First For Women
THE TRAP ‘I want to be a great
The ham has to attain the perfect tropical tan; your lights have to reach the tallest tree; your guests have to be happy as clams. It’s a dizzying list of “musts” that leaves you anxious. “The first thing to do is notice that you’re imposing ‘rules’ on yourself,” says Ong. “But unlike actual rules like, ‘Tuesday is always Tuesday,’ you can decide if you want to follow them.”
Enjoy the journey
“Perfectionism is outcomeoriented, but we get more joy from the process,” says Ong. Indeed, making small changes lets you savor the journey. “When you try something new, jot down what you think will happen—as well as what does.” For example, you may think adding cumin to your potatoes will cause a revolt, only to discover it’s a hit. “The more we experiment, the more flexible we become, turning perfectionism into growth.”
THE TRAP ‘If it’s not perfect, then I’m a failure’
As you take your famous pumpkin cheesecake out of the oven, you lose your grip on it, and the dessert hits the floor. I let everyone down, you worry. “Perfectionism makes self-worth conditional: ‘If the meal is perfect, then I’m lovable,’” says Lombardo. “The best remedy for conditional self-worth is unconditional self-worth: showing yourself love no matter what.”
Treat yourself kindly
When plans go awry, give yourself what Lombardo calls BFA (Best Friend Advice): “Imagine what you’d tell a friend and show yourself that kindness.” Perfectionism gets more intense the more stressed we become, while self-compassion lowers anxiety, sparking problem-solving. “You might turn a crushed pie into parfaits or make a joke about it,” says Lombardo. Simply being kind to yourself widens your perspective.
THE TRAP ‘I need to keep everyone happy’
As your holiday guest list grows, so do your concerns over potentially clashing personalities. “I have to make sure everyone gets along,” you say to yourself. “We idealize the holidays so much, it’s easy to believe that if everyone isn’t bursting with joy, the day is a disaster,” says Ong. But this mindset keeps us from enjoying the small moments that matter most.
Try on a new role
“A lot of women say that ever since they were little, they took on the role of peacemaker,” says Ong. “Maybe you had a conflict-ridden household, and you tried to keep everyone happy.” Once you pinpoint the roots of this role, consider picking a different part to play. “For example, you may just want to be a listener this year.” Perfectionism tells us that we need to play every part and make everyone happy, but all you need to be is you.
‘I have to do it all myself’
As you juggle holiday to-do’s, your aunt asks if she can help by arranging the flowers on the dining table. Though you appreciate the kind gesture, you’d rather do it yourself and politely decline her offer. In fact, you take the old adage, “If you want something done right, do it yourself ” to an extreme, creating impossible standards that leave you feeling depleted. “It’s scary for perfectionists to delegate, because they lose the perception of control,” says Ong. But it’s vital for your well-being to let yourself be a little vulnerable and ask for help.
Release the burden
Simply step back and observe your fears, urges Ong. You might say to yourself, “I’m noticing I’m afraid to accept help.” Then go a little deeper and pinpoint why— are you worried you’ll be seen as incompetent? How realistic is this? Would you think the same of a loved one who asked for help? Our friends and loved ones want to help us, and when we let them in, we foster stronger bonds. In the end, simply having a mantra like, “I’m going to put in my best effort, and that’s good enough,” keeps the pressure at bay and allows us to grow.