Mindfulness and Perfectionism

Posted on: November 2nd, 2011 by susie No Comments

I had the chance recently to rake some autumn leaves in my parents back yard, what fun! Reminded me of doing this activity with my brothers when we were kids and making huge piles of leaves to jump and play in.  I remember that we tried to involve the cats as well by hiding them under piles of leaves but as I recall they were less than thrilled to participate.  Oddly enough, the other thing that came to mind while raking leaves was noticing my tendency toward perfectionism.

Doing something well is one thing, then there is a level at which anxiety can set in around trying to do something unrealistically well, or “perfectly”.  In the case of the leaves, I noticed myself feeling frustrated that as I was gathering my nice little piles and putting them in the organic waste cart, it didn’t seem like I was accomplishing anything because more were falling and they were blowing off the piles back to where I had raked.  (And yes, the whole issue could have been helped by waiting until ALL the leaves were down before attempting to rake them up, but as it happened I didn’t have time to wait for that).  To someone without perfectionist tendencies, this might sound strange.  Rake the leaves, gather them up, you’re finished, move on, right?

I read a book a while ago called “Present Perfect: A Mindfulness Approach to Letting Go of Perfectionism and the Need for Control” by Pavel Somov, Ph.D.  It’s probably one I could easily read through again to be reminded of how to use mindfulness to combat that niggling feeling that something isn’t yet good enough.  He presents a strong argument that everything is always good enough in the present moment, because at that moment it couldn’t be anything other than what it is.  He talks about overcoming guilt and shame, which are often part of a perfectionist mindset, as well as having a healthy relationship with time and with uncertainty.

Back to the leaves for a moment, I was able to remind myself that I’m was never going to be able to pick up every last leaf, and not only that, there was no need to!  I did the task in a way that was good enough, and was then able to enjoy the experience more fully as well.  There is really nothing like the lovely crisp, sweet smell of dry leaves gathered in a pile… it’s perfect.

Here’s to accepting and making peace with each moment – just as it is.

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