Dr Perpetua Neo

#Adulting For Perfectionists: Skyrocketing Out Of A Slump

[This DrP article was first published on Next Evolution Performance]

If you’ve made it to this line, then you identify with being perfectionist. You’re not just Type A. You’re Type A++++. Your standards are relentless. You have big goals and dreams, and you actually do it. You roll your eyes at people who go on and on for years about how they’re perfectionist too, but they don’t dare to get their work out there or take XYZ risks because. That’s just excuses, you think. Sometimes, aloud.

Because whatever field you’re in, you’ve likely overachieved for your age and where you started from.

And even for us perfectionists, the struggle is real. 

After all, the more we attempt, the more we’re likely to fail. 

And failure is paralysing. 

There’s ample research showing how everyday things— even moving house— can lead to traumatic symptoms. What this means is, you don’t need to have been at risk of losing your life, or watching someone undergo that, in order to have post-traumatic stress disorder. 

One big source of trauma? Failing. 

The good news is, there’s an even bigger growing body of research called post-traumatic growth.

Trauma doesn’t end with ‘And they lived traumatically ever after’.

Those of us who leverage trauma, integrate it, and leverage it— that’s how we become better and stronger. 

And the practise starts during everyday slumps

1. Today is not over yet

Writer Alexandra Franzen penned a piece many years ago, on how she’d woken up late, and felt excessively crappy. But unlike most other times when she’d give in to the slump, she decided that the day wasn’t over yet. So off she went to yoga. That led to a series of other things. 

And boy was she glad she decided the day wasn’t over yet.

That piece of wisdom has stuck with me for most of the past decade.

During my most trying times, when I slept the day away because I really didn’t want to face it, but then I couldn’t stomach the fact that I’d wasted my time (and potentially my life). 

I decided, the day is not over yet.

That mind shift has been important for me and my clients.

And as someone with ADHD, I love tight deadlines. Day not over yet and it’s one hour to my pre-bed rituals? Bring it on. You have no idea how much I get done. 

Similarly, in COVID-19 times when the year feels stagnant, here’s something to remember. The year is not over yet.

2. Who can you inspire?

The problem with life’s darkest times is that we think we are this special snowflake.

Everything crappy we’re going through only happens to us. 

Imagine the relief when a professional tells you, you’re burnt out. You’re depressed. You’re anxious. 

There’s a name! You’re not alone! And more importantly, there’s a way out!

There’s too much shame that buries us for our mistaken ideas that we’re alone.

Truth is, to be human— and to have done quite a bit in your life— is to go through these slumps.

You can be haunted by your past, trying adamantly to keep your secrets, whilst your shame cannibalises you. Or you can decide to make your past work for you. My favourite imagery, where my demons working for me and I’m slave driving them.

So much better than incinerating all that energy trying to starve them.

And the more we share about how we’ve triumphed over adversity— without judging ourselves that the pain wasn’t ‘big enough’— the more we inspire others.

There are enough people milking sympathy and attention for a certain ‘challenge’ in their life. They leverage anxiety for self-pity. They obsess over the intricacies of what it’s like to be wired in a certain way, then use that as an excuse on why things cannot change.

It’s one thing to understand the situation so you can work through it. It’s another to be handicapped by it. And to give others in the same situation a free pass to be debilitated. Because when you’re in a vulnerable state of mind and you stumble across these ‘influencers’, it’s easy to think that’s the only way out.

We need more people who talk about how they turned things around and thrived against the odds.

3. Learn to fail

One of my most visceral memories of ‘failing’ is when I was 10.

The math teacher told us she’d deface the inner cover of the workbook with the pages we’d made mistakes in. For three months, my cover was beautifully pristine. Until it wasn’t. 

Ashamed and aghast, I covered it up with a huge white sticker.

She looked at me and said, it’s okay to make mistakes. It was only *one* mistake. It was more important to learn from that mistake.

But you see, I came from an upbringing where 99/100 was met with ‘Where’s that 1 mark’ and full marks with, ‘How many others scored that’. 

Everything felt like an abject failure to me.

And as I grew up, whilst I learnt to reframe what ‘failure’ meant— for instance, just getting a distinction rather than full marks so I could sleep more— I was unknowingly haunted by my childhood. 

So whenever people talked about failure, that made my shoulder seize up.

Until I realised, I’d already had tons of failure failing.

Heck, I can’t tell my left from my right easily, and my sense of direction is abysmal.

I fail everyday. And what matters more is actually how I’ve gotten better at the things I’m crap at. And how I’ve never given up.

Plus there are loads of things I now outsource to others. Because, I don’t need to be good at everything. I designed my life so I can enjoy it. Not beat myself up because I can’t design a logo the way my Parisian designer, who’s had decades of experience, does with flair.

If you find it hard to express compassion for someone else, perhaps ask yourself, “What would I want someone to say to me in my position?”

4. The difference between productive and unproductive perfectionism

When you’re crippled by perfectionism that threatens to stall any progress, that leaves the time ticking because you’re lost in the tornado in your head, ask yourself if these standards are productive or unproductive. 

If the latter, it’s time to review if you should can it.

Because you only have that much energy everyday. 

Most things should be done to a Good Enough level. And chances are, your Good Enough is someone else’s Bloody Fantastic. (With plenty of expletives inserted in to emphasise how fantastic it is).

And then you can reserve your energy for what really matters. For things you can become artisanal in.

5. Resilience is soooo 2000

In his book Antifragile, Nassim Nicholas-Taleb expounds that fragility is hitting something and causing it to shatter, whilst resilience is hitting something and having it bounce back to the original shape.

And antifragility is about making it stronger than ever. He references the Greek monster Hydra— for every head you cut off, it grows three new ones. I love that imagery.

After every real or perceived setback, run a post-mortem:—

  1. What went wrong externally and internally?
  2. What went well.
  3. What could have been done differently?
  4. What have I learnt about myself and my skills?
  5. How have I grown?
  6. How is this a part of my overall Victory Story in my life?

All hail Hydra.

6. The 3Rs

I invite my clients to have a list of their personal 3Rs. 

Reset is what you do when things feel chaotic. It’s spending time to buy more time, as compared to doing things is a frenzy and creating more chaos you’ll have to clean up. This may be things like grounding activities, deep breathing, or taking a walk. Otherwise, it’s learning to notice when you’re obsessing, so you can break the vicious cycle.

Replenish is how you recharge your figurative battery. Because run your phone on reserve battery, and you’ll realise how sluggish it is. This can range from sleeping to power naps to eating better.

And my favourite, rejuvenate. How do you breathe new life and longevity into yourself— the way cells renew and become younger after biohacking. What makes you a new person? This could be things you do to feel creative, put you in a state of flow or connect with your favourite people (animals included).

Of course, we often default to the opposite. So list your Anti 3Rs. What you do that creates the antithesis to resetting, replenishing and rejuvenating.

Keen to try one of the above out? Send us an email or leave a comment. I read every email.

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