the trash cans, etc. Even the small things I will put on there so I can see the things I've done. It also helps me to organize my thoughts. If I have alot of cleaning I want to get done but I know I don't have the time, I'll write the list out of things to do and mark them off as time permits. It sometimes can take me a week to finish my list, but because it's written down I know I'll eventually do it and it will get done. It sounds like you have a lot of great ideas of dealing with perfectionism. I remember our pastor did a sermon about this not too long ago and it really hit home to me. He said that God doesn't want us to procrastinate and He doesn't want us to be obsessive either. It's all about the balance. He said that for married couples, most likely one is a perfectionist and the other is a procrastinator---opposites attract. One can be taught the other to a certain degree and the beauty of marriage is learning from one another and growing together. He used this as an example of the procrastinator learning how to stay on task and get things done while the perfectionist learns to ease up a bit. I feel that's kind of what's happened with C and I. He's not as apathetic as he used to be and I"m not as obsessive as I used to be. Believe me---we both have a ways to go to meet in the middle but we're getting there!

Hope your headache gets better!