Updated: Apr 21
Autistics can have perfectionist tendencies that we sometimes cling to. Maybe it helps us feel safe and in control, or maybe it's an avenue to prove our worth through personal accomplishments. Sometimes, it's even due to our brains' way of interpreting things literally (if I don't do it 100%, then that means it's not done, right?).
(That is an unrealistic expectation, Paul Hollywood!)
Perfectionism can rear its ugly head in all kinds of ways. It can make you feel like you didn’t study hard enough for an exam (even though you got an A). During a group project, perfectionism might prompt you to do most of the work to ensure it’s presentable. It might stop you from posting a social media video until you say everything flawlessly, with no "ums" in between.
Perfectionism can be draining and cause us to feel worse about ourselves than we actually should. I read about the trap of perfectionism in How to Be an Imperfectionist, a book by Stephen Guise. This book encouraged me to break out of my own perfectionistic tendencies. If you want to join the rebellion against perfectionism, here are three ways you can start embracing the rebel in you:
We can get so focused on the end result, that it can stop us from being able to get started or to finish a task. If you think, “I HAVE to get an A on the next exam!” you might have a harder time getting started studying because you already set your expectations so high. During the test, if the pressure to get a high grade returns, it’s like a constant hum in your brain. That hum can make it a million times harder to focus on answering the question that's right in front of you.
"Result apathy" is an anti-perfectionism technique where you focus on doing your best and let go of the result. You will get more out of your study sessions if you focus on understanding the material instead of reaching a result you can’t really control.
(This is how you should feel about results if you're rebelling against perfectionism.)
Feeling stuck trying to do something perfectly? Try to focus more on what you can do and the process of doing it. Give yourself a break and leave the results up to chance!
Chance vs. Failure
I once watched a documentary featuring new college graduates who applied for job after job and kept getting rejections. On the surface, it seemed like the graduates were failing miserably. They must be doing something wrong to be rejected so often, right? Would your opinion of the grads change if you knew that this documentary was filmed in 2008, during the height of the economic recession?
Suddenly, the narrative is not one of personal failure, but rather how slim the chances for employment were for those graduates. When we engage in activities like job hunting or dating, it can be tempting to blame ourselves for negative outcomes.
(No no, it's OK Obi-Wan, it's really just a lot of bad luck. Also the Dark Side.)
You may be surprised to learn that you're totally allowed to make this easier for yourself. Instead of seeing them as moral failings, we can view these rejections as simple bad luck. Sure, you can always edit your resume more or try a different pickup line, but don't disregard the element of chance involved in these activities.
Sometimes, the odds just aren’t in your favor. Hopefully, this is an encouragement to pick yourself up and try again, since you’ve already got what it takes. If you stay persistent, the right opportunities and the right people should find you.
Think about the goals you'd like to achieve right now (maybe with an autism life coach!). What percentage of that goal's completion is probably due to luck? Take some pressure off yourself. Try to remember that being more perfect won't affect the part that's up to chance.
Break Some Rules!
As a fellow Autistic, I've found that breaking social rules can be an extremely liberating practice. When you're already doing something "against the rules," you'll be less worried about making other mistakes. Neurotypicals have even found this practice helpful for courage and self-acceptance in social situations.
Stephen Guise recommends wearing something outlandish like a fanny pack, or doing a silly walk. My personal favorite recommendation is lying down in public for 30 seconds. I went ahead and turned it into 10-minute naptime between classes in college.
What is a social norm you can break today? You can even tell your coach about how it goes!
If you want to explore more ways you can break out of the perfectionism mold, contact us to start working with an autism life coach. Yours will be happy to listen to your story and to help you find new ways to be perfectly imperfect.