Let Go of Perfection and Save Your Sanity

By Jack Muskat, Ph.D., Director of Psychology

Let Go of Perfection_Simcoe Place Health ClinicWe live in a competitive world – one of “extreme performance”.

Everything we do is measured and found wanting.

At work, we are continually evaluated against the competition as well as each other.


At home, we have to eat natural, healthy foods – preferably local and non-GMO. It helps to be vegan.

Our kids have to all be in “gifted programs” or be at least “near-gifted.” To relax, we run marathons, or if we are wimps, half-marathons. Plus, we must be interesting to others at all times!

In truth, no one can keep up with this pace, at least not without losing one’s sense of self and identity. A “loss of self” is one of the key signs of depression. You may still be moving, but feel that there is no one inside. To avoid the “emptiness”, you either pile on more activities – or worse – turn to alcohol or drugs to quell the pain.  You are no longer able to make sound decisions, be an effective employee, or a caring person.  You are in a deep rut.

To relax, we run marathons, or if we are wimps, half-marathons.

But there is a way out. The process may require a radical rethinking of some of society’s expectations, as well as a cold, hard look in the mirror. But the results are well worth the effort.  To get started, try these tips:

  1. Listen to but don’t accept self-criticism — Yes, you are a lousy cook, hate your job, can’t lose those last five pounds, and don’t have many friends. Does any of this sound familiar? While it’s impossible to stop the voices in our heads that tell us we are stupid, unattractive, incompetent, etc., it doesn’t mean we have to accept the criticism.
  2. Know your strengths — Maybe you are good at creating presentations, dealing with customers, or mentoring younger staff.  People might love your quiet sense of humour, and your willingness to listen. Whatever your strengths, know them and focus your energy and attention there instead of dwelling on your weaknesses.
  3. Decide what is really important and throw out the rest — I call this “decluttering your psyche”.  We all have a tendency to want to hold on to everything so letting things go can be the hardest part. But our attention and energy each have their limits. So how do we decide what to let go? Maybe we forego that promotion, or give up the cottage. Maybe we prepare simple meals and freeze them in advance instead of having to cook a feast every night. Maybe we reduce our exercise time to more manageable levels. All of these options give us more time to read, enroll in a night course, or take up a long-forgotten hobby. Give yourself room to breathe.

We don’t have to be perfect every time. Perhaps one of the greatest lessons we can learn about the “economy of effort” comes from the world of competitive equestrian sport: the smart horses learn that they only have to clear the hurdle by inches, whereas the novices tend to over-jump by a foot or more. Guess who wins at the end?

Want to learn more about how to “jumpstart” your life? Book an appointment with Dr. Jack Muskat.

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