Time and energy bandits are habits and thought processes that can suck you dry, leaving you exhausted and harried.

One of these bandits, which particularly rears its head at the holiday season, is perfectionism.

Now perfectionism is a wonderful trait – in its place. Some of the places where it is advisable to practice perfectionism include brain surgery (or any kind of surgery), pharmacy, air traffic control, operation of any kind of heavy equipment, including motor vehicles, or any other activity that seriously threatens the health and safety of living things.
But true perfectionists extend this way of thinking and behaving far beyond the boundaries of necessity. Relationships, child-rearing, weddings, and holidays are areas where the whole experience would be better for everyone if the perfectionist could just back off. 

Christmas can include a hurricane search for exactly the right gift, which is unavailable due to its popularity, or the ultimate holiday decorations and meal, suitable for a photograph on a magazine cover.

“But I’d be letting people down if I didn’t do it,” wailed one of my clients. “Really?” I said. “Have you asked them?” Turns out her family members were delighted to be asked. They hated her frantic search for perfection.

How to dial down your perfectionistic tendencies? Make a list of all the areas in your life where it is necessary for you to be a perfectionist (see discussion above). Then make a list of all the areas where is merely “desirable,” including filling out income tax returns, making travel reservations, dealing inadequately with customers or clients. Failure to be perfect here can result in spending money or in wasting time, but it is not life-threatening.  

What’s left after the “necessary” and “desirable” areas are the gray areas: being concerned about how you dress, how your home looks, whether you have said something foolish, made a mistake, or somehow displayed your ignorance.

In this context, perfectionism is NOT about setting high expectations or being successful in your endeavors. It is about being concerned about making mistakes and about worrying about what others think. Perfectionism in this arena robs you of joy, of creativity, and of authentic relationships.

Think of it this way – persistent perfectionism is stress, and persistent stress is life-threatening. Any event that you are willing to shorten your life for by having anxiety had better be an equally life-threatening event. Are dust bunnies, disarranged hair, or verbal mistakes really worth your life?

Turn the lights down low (hides the dust bunnies), sit back, and smile a lot. Forgive yourself for small mistakes and forgive others around you for the same. Trust me – you’ll be more popular – relaxed – than you ever thought possible.


Lynette Crane is a Minneapolis-based speaker, writer, and coach. She has more than 30 years’ experience in the field of stress and time management and personal growth. Her latest book is The Confident Introvert, written to help introverts overcome the stress of living in a culture that idealizes extroversion, so that they can thrive, and not just survive.Visit her website at http://www.creativelifechanges.com/ to see more in-depth articles and to view her programs.