Three Ways I Let Go of the Pressure to be Perfect
As Highly Sensitive People, we are deeply impacted by criticism and failure, therefore we set high (often impossible) expectations for ourselves in an attempt to be perfect. Why? Perfectionism shields us from the threat of criticism and the guilt of disappointing others, both of which can be extremely painful. In pursuit of perfect, we often destroy ourselves in a storm of stress, overwhelm and exhaustion.
What sends me into an overwhelm spiral faster than anything? Trying to be perfect! The pressure to always have an empty email inbox (an impossible feat, by the way!), answering my phone whenever it rings, doing my notes immediately after each session, showing up on social media and in real life just as much as my non-HST colleagues. Oh and that pesky guilt that comes along with not meeting the (sometimes imaginary, sometimes actual) expectations of others.
I tried the perfectionism route over and over again, but always failed miserably. What I did realize is that I didn’t want to be perfect! I wanted balance, quiet and quality over quantity. Here’s how I got there…
Creating a Self-Compassion Mindset
First and foremost, we have to give ourselves permission to be imperfect. The most important piece of this puzzle is definitely being able to approach our work and our daily routine a little differently than our non-HST colleagues. The path to developing more self-acceptance can be reached by practicing self-compassion and taking steps to advocate for your own needs. Knowing that we are doing the best we can and that it is okay to adjust our routines in order to adequately nurture ourselves is key. Try practicing the self-compassion break in the video below when you are feeling hard on yourself and find more self-compassion resources here.
Strategically Answering Emails & Calls
- A game changer for me was scheduling specific times throughout the week to conduct intake calls. No more surprises or trying to squeeze calls in.
- Only answering emails at set times during the day (the beginning and end of the day work best for me).
- Responding to the highest priority emails first instead of randomly responding or going through my inbox in chronological order. I have found that this only wastes precious time and energy while leaving important emails unanswered and adding to stress levels.
- This is probably the most important: Giving myself permission to not respond immediately to all messages because that is a) impossible and b) exhausting.
- Only worrying about emptying my inbox once per week (Fridays work best for me). Clearing out your inbox consistently is key, otherwise the buildup of emails is a clear recipe for stress and overwhelm.
- Bonus: setup an email autoresponder or put a note in your email footer that clearly defines what your response time is. Clearly setting expectations lets others know you are busy and it may take several days to respond to non-urgent messages.
I batch many of my administrative tasks, but the most impactful was re-strategizing my note taking approach. A common struggle for many therapists is finding the time and energy to write notes. The gold standard of note taking is to write your progress notes immediately after each session, squeezed in between a restroom break and grabbing a snack before the next client. Talk about overwhelming, this system does not work for my temperament on so many levels. First of all, Highly Sensitive People need more time to transition between tasks and therapists are no exception. Secondly, our brains process information in a deeply complex way and need time to integrate information. Lastly, rushing any task creates anxiety in our finely tuned nervous system. So when do I write my notes? I write them all together at the end of the day when I can focus on the task without worrying about rushing off to my next session.
In summary: Being perfect has most likely been a helpful strategy to protect against criticism and conflict throughout our lives, but often leads to stress and overwhelm in our businesses. Incorporating a self-compassion practice and reevaluating how we complete our work tasks is a great way to welcome in more self-acceptance and ease. Give yourself permission to be imperfect.