When my boys were learning how to write, they would freeze in their tracks for fear of making a spelling mistake. Their perfectionist tendencies were not a surprise to my husband and I – after all, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree – and it was both fascinating and painful to see how powerfully the perfectionist halted their creative and free expression. I would say to them over and over again, “Make mistakes! It’s how you learn. I don’t care about spelling mistakes. I just want you to be able to express your thoughts.” Eventually the message penetrated and they were able to move past their blocks and just write.
If you’re prone to perfectionism you know well of which I speak. The perfectionist is not only the voice that says, “You have to be perfect” but is also the voice of self-doubt that stems from the inner critic that says, “You’re not good enough.” It’s the voice that goads you in the middle of the night, like a taunting bully that sits on your shoulder. It’s the voice that paralyzes you when you try to bring your true self more fully into the world.
I’ve worked with countless clients who dream of starting their own business or launching a side business that would give them more autonomy and freedom. These are highly creative, intelligent, forward-thinking people who have fantastic business ideas that would likely find fruition in the world, yet most of my clients hang out at the level of vision and choke when it comes time to implement and manifest. The obstacle that stands in their way is never the quality of the idea or the vision. The obstacle is the perfectionist and subsequent voice of self-doubt that relentlessly whispers things like, “You can’t do it” and “It’s already been done” and “Who do you think you are?”
The perfectionist stops us in our tracks. Self-doubt is the show-stopper. The more we listen to these voices, the more paralyzed we become.
The fear of making a mistake is a prominent spoke on the relationship anxiety wheel as well, and is one of the reasons why I created my Trust Yourself program several years ago. Over and over again my clients would say things like, “I know I’m with a great partner, I’m just so scared of making a mistake. How do I know that I’m with the right person?” I would explain that there’s no litmus test for love, that a giant cosmic gong isn’t going to ring when you land on your “right” match, and that if we can move beyond right and wrong and instead ask the question, “Is my partner someone with whom I can learn about love?” we cut through much of the anxiety. This question dissolves anxiety because it focuses on process and essence instead of perfection and outcome.
Wherever your struggle to make decisions and self-doubt shows up there is a clear way through the morass, and the key is contained in my first paragraph when I was talking about my sons. When we shift our focus from outcome to process and from perfection to expression, everything changes. Perfectionism is an outside-in mindset, meaning that we’re more worried about form and approval than anything else. When we make an internal shift that connects our intention to process and expression, the logjam clears and we reconnect to our innate creativity and joy in sharing. “I just want you to be able to express your thoughts,” I told my boys repeatedly. “And I want you to make mistakes. Mistakes are how you learn!” As Dan Millman in The Way of the Peaceful Warrior, “It’s better to make a mistake with the full force of your being than to carefully avoid mistakes with a trembling spirit.”
But how do we do this? How do we find the courage to leap with courage into the river of life when we’ve spent years standing on the safe shores? The work is to begin to fill our inner well of Self so that we learn to orient toward process and expression more naturally. When we’re externally focused, which everything in the culture encourages us to be, we seek outside approval to validate our worth. With this at the forefront of our mindset, every action becomes a test of our worthiness or, as the ego believes, a validation of our unworthiness. How can we move freely in any direction when we’re terrified of being judged, when our entire self-worth is tied to the “success” or “failure” of our endeavors? The work of reversing the direction of our focus from external to internal changes everything we do and how we feel about ourselves, and this is what I teach in the Trust Yourself program.
If you’re ready to learn how to release yourself from the stronghold of the perfectionist, if you’re ready to quiet the voice of self-doubt, if you’re ready to reconnect with the creativity and innate sense of self-worth that are your birthright, please join me for my eighth round of Trust Yourself: A 30 day program to help you overcome your fear of failure, caring what others think, perfectionism, difficulty making decisions, and self-doubt. The program is now open for registration, begins on April 8th, 2017, and I’ll only be running it one more time this year.