What would happen if you cut yourself some slack?

Today we have a guest post. Not just any guest post, but one from a dear friend of mine, Kelly Exeter. Kel and I met years ago and she is the reason that I keep blogging. Mainly because she is in charge of the “back end” of this blog, and knows all my passwords.

But she is more to me than that. We share a common interest in calming the fuck down, having both been the victims of our own ridiculous standards. You can read about my turning point here.

So our Kel has written a book. An important book that, if you nod along a bit to her post, you can check out at the end.

Thanks Kelly Exeter, for all the good that you do xxx

Practical-Perfection-Featured

I’ve never thought of myself as a perfectionist. To me, perfectionists are people who have to be perfect at everything and, well, there are plenty of things I can be pretty half-arsed about.

It wasn’t until I was doing the research for my new book Practical Perfection that I came across research by Paul Hewitt and Gordon Flett who suggested that perfectionists come in a few different flavours:

  1. Self-oriented perfectionists adhere to strict standards while maintaining strong motivation to attain perfection and avoid failure. They also engage in stringent self-evaluation.
  2. Other-oriented perfectionists set unrealistic standards for significant others (e.g. partners, children, co-workers), coupled with a stringent evaluation of others’ performances.
  3. Socially-prescribed perfectionists believe others hold unrealistic expectations for their behaviour (which they feel they can’t live up to). And they experience external pressure to be perfect, believing that others evaluate them critically.

Which one are you? I’m the first.

I’ve always set high standards for myself and have spent my whole life doing whatever was needed to meet those standards. Which is nice. It means I’ve achieved a lot and well, I do like achieving. It’s what drives me. The problem is, I never spent much (ok, any) time questioning the standards I set for myself. I never asked myself:

  • Is this reasonable?
  • Is this appropriate for where you are in life right now?
  • Is this goal yours, or something someone else though would be good for you to do?

And when other people tried to ask me those questions (ie my husband), I got really pissed off at them.

Where did all that striving to meet self-imposed high standards lead? A constant cycle of burnout, overwhelm and feeling like a hamster on a wheel (you know the one where you’re working your little butt off but not getting anywhere).

And it all came to a head when my first child was born.

When I got pregnant with him I was running a rapidly-growing graphic and web design business. Despite having nine months’ notice to set that business up to run without me in it, I never made it happen.

So I worked right up to the day he was born (not ideal), was sending invoices out from hospital the day after (also not ideal) and then once I got home, every minute he was sleeping, I was on my laptop managing my team and doing all the things that only I could do in the business (very not ideal). As if that wasn’t enough I was also running our household, managing a house build and desperately maintaining the façade of someone who had their shit together.

Was this a short term thing?

No. I did this for two years.

Two years!

Finally, I had a complete breakdown.

The only surprising thing about that was how long it took to happen.

The main reason I had that breakdown?

It was because I never cut myself any slack.

The reason it took me over two years to recover from the breakdown?

Well that’s how long it took me to learn to be kind to myself.

Sweet Jesus I’m a slow learner.

But I did learn. Eventually.

And from that period of two steps forward, one step back, one step sideways, another step forward, (and repeat), emerged a framework. One that allows me to live a life where I’m able to both set high standards for myself and be kind to myself.

The framework looks like this:

PP

What it’s helped me do is be practical about my approach to perfection. It’s broken life down into some simple equations:

  • Priorities + Productivity – Passions = Burnout
  • Passions + Productivity – Priorities = Overwhelm
  • Passions + Priorities – Productivity = Hamster on a Wheel

How has the framework helped me be kinder to myself?

Well, it doesn’t judge!

When I find myself in an overwhelmed state my first instinct is to get angry at myself for falling into that place again. But the Practical Perfection Framework simply says: “Hey Kelly, it’s time to check in with your Priorities so you know what you can pull back from.”

If I’m feeling a bit burnt out it gives me a gentle nudge: “Hey you, are making enough time for your Passions at the moment?”

If I’m in that hamster-on-a-wheel mode of running my little butt off but not getting anywhere, it says: ‘Hey, time to focus and get some Productivity in place.”

In a nutshell the framework is a constant reminder that it’s ok to:

“Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

How has life gotten better since I learned to be kinder to myself?

  • Well my health – both mental and physical – is a lot better.
  • I smile, dance and cuddle with my kids and husband more.
  • I’ve learned the world doesn’t fall apart when I admit I don’t always have my shit together.
  • I’m less resentful because I don’t spend so much time trying to maintain the ‘always having my shit together’ facade.
  • I don’t feel underappreciated by those around me.
  • I don’t beat myself up for perceived failings as much.
  • And interestingly, I’m not ‘achieving’ less.

Life these days isn’t perfect by any stretch of the imagination – but putting Passions, Priorities and Productivity together more often than not means I get to be the person I aspire to be more often than not.

So the question I have for you today is this:

What would happen if you were to cut yourself a bit more slack?

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Book-SidebarPractical Perfection is available in Paperback, Kindle and PDF formats here on Kelly’s website. It’s the book for you if:

  • You’ve ever been told “You’re too hard on yourself” …
  • You’re especially prone to overwhelm and burnout …
  • Your perfectionist tendencies are holding you back from getting the most out of life …