TEDxAUCollege | New year, new you: letting go of perfectionism
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New year, new you: letting go of perfectionism

-Isabel Retterath

Christmas break has started, and with 2019 around the corner, I figured it might be the right time to start thinking about New Year’s resolutions. As usual, when the end of another year is coming to a close, recommendations for resolutions you are supposed to make, appear everywhere: in magazines, television commercials, the internet, and virtually every type of social media. The most commonly found recommendations for the new year include losing weight, sleeping longer, reading more books, and so on. Although the ‘classic’ New Year’s resolutions are great ways to improve certain aspects of your life, this year I decided to focus on something more fundamental: letting go of perfectionism. People who are perfectionistic set very high personal standards, yet they are never happy with their achievements. Alarmingly, a recent study found that adolescents are increasingly developing the drive to be perfect in every aspect of their lives. A number of factors has caused this development, for instance pressure that is caused by the use of social media. I myself have struggled with perfectionism for a long time as well, so in the wake of the coming year, I decided it was time for a change. Having gathered quite a lot of information about perfectionism, there was one TED-talk by Brené Brown that really stood out, it provides such a new perspective on the underlying character traits that cause people to develop perfectionistic behaviours in the first place. Read on if you want to know how to get rid of perfectionism, based on Brown’s findings.

During the TEDxHouston conference in 2010, Brené Brown held a talk about ‘The power of vulnerability’. Having done years of research, she found that what distinguished non-perfectionistic from perfectionistic people was the courage to feel vulnerable. Furthermore, Brown’s research found that there is one factor that underlies all perfectionistic behaviours, and that factor is shame. Fear of shame prevents people from showing others their vulnerability, and perfectionistic people use their perfectionism as a kind of shield to prevent others from seeing their vulnerability. Yet, vulnerability is essential for connecting with other people, according to Brown.

What is so special about Brown’s talk is that she describes how she suffered from a mental breakdown after having gathered the results of her study. Namely, she felt like the basis for her own behaviours was being overthrown. Therefore, she first visited a therapist for a year to learn how to cope with her own perfectionism, after which she continued to look into perfectionism, and especially ways to cope with it. As a result, she wrote a book called ‘The gifts of imperfection’. This book provides ways to learn to let go of perfectionism. Underlying all the tips Brown provides the notion of practicing self-compassion, which can be defined as the act of being kind to yourself, and embracing who you are. Letting go of the thought of having to be perfect is essential for being able to show vulnerability, and thus for connecting with others.

In her talk, Brown stresses that after having let go of her perfectionism, she gained back her life. Rather than striving to be perfect in every aspect of her life, she has now embraced who she is and is able to enjoy life much more. Therefore, if you yourself struggle with perfectionism as well, the new year might be an opportunity to start letting go of it. Brown’s book can certainly be very helpful, but she has also given other TED-talks about the same topic that provide useful insights. All in all, TEDxAUCollege wishes you all a very happy new year, and we hope to see you at our pitch night in January!