Is Perfectionism Keeping You from Achieving Your Goals?
All of us have goals, no matter how modest or majestic they may be.
Some of us have specific, written goals that are broken down into action items that we can check off as we accomplish each step, while others may have more general goals that are longer term and less formalized.
Unfortunately, regardless of the types of goals you’re trying to achieve, any people-pleasing or perfectionist tendencies you may have can keep you from realizing them.
In fact, for those of us struggling with perfectionism, just deciding which goals to pursue can be a challenge.
It’s not that those of us struggling with perfectionism can’t see a multitude of options and possibilities. We can.
But all too often, us perfectionists find ourselves frozen in place at the outset as we attempt to choose the ultimate, ideal goal that will bring us the greatest benefit for the time and energy we invest.
And, perfectionism doesn’t just make it hard to get started. It can also make it extremely difficult to move forward and implement the steps necessary to achieve our goals.
If any of this feels familiar, I highly recommend you start by choosing a goal based on what matters most to you and not what you think you “should” be doing. It’s all too easy to set a goal based on the criticism of others or what you see others trying to achieve, but you’ll have a much harder time following through on the steps necessary to achieve your goal if the goal itself doesn’t resonate deeply with you.
Secondly, before you get started, understand that there is no such thing as a “perfect” goal, and that the process of achieving your goal and the progress you make along the way are as important, if not far more important, than actually achieving the goal itself.
Here are some additional tips to keep perfectionism from getting in the way of your goals:
- Practice Taking Small Steps – Rather than jumping out of the gate with some major goal, try setting a smaller, more “doable” goal first that can help you move forward. For example, don’t start by trying to play the piano as well as Beethoven. Instead, set a goal of being able to play one of Beethoven’s sonatas. Doing this has two advantages. First, you’re more likely to believe the latter, smaller goal is achievable, and believing you can do it is the first step to achieving it. Secondly, achieving this “smaller” goal will help you move forward towards achieving the larger goal while providing you a sense of accomplishment along the way.
- Celebrate Your Successes – Life can’t be easily divided into successes and failures. In fact, a lot of your work on achieving a goal will come in the form of “partial successes.” For example, you may nail a movement from the sonata you’ve chosen one week and then struggle with the next movement the following week, or find out life has reared its head and gotten in the way of your studies. The key to consistently moving forward is to celebrate your successes (even the “partial successes”) and not dwell on any perceived failures you may have along the way. This kind of positive reinforcement can help keep you motivated even when the going gets tough.
- Practice Forgiveness and Self-Compassion – Similar to celebrating your successes, you need to make sure you’re compassionate with yourself and forgive yourself for those times when you feel you’ve fallen short. Remember, none of us is perfect, and you will have to take an occasional step backwards before continuing to move forward. Picking yourself back up is much easier to do when you’re not kicking yourself while you’re already down!
- Get Help – Perfectionists tend to want to do everything themselves. We have a hard time asking for help or accepting it when it’s offered. And, we often try to avoid the shame of failure by not telling others about our goals. But, life doesn’t occur in a vacuum, nor does achieving our goals. You’ll find it much easier to stick with and achieve your goals when other people in your life can actively help and support you, which means you have to let them know what you’re trying to achieve and why.
- Set SMART Goals – SMART is an acronym that stands for Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-Specific. We’ve already covered some of these above (such as believing your goal is achievable and making sure it’s relevant to you). Suffice it to say, it will be much easier to work towards achieving your goal if you make sure it adheres to all five of these criteria. (You can search online for more information about setting and achieving SMART goals.)
- Remember, You Only Have Control of You – One of the mistakes I often see people make is setting goals that revolve around the decisions or actions of others. Remember, you can’t control someone else. So, don’t set a goal of getting a promotion at work or having a more intimate relationship. Instead, set a goal that involves you being more intimate with your partner or completing all of your assignments ahead of schedule. Not only will doing so decrease the tendency for you to try to please others, you’ll also avoid the potential frustration of doing everything you can and still not achieving your goal.
Of course, this isn’t a complete guide on successfully setting and achieving your goals.
And, believe me, I know how difficult it can be to let go of perfectionism and any people-pleasing tendencies you may have. However, you can do so, especially if you’re strategic about creating the change you seek.
By practicing making choices and committing to steady progress towards goals that are relevant and meaningful to us, we can steadily move forward towards creating the relationships and life we desire.
What goal setting techniques have you used and what’s worked best for you? Have people-pleasing or perfectionist tendencies gotten in the way of you achieving your goals? If so, how? Be sure to share your thoughts and questions using the comment section below so we can all learn from and help each other…