The Inner Dialogue of a Recovered Recovering Perfectionist.

Dr. Heather Johnson talking with her Inner Perfectionist

As I prepared to host 10 family members for Christmas breakfast and dinner, I found myself engaged in a dialogue with someone I thought I banished years ago – my Inner Perfectionist.

Those who wrestle with perfectionism can likely relate to this exchange. What initially appears small and manageable can quickly escalate into a Martha Stewart-level situation. The persistent whispers from my Inner Perfectionist, nudging with “just a little more…” and “what if we did…” stealthily stole significant chunks of time, adding unnecessary stress to my planning, and ultimately the day itself.

Would you like a peak into that conversation? Some of it may sound familiar…

MY SENSIBLE SELF: Hosting 10 people is a lot. Let’s keep it simple. Involving the kids in the cooking would be fun and cut down on the workload.
MY INNER PERFECTIONIST: I get that, but remember we only do this once a year, so let’s add that extra touch to make it special. While it would be fun to cook with the kids, they’ve had a lot going on. Wouldn’t it be nice to just let them relax and enjoy the day (rhetorical question)?
MY SENSIBLE SELF: We’ll keep breakfast light and easy, given the big dinner ahead – scrambled eggs, fruit, and pastries is plenty.
MY INNER PERFECTIONIST: Sounds great, but how about if we take it up a notch? We could make a veggie frittata topped with avocado and goat cheese instead of scrambled eggs. And for the fruit, how about a build-your-own parfait bar with yogurt, fruit, and two choices of granola? Instead of buying pastries, what if we make blueberry scones served with coconut whipped cream and lemon curd? It would add a special touch, and I’d only have to get up 45 min earlier!
MY SENSIBLE SELF: Prime rib is the star of the show for dinner, so let’s just do some simple sides – a couple vegetables, potatoes, and rolls.
MY INNER PERFECTIONIST: Since it’s Christmas, how about baking rolls in the shape of a Christmas tree and making a honey cinnamon butter and garlic herb butter to go with them? It’s nice to have sweet and savory choices.
MY INNER PERFECTIONIST again: Roasted carrots are kind of boring. We could elevate them by adding some freshly grated ginger and honey butter. And for those brussels sprouts, imagine them roasted to crispy perfection with bacon, caramelized onions, goat cheese, and a drizzle of honey! Everyone loves that!
MY INNER PERFECTIONIST not giving up: For dessert, a pavlova would be perfect, especially since it brings back memories of our family trip to New Zealand last year. Instead of a traditional pavlova, we could do a four-tiered pavlova to resemble a Christmas tree, layered with almond whipped cream and fresh berries! Sure, it takes four hours, but the result will absolutely be worth it!
Was it awesome? Yes, it was awesome, AND it was unnecessary. If I would have just stuck with my original simple plan, I could have saved hours of cooking over two days and still had a wonderful time and 2 great meals with my family.

Conversations like this play out in work projects too.

If like me, you have an Inner Perfectionist lurking in the shadows waiting for the opportunity to reemerge, stay vigilant. You may not be able to banish it forever, but you can keep it at bay using the following 4 strategies:
  1. 1. Continuously challenge perfectionistic tendencies by asking yourself, “When is ‘good enough’ good enough?” Sure, there are times when going that extra mile matters, but be selective about when to go all in.
  2. 2. Set boundaries: Establish limits on how much time and effort you’ll dedicate to a task. Sticking to those limits will help you avoid the temptation to add “just one more thing” or making “just one more edit.”
  3. 3. Prioritize and delegate: Learn to prioritize tasks and delegate responsibilities when possible. Don’t try to do everything on your own. If it helps, remember that delegating doesn’t just save you time, it gives someone else an opportunity to learn and grow.
  4. 4. Focus on progress, not perfection: Shifting the focus from perfection to progress fosters a healthier mindset. It encourages growth, and ultimately leads to a more fulfilling and sustainable approach to tasks and goals.
As we look to the new year and set fresh goals, be sure they are REALISTIC and reflect what you truly want, not what you think you “should” accomplish.