Ready...Aim...Oh, Well: Why You Need to Embrace Imperfection
Most people realize that perfectionism, as Lamott puts it in her book Bird by Bird, "is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life." But seriously unwell people such as me run into trouble when we try to let go of perfectionism. We end up getting perfectionistic about our attempts to stop being perfectionists. I began finding my way out of this psychological morass when I heard the Buddhist saying "To be enlightened is to be without anxiety over imperfection." Years after adopting this perspective, I'm still a perfectionist, but here's the thing: I don't care.
I've found some reliable ways to reduce my anxiety about my imperfections, including my imperfection at ridding myself of perfectionism. I encourage you to try doing the following exercises—imperfectly.
Exercise One: Personify Your Inner Perfectionist
I've been using the term perfectionist as though it's something you can be. Actually, I think it's something people have, like brain damage. Separating your innate personality from your perfectionsim frees you to confront it, rather than get lost in it. To that end, I recommend giving your perfectionism its own name and face.
Can't picture this inner critic? Start by thinking about a mistake you've made recently. Let the voice of the oppressor berate you ("You dumb, clumsy, fat, boring..." etc.). Listen: Does that voice sound familiar? Does it belong to your wicked stepmother, your boss, your ex-spouse, an amalgam of your least-favorite movie critics? Try to summon a visual image of the tyrant. Scribble a picture of it, and do something insulting to this picture whenever your perfectionist acts up. In time, as you neutralize the destructive power inherent in this aspect of yourself, you may well lose all fear of it. By just externalizing and rejecting your inner critic, you can decrease your anxiety considerably.