After years working as a men’s coach, I’ve found many men are eager to know how to overcome perfectionism.
This is usually after they’ve realised they have an inner perfectionistic standard they’ve never addressed, or even never really knew was even there.
I’ve actually found that people who think they’re perfectionistic are often not, while those who think they aren’t, often tend to be.
What I mean by this is that many guys who seem to lack drive and be careless on the outside, actually have a very perfectionistic, hidden standard on the inside.
It takes a while to draw this out, but what I’ve seen time and again is a structure of belief individuals hold behind their external persona.
These beliefs are usually deeply held convictions stating that you must perform to a very high standard, and when you do not, you feel a sense of failure that articulates itself in a range of negative emotions.
How to Overcome Perfectionism: The ‘You’ Deep Down
There can be many reasons why such internal standards exist:
It could be a response to overly critical or domineering parents
It could be a craving to live life without danger after experiencing some form of social ignominy or trauma
Or it could be the fragile ego’s need to stay atop of social circles
The craziest thing about all of this is that we often set our deepest sense of self to a standard that doesn’t even exist.
In the manifest world, imperfection is everywhere, it’s what makes reality grow, evolve and move into new expressions, as was so beautiful expressed by Leonard Cohen in his enigmatic lyric below:
“There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in” Leonard Cohen
Yet while perfection doesn’t exist in the external world, I do think we have to cut ourselves some slack, as there is an innate call for perfectionism deep in a man’s soul.
What is Perfectionism?
We have created many cultural forms pointing towards perfection.
Our models of Gods, heavens and eternal resting places all point at a final state where we are safe and unreachable from the storms, violence and shocks of life.
Further still, perfection is what we’ve emanated from.
Every single person was once inside the womb, we were completely one with our mother as she ate, breathed and nurtured us.
Further still, at this point, we had no perception of otherness, of danger, of good and evil, or of death.
We rested in a form of perfection, in fact, we were moulded in perfection before being born into the world and awakening to its dangers, threats and pressures.
The Craving for Perfection
Those of you who know my story, know it’s tale of traumatic experiences, addictions, violence, suicides and pain – yet because some people like me have more extreme experiences, sometimes folks assume only certain people are traumatised.
While I accept that people can be traumatised to different levels, I put it forward that each of us has been, to an extent spiritually traumatised when moving from this state of perfection we’re born in into a world of threat, danger and death.
When this happens to us, we retreat to the one thing we have – our mind.
With the mind we can strategize ways to stay from harm’s way and to simultaneously acquire what we want and need, and by retreating here, we can build personas based around threat detection that are embedded in social norms.
I’m not so sure this is a ‘dysfunctional’ thing, as it seems every human does it and recognising so is part of our maturation.
My concern however is that we seem to have got trapped in this state of fear as a species, and our next phase of evolution is to overcome it.
The solution then is for us to transcend this limited personality, and this piece is going to explore 5 ways in which you can overcome perfectionism.
1. Let Yourself Look Stupid
If you have a perfectionistic streak, you’re not going to like this, but if you want to know how to overcome perfectionism you have to face the music and dance (not literally, although having the freedom to dance in public isn’t a bad start…).
So, why must we learn to be okay looking foolish?
Well, our defences that lead to perfectionistic behaviour have been built to avoid social ignominy and embarrassment, and if you want to tear them down, this is where you must go.
The same is true in other fields also.
I knew a guy who used to enjoy going out and talking to women in an attempt to get their phone numbers, and he used to actively seek rejection for the first few times.
By actively seeking to look stupid, he faced the reality of what our mind has concocted as in anticipation of humiliation.
Of course, the reality is never going to be as bad as the concoctions of the mind, but you have to stop playing God and predicting reality and go out and see what’s there.
Further, when I say you should be willing to ‘look stupid’, this doesn’t mean you aim to come across as stupid, or even have to act in a stupid way.
The aim is to accept that failure is human, part of life, and even healthy if we look at it via the right framing.
2. 70% is better than 100%
This one seems like a fallacy on the first view but when you think about how you actually act in reality, you’ll see that it is actually very true.
As I said earlier, perfection in the external manifest world doesn’t exist.
It’s an illusion, no person is 100% perfect, no art is ever truly complete, and no philosophy or scientific theory will ever explain the world in a neat little bow.
Henceforth, 100%, or perfection, is an illusion, yet this is what we think we must do every time we’re met with a challenging task in our lives.
Henceforth, you need to have a serious rethink about what is truly achievable and what is egocentric projection.
The 70% is better than 100% quote is also synonymous with the notion that a ‘first draft is better than the final’.
This approach works because everything is focused on getting something concrete to work with, and in doing so, we’re immediately challenging the inner view of perfection by creating a reality that we can then build upon and improve.
The other main reason as to why this is a better philosophy is because you actually get stuff done, instead of pontificating and getting lost in mental masturbation all the time.
Having a 100% view of your performance only serves to make the challenge in front of you bigger, more tiring and stressful. In essence, you screw yourself before even starting.
3. Face the Inner Critic
It’s pretty amazing how that internal voice, the one that judges and critiques nearly everything, is one that we ever truly face.
This voice is one of the most fundamental influences on our whole lives and most folks go a lifetime without ever turning the focus back around and looking into what this voice is and why it says what it does.
Doing this is a revolutionary step.
As we explored earlier, we retreated to the mind as a response to what I term ‘spiritual trauma’ and since then this critic has become our most trusted ally, yet all too often our fear of threat from the world leads us to rely on this hidden, judging voice all the more.
This voice becomes the power behind the throne, it’s a dark, mysterious Rasputin like figure that we never question, but hide behind as we leave it to critique the world and map out our reality.
However, this voice is no longer protecting you but sucking your life energy from the inside out, it creates winding narratives, stories about other people’s faults and flaws, and reminds you constantly of your frailties and weaknesses.
To truly grow, you don’t have to battle this voice or extinguish it, but simply learn to observe it non-judgementally – to take on its suggestions without complete faith, to learn balance and to place you faith into your core still energy.
This is why I’m always pointing men towards the Silent Prayer, as by practicing this with regularity, you break your addiction to the mind’s narratives and begin to experience a deeper-rooted spiritual reality at your very core.
This is where you can act from free of perfectionism.
4. Realise You’re Self-Obsessed
People usually hate it when I tell them they’re self-obsessed – but we ALL are – the world we live in is completely geared to the propagation of the individual’s gaze, so much so that we never even consider there’s an alternative.
Again, this is why I constantly bang on about the silent prayer and meditation, as this is one of the best ways to see that there is a vast, infinite reality of conscious space behind your narrow conception of an individual self.
There’s nothing wrong with having an individual identity, don’t get me wrong, but there is something wrong when that becomes the sum amount of our very being.
Thinking you’re only your personality and material reality is a recipe for dysfunction, anxiety, pain and disaster.
To break free just consider where your life energy emanates from – when you close your eyes and witness the noises, smells, thoughts and mental imagery, do you create any of this?
Do you manufacture the air your breathe or turn the switch onto your consciousness each morning?
All of this exists within a pure state of being in an invisible infinite field of potential and knowing, yet the mind filters all of this through the individual ego, thereby creating human-centric universe.
But remember, the universe created human life, not vice versa, or as Eckhart Tolle so beautifully puts it, ‘thinking needs consciousness to exist, but consciousness doesn’t need thinking’.
Hence, in realising your self-obsession, this act of seeming humility is what opens you to a far greater, a far richer sense of self and I believe this is why Jesus said: “He who is least among you all is the one who is great.” – i.e. he who has overcome himself sees his true depth.
5. Reality or the Mind, Make Your Choice
The decision to opt between perfectionism and acceptance of reality as it is isn’t a trivial matter, it’s the fundamental choice between reality as it is and the mind as it presents reality to be from the point of view of egocentric fear.
I appreciate this step isn’t easy, we’ve all got decades of conditioning telling us that we must be on-guard, rigid and ready for war at any moment, yet we can begin to remove these ties and learn to rely on the path of life itself, to give ourselves up actual rather than mental challenges, letting them mould us and show us what we must face, what we must overcome and what we must learn.
As soon as you start to do this the mind will rebel and you will sink back into old ways of judging and fear, and when we do this, the spiritual ego has the temptation to judge ourselves for not being spiritual enough and we chastise ourselves again.
Yet this is all just the games of the mind in other guises, we needn’t fight these things, nor judge ourselves, but simply return to reality and continue about our business.
In time, we simply realise we prefer staying away from perfectionism, judgement and the madness of the mind, it’s more peaceful, challenges are more productive and failure is okay. It is a place where we can evolve in an organic way, free of the chains of over-analysis.
After all, perfectionism does exist, but it is not of this world, the great spiritual traditions have always pointed to the fact that in the external world, we must face suffering, yet it is this suffering which points the way back to the source of being beyond our human limitations, the reality that sits at the foot of all our being.