If you pay attention to your negative self-talk, what does it say to you?
Are you afraid of being imperfect? And how many things have you sacrificed because of your need to control everything?
These are examples of journal prompts that can help you reflect on (and get rid of) a perfectionist tendency.
Life is too short to be a perfectionist, and if you’re reading this, you are probably aware of that.
You may have become a perfectionist to adapt, or to achieve better results, or as a defense mechanism, and noticed that perfectionism did, in fact, work.
But there is an issue — your mental health. And your happiness. These are definitely at risk when you are a perfectionist.
Who is a perfectionist?
Unhealthy or unrealistic standards for oneself and/or others — that’s basically what defines a perfectionist.
In a nutshell, when you suffer from perfectionism, your own standards are way too high.
There is nothing wrong with having high standards, but perfectionism takes it way further.
Human beings are supposed to grow, evolve, and chase greatness. We are not supposed to chase perfection.
Perfectionism is a trap, and it can be very attractive, because by being a perfectionist you do tend to achieve better results compared to others.
But these come at a price: yourself and your mental health.
Why perfectionists struggle to be happy
When you have very high standards, you’re going to have to sacrifice quite a few things in your life.
Result-oriented people focus on… results, rather than the process. They may notice that after all, being a perfectionist is useful, because it does lead to better results.
What they may not be aware of is the process — how perfectionism affects their personality, their outlook on life, the way they see others and themselves.
Because when you are aware of the negatives of perfectionism, you realize that they are way too many (or too important).
Perfectionists usually end up sacrificing too much time and effort. And their sense of self-worth may depend on their achievements, which is a big risk.
Not only that — if their standards are unrealistic, they may struggle to accept the behavior of others, and life itself.
One of the basic rules of the universe is that nothing is perfect. Perfection simply doesn’t exist. Without imperfection, neither you nor I would exist.Stephen Hawking
It’s hard to be happy when your idea of happiness is unreachable. It’s hard to love and accept others when your idea of who they should be is totally unrealistic.
There are now studies showing how perfectionism is on the rise (for many different reasons) and how it can lead to poor mental health, particularly depression.
Journal prompts for perfectionists
Journaling can help you deal with perfectionism.
As you journal, you gain insights, you begin to understand why and how you tend to be a perfectionist.
Understanding itself is key. It won’t necessarily eliminate perfectionist behavior, but it will be the foundation toward a better attitude.
If you are a perfectionist, I encourage you to set aside a few minutes, reflect on the following prompts, and then write spontaneously.
Literally just write down all your thoughts and ideas — your answers don’t need to be… perfect.
1. What do I sacrifice because of perfectionism?
Obvious one: time. If you are a perfectionist, chances are you spend way too much time doing anything, including daily tasks.
But it’s not just time. Think of your mental health. Think of your own standards and how those prevent you from doing things, meeting people, feeling a certain way.
Perfectionism, even when adaptive, simply isn’t worth it. What have you sacrificed, what do you sacrifice each day because of perfectionism? Write it down.
2. What would an imperfect life look like?
You are allowed to imagine a different life, a different kind of attitude and behavior when it comes to chasing goals, connecting with others, and living life in general.
If perfectionism wasn’t a part of your life, what would your life look like? What new things would you do, and what would you stop doing?
Or, would you do things differently? Would you just learn to “go with the flow”, would you stop overthinking, overanalyzing every single detail? Would it be a better life?
Perfectionism becomes a badge of honor with you playing the part of the suffering hero.David D. Burns
3. What does perfectionism say to you?
Subconsciously, your internal dialogue dictates how you feel and your self-esteem. This is why it’s so important to become aware of it.
Then, once you are aware of it, you want to challenge that inner voice whenever it says things that are unhelpful, inaccurate, negative, or toxic to your mental wellbeing.
“I am not enough unless I… others should behave this way… I must… I should”. Those are examples of a perfectionist’s inner dialogue. Identify yours, and write down everything it says to you.
4. Why are my mistakes necessary?
I don’t think any of us would ever even think of making mistakes on purpose. I mean, why would you?
But mistakes aren’t just a blessing (in the sense that we are human only if we make mistakes, only if we are imperfect) — they are necessary.
Someone who never makes mistakes is someone who has never grown, and who probably doesn’t have a very interesting life anyway. Ask yourself why mistakes are important and how they helped you grow as a person.
5. Have I ever been punished for being imperfect?
In terms of your childhood, this prompt may be interpreted literally — you may have been punished physically, you may have experienced physical or psychological abuse because of your “imperfect” behavior.
However, being punished can refer to pretty much anything. It’s not always obvious.
For example, have you ever revealed your true self, your imperfect self to a person or group of people, and then found that they did not appreciate you the way you are? And used perfectionism as a defense mechanism?
6. Are my expectations practical and realistic?
Give yourself a reality check. Allow yourself to be 100 percent objective, even if for just a minute.
If you struggle with perfectionism, chances are your ideas of how things should be aren’t realistic. Actually, unrealistic ideas are the best case scenario here — some of your expectations may be impossible.
Think of expectations that you have for both yourself and others. What are the chances of them being fulfilled? Are they difficult to achieve? Very difficult? Insurmountable?
7. How is my perfectionism rewarded?
Your perfectionist attitude may have been rewarded; you may have achieved certain results (in your career, in your relationships, in a hobby) because of perfectionism.
That’s the trap — the positive. You look at the positive, and you forget about the sacrifices. You focus on all the results you got, and forget about the unhealthy process to get there.
In terms of its results, perfectionism can be very attractive. It can be addictive. You want to be aware of that, and then realize that the addiction comes at a price.
We can choose to be perfect and be admired, or to be real and be loved.Glennon Doyle
8. Do others tend to be happier than me?
Sometimes a healthy dose of realism does wonders for mental health issues. Sometimes what’s obvious, what’s objective, is ten times more powerful than the most advanced psychological theories.
The last journal prompt I’d like you to consider: are other people (imperfect people) actually happier than you? Seriously, think about it.
The goal is to be happy, to live a life that is in harmony with your nature. Perfectionism makes it very difficult to do that.
If people who are not perfectionists tend to be happier, healthier, more relaxed, more spontaneous than you — it may be time to change.
Other journal prompts for perfectionists
- Do I feel I am enough no matter what?
- Does perfectionism protect me from anything?
- Am I terrified of mistakes or criticism?
- Do I tend to sacrifice my happiness or well being?
- Do I focus on the process? Or on results only?
- What are the benefits of not being a perfectionist?
- How is imperfection beautiful?
- Do I ever struggle with self-worth?
- How do I feel when I chase perfection?
- How do I feel when I allow myself to be imperfect?
You’ve probably heard it already: perfectionism is a bully.
And it’s true. It’s a bully… but it’s you! Perfectionism is your inner dialogue, your thoughts, your behavior. That’s why it can be hard to overcome it.
I struggle with perfectionism myself. For me personally, the “rewards” of it are the biggest trap.
Perfectionism isn’t like, say, severe depression, where it’s obvious that it’s a mental illness, where absolutely nothing is achieved because of it.
Perfectionism can be an excellent defense mechanism. It can also be a way to achieve better results, to be better, smarter, more successful than others.
But — I’ll say it one more time — it’s not worth it. If you were to analyze perfectionist behavior and all its implications, objectively, you’d realize it’s just not worth all the effort, all the pain.
Take the time to reflect on the journal prompts above, and feel free to answer them again whenever you feel like. They will help you deal with perfectionism.
Perfectionism never really goes away — you simply learn to find a healthy balance. You learn to be great without being perfect, without sacrificing so much.
And that alone is an amazing achievement.
Remember: being imperfect is better than being perfect.