Working with my private students to help them in their endeavors, manage pain or any other number of goals, and training Alexander teachers, I have encountered a lot of perfectionists over the decades.
Since I don't have a high level of perfectionism myself (I will take pleasure and fun over being perfect most days), it has taken me a while to understand how strong this value is for some people, and how I might help them keep the sweetness and shed the poison of the desire to be perfect.
In the context of learning the Alexander Technique, one aspect of perfectionism that comes up is the desire to be right. As I work with my students' habits, they continually bump up against how right their habits feel, while seeing there are easier, less stressful ways to manage daily life, whether it's improved posture, better balance, managing pain, interacting with others, living one's values, or meeting the demands of one's job.
The poisonous side of perfection is that it can rob us of so many things, including pleasure, authenticity, connection, self-esteem, success and safety. It can be downright frustrating and psychologically painful to recognize we aren't as right as we thought we were in the way we approach things.
Here are some of my strategies for addressing perfectionism in myself and others:
- Be genuinely curious and respectful about all that is embedded in the desire to be perfect.
- If I am not perfect in this situation or outcome, will it matter 20 years from now? 5 years from now? An hour from now?
- Fill in the blank: When I am perfect, then I will be/have...
- Perfection is a means to an end... What will perfection bring me, and how can I use additional life strategies to start bringing myself the gifts that perfection promises?
- What are my values that seek to express themselves through perfectionism?
The downside of perfectionism often recedes in people's lives. The passage of time, the wisdom that comes from living long enough and the changing values over a lifetime shift one's relationship to perfection.
In conclusion: You don't need the Alexander Technique to be less of perfectionist, but it can certainly help, and the process might even be fun.
Full disclosure: I am not a perfectionist. Before I wrote this blog, I called the two people who have known me the longest, my Mom and Dad, to ask them: "Do you think I am a perfectionist?"
My dad said "You like to do things well, but you are not maniacal. I suppose in some ways you may be a perfectionist, but you are also very practical/"
My mom said "No, definitely not. As you've gotten older, you are more organized, more opinionated - not a bad thing - and you know yourself better. But no, you are not a perfectionist."
I value detail and accuracy, I am willing to work hard for things that matter to me, I can be highly competitive, I like to be right (but rarely at the expense of human connection) and I like to do a good job. I recognize I was born with a high degree of privilege. One of my life themes is: "It is what it is". I sometimes choose to live in the space that "everything is perfect the way it is", because I am more interested in new experiences, learning something I didn't know, and finding joy and miracles in life than in focusing on what's missing or broken if I can't do anything about it.