Perfection Pruning

This week’s trek is inspired by the work of clinical psychologist Ellen Hendriksen. In her work she discusses a common myth that many people with social anxiety believe - that they 'have to perform perfectly" in social situations. 

Are there certain situations in which you feel the need to be perfect?

From trying to seem like you have it all together to obsessing about keeping an awkward conversation going, perfectionism can manifest in sneaky ways. However, Hendriksen argues that when you evaluate the validity of your perfection-focused beliefs, it's possible to see that they might not hold as much weight as you thought. Furthermore, when you are able to let those beliefs go, you will likely feel less pressure to perform and therefore act more naturally, which will result in a better response from others.

Introducing Your Perfection Pruning Exercise

What It Is
A 5-10 minute exercise that helps you examine your perfectionist tendencies and gauge whether you are holding yourself to standards that leave little room for being human.

Why We Love It 
When you have a high bar at work, it can sometimes be hard to separate out when that quest for quality might be seeping over into the rest of your life. This exercise helps you examine some perfectionist tendencies that can show up in social interactions so you can determine what is useful and what might be producing unneeded anxiety. 

How It Works
1.  Review the following list of perfectionist beliefs, thoughts, and assumptions, courtesy of Hendriksen. Pick one from the list that really hits home for you when you are in social situations - one that mirrors your own self-talk. 

  • I have to sound interesting so people don’t think I’m boring.
  • If I do anything offensive people will get mad.
  • I have to be cool and funny and confident at all times.
  • I am responsible for carrying the conversation.
  • There can never be an awkward silence.
  • I can’t say anything wrong or I’ll look stupid.
  • I have to speak smoothly and not trip over my words.
  • I have to make everyone laugh.
  • I can’t make any mistakes or they’ll think I’m incompetent.
  • I must always sound intelligent.
  • People must always think I have everything together.
  • I should always have something interesting to say.
  • There should never be gaps or silences in conversation.
  • I am responsible for keeping my conversation partner interested at all times.
  • I have to be entertaining.
  • I have to make a good impression.
  • I must connect with everyone.
  • People need to like me.
2. Then, imagine you are talking to a child and consider whether you would dish out this kind of advice to him/her. For example would you tell a kid, "Listen, you don't want people to think you are boring, so it's important to sound interesting all the time."

3. Assuming your answer to #2 was, "Heck, no, I would never say that to a kid," take a minute and ask yourself what kind of advice you would give that same kid on the topic. For example, you might say, "Not everyone is interested in the same things and that is ok. Just be yourself." 

4.  Now, take the advice you'd give that kiddo and give it to yourself next time you're in a social situation. 

Ellen Hendriksen
Want to dig deeper into this topic?
  • To hear from Ta-Nehisi Coates about why perfectionism can paralyze you, read this.
  • For Joseph Campbell's take on the relationship between perfectionism and love, read this from Brain Pickings.
  • For a balanced view of the healthy and unhealthy aspects of perfectionism, read this from Inc.
Have a favorite trek? 
Hit us up at treks@lifetrekkers.me and tell us which one you liked and what you learned!
Here's what your fellow trekkers have to say about past treks:

"The Wake-up Call trek really hit home for me. My best days are the ones when I avoid email until as late as possible and this reminded me to stay mindful. It's key to make sure I get grounded first so I can give important things the attention they deserve."
Vijay Rajendran, Director, BBVA New Ventures
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