Worried perfectionism is holding you back: photo of Katherine Morgan Schafler and her book The Perfectionists Guide to Losing Control

Worried Perfectionism Is Holding You back? Learn to Harness It, Not Hate It

Last weekend, I drove to New York to see my father. On the way, I listened to Marie Forleo’s interview with Amanda Morgan Schafler, author of The Perfectionists Guide to Losing Control: A Path to Peace and Power.

Boy, did this speak to me. Maybe, like me, you worry that perfectionism is holding you back.

Years ago, I’d embraced a “progress not perfection” mindset to combat a debilitating cycle of over preparing that was often followed by a panic-induced shame storm if any mistakes occurred. Some of this was related to my inborn high standards, but another part was instigated by the trauma I’d experienced as a child. That trauma piece was incredibly powerful. There were times when my panic was so paralyzing, I missed opportunities because I just couldn’t get things done.

While “progress not perfection” lowered my stress level, there are times when I now find myself holding back, fearing the big P’s return. In fact, for a long time, I labeled anything related to perfectionism as undesirable.

But listening to Marie’s interview with Amanda shifted that paradigm.

While no one should push themselves so hard they burnout or get sick, some of the messages women are given around perfectionism aren’t about self-care—they’re about putting us in our place and keeping us from being the kind of people who live big lives and challenge the status quo.

It inspired me to examine the unconscious motivations that might be fueling some of my choices.

Yet I know I must tread carefully, lest my embrace of the big P lead me back to that nasty cycle.

Fortunately, Marie and Amanda agree. During their interview, they discussed the difference between fear-based perfectionism and enthusiasm-driven high standards, then shared the strengths and weaknesses of the five kinds of perfectionists.

Understanding what kind of perfectionist I am (messy perfectionist with a hint of Parisian) was a game changer. I began to think about how I could capitalize on the strengths of these styles while learning to manage their negative traits.

I’m sharing this with you because I know a lot of writers also deal with these issues.

Some revise to infinity, hoping to achieve sentence-level perfection.

Others panic upon publication, fearing mistakes will be found.

If they’re not shrinking back, they’re hoping to be seen as number one, and if they aren’t, they feel like they’ve failed.

Then there are the people who look at things like book proposals with crossed eyes because perfectionism keeps them from believing they could ever complete this document, let alone use it to fall even deeper in love with their manuscript.

We want to nip this kind of fear-based perfectionism in the bud, because it will kill your creativity and motivation.

But high standards can become the juice that helps you create the vibrant life you deserve.

So, how do you get there?

Buy Amanda’s book, which I’ll also be reading.

While you wait for her book to arrive, here’s how to keep perfectionism from holding you back:

  • Take Amanda’s quiz and figure out what kind of perfectionist you are.
  • After reading her descriptions, get honest about which behaviors show up in your life, and especially in your writing life. Then journal about how those behaviors might be sabotaging your success.
  • Once you know your problematic behaviors, explore the motivations behind what you do. Jot down your thoughts for a couple of days to see how you’re talking to yourself.
  • Analyze those thoughts to see which ones are fearful, and which ones are courageous.
  • Take a few minutes to say those fearful thoughts to yourself and notice what happens in your body. Do the same with the courageous ones.
  • Once you have this data about your body and mind, use it to pay attention to what’s happening in your daily life.

If you can, do this with friends, because the more we talk about these issues, the more we free ourselves from these unhelpful patterns.

Because writing a book proposal is 30% knowing how to write one and 70% managing the head game that comes with drafting it, this is some of the stuff we’ll be addressing during Camp Proposal, which starts next Wednesday, May 31st.

Whether or not you choose to attend, I hope you’ll complete the exercise above and ask yourself the following questions:

  • What if I could see myself as a perfection and lead from that state of grace?
  • What if I could learn to nurture my high standards without letting fear burn me out?
  • How would I know the difference?

Love what you just read?

Get my weekly posts delivered to your inbox. As a special bonus, I’l send you my FREE ebook, Write More, Fret Less: Five Brain Hacks that Will Supercharge Your Productivity, Creativity, and Confidence.

Need a little nudge? See what my followers have to say.

I get something from every single newsletter I receive.

I have a short list of newsletters I regularly read. Lisa’s is one of them. I read every single one.

Your newsletters offer excellent reminders to check in with myself and understand my needs as a writer.

Pin It on Pinterest