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Let go of perfection: 6 strategies for stopping the negative spin cycle

The author of “Dig Your Heels In” explains how women can get out of their own way, build confidence and cultivate courage.
Joan Kuhl, gender strategist and author of "Dig Your Heels In."
Joan Kuhl, gender strategist and author of "Dig Your Heels In."Travis W Keyes Photography

Women have a higher tendency for placing unrealistic expectations on themselves as they strive to be perfect in all aspects of their lives. From being the perfect mother, perfect daughter, perfect friend, perfect leader and perfect neighbor – the pressures loom large.

This has roots in our girlhood where the culture surrounding us unfairly judged our capabilities and underestimated our potential. As a result, women to feel the need to overperform and become overqualified for equal opportunities.

Or maybe you were told you can be anything and encouraged to do everything with unbridled ambition. So, there was a rude awakening when you entered the workforce underestimating the pressures of the overwork epidemic, such as “always being on” and home stretching you physically, mentally and emotionally.

Perfectionism causes women to ruminate over decisions and over-analyze, keeping them from speaking up, questioning authority and taking action. Have you ever lost sleep because you kept replaying a frustrating conversation over and over, stressed out about being judged or discounted?

Unfortunately, many women can mistake perfectionist behaviors for work ethic or effort. Have you ever spent 45 minutes writing and rewriting an email to only to receive a one-word “OK” reply? You may feel like putting in all those extra hours will get you the recognition and appreciation you deserve but in actuality it just drains your energy.

RELATED: Joan Kuhl: 4 foolproof ways to overcome imposter syndrome

When you take an all-or-nothing mindset, accepting nothing less than the highest possible expectations of yourself, it makes it hard to take realistic achievements into account. We shy away from owning our success because we are unsure if we are good enough. The truth is that perfectionism is a crippling trap. If your goal is to do everything perfectly, fear of failure will stifle your ability to take action and, ultimately, that doesn’t build confidence. It leaves you feeling guilty, disgraced and even resentful. The mounting pressure of that perfect goal overwhelms us. When procrastination results from perfectionism, that’s a real problem The overthinking starts a negative spin cycle that prevents you from taking action and getting back into control.

Experiment with these six power moves to curb overthinking and give yourself a confidence boost:

1) Change the channel. When your brain is in replay mode, overthinking or becoming overwhelmed by a looming goal, get it to better place. Keep a book of inspiring quotes handy, a playlist of songs that elevate your mood or a travel book of places that energize you.

2) The “Maybe” Story. It’s a shortcut for building a bridge out of a negative spiral. It could apply to a recent video meeting where you made a spontaneous comment during a discussion, but it didn’t land as well as you hoped. You stumbled over your words and felt like you rambled. It was met with zero reaction or response.

Try the Maybe Story. Create a new narrative about what happened and start every sentence with maybe. “Maybe Morgan was thinking about something stressful he needed to do for his family. Maybe the extra information I shared helped others follow the idea better.” Scientists have studied this technique and found that even if the story is kind of silly, it works.

3) Picture this. Look at positive images and think positive thoughts to change or supercharge your mood. Keep an album on your smart phone and choose the images wisely so they evoke a sense of calm, joy and contentment.

4) Visualize. List things you look forward to.

5) Healthy striving. Healthy striving is more internally focused because you believe you are capable of more and want to go after it for your own satisfaction. Perfectionism is strapped to the external judgement of what others will think of you or expect of you. Don’t let external pressure and fear block you from action.

6) Identify one action. Break down the goal to smaller steps which will prepare you for more meaningful risks. Tackling the toughest task first is like eating your vegetables. It’s good for you so don’t push them to the side.

All of these moves can help you flip the switch and gain a positive perspective by using flexible thinking to cultivate confidence and courage.