How to get past the diabolical duo of fear and perfectionism

There's a strange paradox I see all the time. Accomplished professional women who strive to build great careers, launch businesses, or make big shifts in their personal or professional lives often trip themselves up.

So many of these women have big ambitions, big ideas, and even big plans but can’t get things moving. Or they make a start and can’t build momentum.

What holds them back?

Two big culprits are fear and perfectionism — and often a combination of the two. These two forces are the underlying issues that keep so many people playing it safe (tweet this).

They slow them down — or keep things from getting started at all.

“It’s not good enough yet.”

Have you said these words to yourself?

You’ve been thinking, planning, and laying groundwork for something new and important. Maybe you’ve prototyped a new product, or completed rigorous training, or see the opportunity to build an awesome business. Maybe you’ve gone as far as building a new website. But the thought of actually showing it to the world or taking the next steps feels terrifying.

After all, what if it’s not good enough — or you’re not good enough? What if people won’t like it? What if you’ll be judged — by a relative, a colleague, or in the vast social media world?

Fears like these, that sit atop the perceived need for everything to be perfect, have stopped many worthy and important new things from getting off the ground.

Here are 3 ways you can turn things around

1. Stop listening to the fear

Focusing your time and energy on more refinement or additional preparation — or holding off on taking action — may feel like a safe way to protect yourself. But this is actually a way of telling yourself, “I’m willing to stay where I am right now.” 

If that’s not what you want, I’m here to tell you that you have the power to choose not to let the thoughts that drive perfectionism and fear rule you. 

It may sound simple (and maybe a little odd), but when you hear thoughts like those you can talk back to them.

Start by acknowledging them. Be aware that these thoughts are your ego piping up, trying to maintain the status quo (which feels oh so comfortable). 

This is your opportunity to be compassionate to that voice, but to firmly tell it you are in change and you’re running the show. 

Will it feel easy to do that? Probably not. But when you want something that’s important to you, you are called on to step out of your comfort zone and bring some boldness to the matter. 

And, remember that there is no such thing as “perfect.” So, share that news, too, when you respond to your fearful thoughts.
(You can read more about perfectionism and what to do about it here.)

2. Take action

Taking action — including some risks — is always the path to learning, growth, building confidence, and ultimately to reaching new and exciting places in your life.

Remember how many times Thomas Edison tried and failed before he created a light bulb that worked (he made 1000 attempts!). What if he had never started, or felt he needed the perfect solution right off the bat, or was so worried about how people would judge him that he did not get started, or became so discouraged along the way that he gave up?

Start with small steps and keep going — every small step counts. Stepping out of your comfort zone this way is not as hard as you might imagine. Continued action builds momentum. And you will find that action keeps fear at bay. 

3. Ramp up self-love

The foundation that will support you to implement steps one and two is actively emphasizing self-love.

If you have been following my work for a while, this concept will be familiar to you. If not — or if you want a refresher on the topic — here's an article that’s devoted to this important topic.

When you cultivate appreciation for all of your gifts, when you feel deserving of goodness in your life, and when you joyously love the amazing person you are, you will be amazed at how much easier it is to stand up to fear, ease up on perfectionism, and take action.

Drop me a note or comment below to let me know how playing it safe has been getting in your way and how these three strategies are making a difference.

And, if you think that coaching may help you to bring the important changes into your life that you desire, let’s talk. Take a few minutes and complete my Coaching Inquiry Form and I’ll be in touch to schedule a complimentary conversation.

Make this your day to step up and start creating something big in your life!

You can break free when you’re stuck — here’s how.

At my workshop I held recently, Dear Future: Getting ready for what's next, I led a group of remarkable, accomplished women through a series of exercises and experiences designed to help them take sure steps into the futures they want.

What I see every time I begin to work with great women like these, is how many similar challenges keep them stuck and frustrated. To the outer world, they look like dynamos. Inside, they often feel:

  • Overwhelmed by their day-to-day lives — which makes it nearly impossible to get out of the weeds and see the big picture

  • Rudderless — because they lack clarity about what they truly want

  • Unsure about how to get moving forward — or how to sustain momentum when they do take first steps

  • Plagued by perfectionism — which they recognize inhibits them, but nonetheless, they feel powerless to change

Do some of these issues resonate for you? 
Do they make you feel stuck too?

If the answer is “Yes” (to any or all of these challenges, or others that come to mind for you) I have good news.
You are not alone — and you can take these 3 sure steps to get unstuck:

1. Say no to isolation.

When we face a challenge in isolation, we compound the challenge. We circle around alone in the muddle of our mental clutter. Frustration builds and we struggle more. 

Some of us (and I was one of those women!) feel we need to figure things out alone. Seeking help makes us feel inadequate and ashamed about feeling unable to bring enough intelligence and determination to figure things out and solve problems ourselves.

And, because so many accomplished women tend to compare themselves to friends and colleagues, they think that they alone struggle with their challenges. If they could open up to other women, they’d know they are not alone — and they would be exposed to new ideas, strategies, and support.

When we look for opportunities to safely connect to and open up with peers, the benefits are enormous. 

2. Look for support

When you’re ready to end isolation, you have some choices. You can seek out ways to connect and get support like this:

  • Reach out to a friend who cares deeply about your well-being, listens well, has some objectivity about the matter at hand, and is not oriented to telling you what to do or to "fixing" things for you. Not all of us have such a friend to turn to, but if you are fortunate to have that friend, invite her (or him) to spend some quiet time with you to listen to your concerns, and ask you questions that will help you find clarity and answers.

  • Attend a workshop that’s focused on the challenge you face. Look for a leader whose message resonates for you and who will attract like-minded participants. Show up with the intention to be open and to learn.

  • Consider working with a coach — either in a group coaching program or for one-on-one coaching support. Seek a seasoned coach with a strong track record and effective tools you can learn to use. But most of all, choose someone with whom you feel the right chemistry, trust, and eagerness to work with. Seek someone who will lovingly challenge you and call you out when you make excuses; someone who will see more possibilities for you than you may be able to see for yourself; someone who will hold you accountable to the commitments you make.

3. Take a first step — even a small one!

It may sound obvious, but when you are in a place where you’re stuck, you overlook the fact that taking action is required to get unstuck. It will likely feel pretty uncomfortable to take action when you feel uncertain or unclear about what to do. But action is what’s called for, and this is the time to urge yourself to move forward in spite of some discomfort. 

Remember that you can begin small! Your first small steps will get you in motion, and momentum can build from there. Here are some great options:

  • Make a list of people who you'd feel could be good listeners related to what’s on your mind. Your next step will be to choose one of those people to invite to meet with you for coffee and a conversation.

  • Think of someone who has moved through a challenge similar to one you are facing and reach out to ask if they have resources to suggest.

  • Check out coaches that colleagues recommend or web searches bring to your attention.

  • Download the Roadmap to Clarity, a process I recently developed that will guide you to get clear about a question on your mind. It will also help you to identify and implement small action steps that will bring meaningful change into your life. (Lots of women have used the Roadmap to Clarity and I’ve received tremendous feedback on its impact. And, you can use it many times, to address a range of challenges you want to work through.)

The wonderful news is that when you start taking action — even small action — and make a commitment to continue taking small steps, you will realize that you are no longer stuck! You will be on a path to creating the changes you want in your life. And, as you bring in desired change, you will usher in more joy and satisfaction. Keep moving, and the true experience of Living Big will be yours!

Drop me a note or leave a comment below to let me know what you try, and what works best for you to get unstuck. 

And, I am happy to extend an open invitation to you to schedule a complimentary Introductory Coaching Call with me. Simply complete the Coaching Inquiry Form and I’ll be in touch to make a date with you.

The trap of perfectionism — and what you can do about it

bekir-donmez-335320-unsplash.jpg

When you are an accomplished woman (as so many of my readers are), you are bound to find yourself dealing with perfectionism — and it may show up with great frequency. 

We feel pressured by the perceived expectations of others to be great — a great leader, consistently productive and efficient, to have an abundance of excellent ideas, to perform well at everything we do. This applies to work, being a parent, our exercise routines, our roles of spouse and friend — basically in every aspect of our lives. And, the truth is that we believe the expectations of other people are much higher than is often the case.

And, we set expectations for perfection ourselves. 

Why do we do that? 

Maybe we adopted the pressure to be perfect as a child, imparted by parents or teachers. We then generalized that everyone has those expectations of us, and have carried the weight of that misconception. 

Maybe we adopted the pressure out of a belief that we are deficient, and need to prove ourselves. And many believe perfectionism is the path to achieving big goals. What most often happens is that the stress of striving for perfection makes us stuck, or slide into procrastination. Thus, we don’t shine fully, or it takes longer to reach our goals. And sometimes we don’t ever them.

Can you relate?

Do you find that pressure to be perfect exhausting?

I often hear this stress expressed by my coaching clients and women I speak to, when they feel safe and open up to share how hard it is to live this way. It’s a challenge I know well, too — I was saddled with this self-imposed pressure for many years.

I also hear about an array of self-doubts that are tied to the endless attempts to be perfect. Many accomplished women feel like impostors, or not good enough or smart enough or talented enough. They see other impressive women and are sure those women don’t struggle as they do. With crazy-high standards for themselves, they tell themselves they are the only ones who can’t comfortably perform at amazing levels all the time. 

But it’s impossible to live up to a standard of perfection. Because none of us is perfect (even if it looks to us like some people are pretty darn close). Excellence is a wonderful objective, but nobody can achieve greatly all the time, or be great at everything. 

In fact, there is no such thing as perfect.

Perfectionism is one of the great myths, and it’s one that the Self-Critic loves to use as a tool of sabotage. Perfectionism puts our emotional well-being at risk, and it can negatively impact our physical health, too. 

So, what to do? How can you release the patterns and habits that are rooted in a drive to be perfect — and that you believe you need in order to be “successful”?

1. Start with self-love

I talk about the impact of self-love often — because it is so powerful. Here is how to put it to work to reduce perfectionism.

Begin by fully acknowledging and appreciating all of your talents and gifts. Own them with a full heart, without judgement, without looking at where they are limited. Focus on believing in yourself.

And then, forgive yourself for all the ways you are not “perfect”. Consciously start trying to let go of unrealistic expectations. Appreciate the efforts you put into things that matter, and release a sense of duty to do things that do not merit a super-high level of effort. And, be happy when you give your best shot to what does matter most — even when you don’t meet Nobel Prize-level standards! 

2. Take imperfect action

Perfectionism can inhibit us terribly, or even paralyze us. The second-guessing and fear that come up are huge blocks that keep your true talents from flowing. Perfectionism often leads to procrastination, which heaps on more stress. Taking action — without pressure — is a brilliant way to start, and to accomplish, in big ways.

It sounds counter-intuitive, but taking action with the objective of beginning imperfectly is a powerful way to do great things. Let me share an example of this concept and how it worked.

A client of mine was launching a new business and working to quickly get a simple website in place in time for a big opportunity. She knew she needed to write a short but powerful statement about the business, but was stuck. It felt daunting. It had to be great and she was intimidated.

Now, this client is an excellent writer, so her skill level was not the stumbling block. Her expectations for perfection were stopping her, even with a deadline looming. My advice to her was to begin by writing a shitty first draft — in fact, not one bad draft but at least three totally messy drafts. The assignment was to play with rough ideas, get lots of them down, and then begin to shape the statement from that material. The result was fantastic — and she was surprised at how fast she completed the work. She found the gems in her drafts and polished them, got feedback on a fresh draft, and tweaked it just a bit more. 

Best of all, she enjoyed the process, and was thrilled to get it done and onto the site.

Whether you are writing an article or a report, or planning a new initiative, or aiming to conceive of solutions to knotty problems, or learning a new skill, start with taking imperfect action. That imperfect, messy action gets momentum going, which means you’ll complete the work more quickly as you let your talents shine.

3. Make commitments to yourself

Anything we really want to do or accomplish entails commitment. In this case, the commitment begins with a focus on self-love in as many ways as you can think of. Commit to being alert to the sneaky ways that perfectionism shows up for you, so you can consciously respond differently. And, commit to talking imperfect action, and to taking a playful approach to start tackling the tasks at hand. And finally, commit to following through with your best efforts.

Your best efforts consistently brought to each challenge will lead to great outcomes — outcomes you can feel really good about. 

I welcome you to share your experiences related to perfectionism — from questions you have to ways you’ve been able to ease that pressure — in the comments below.