Dr. Michelle Borba had a solid post the other day describing steps parents can take to help children with perfectionistic tendencies. This advice works for the rest of us, too, as described after the jump.

1. Evaluate your load. Just as Dr. Borba says parents should consider lightening the perfectionistic child’s load, adults with perfectionistic tendencies should do the same. Start by exploring your values and goals.  Those set the stage for assessing all of the activities that consume your time.  Release what is unnecessary and unsatisfying.

2. Mind the time. Dr. Borba counsels teaching a child to set time limits on activities, so that the child does not obsessively dwell on attempted perfection. What is the likely value of spending X more hours on this work?  What if you don’t?

3. Find release for unhealthy stress. Exercise, meditation, games, and diversions work for children of all ages. My two favorite releases these days?  Creativity and mindfulness.

4. Expect mistakes and failures. Dr. Borba explains that parents of perfectionistic children should “help their children handle disappointment.” My advice is similar:  if you are human, you will make mistakes. If you are not making mistakes and failing with some regularity, you are likely not growing. (See here for more.)

5. Learn optimism. Dr. Borba suggests “family mantras” for children, like “[a] mistake is a chance to start again.”  I’m not a believer in The Secret, and I don’t believe that we materialize what we set our minds on in some mystical way. On the other hand, I am a strong believer in the notion that our consciousness can be influenced by our practiced thoughts. One can learn optimistic explanatory styles, and that can be extraordinarily empowering. (I’m not advocating “the power of positive thinking,” which Barbara Ehrenreich has criticized as length.  I will note, however, that Michael Jordon did not concentrate on his bad shots. He expected the ball to go in.)

6. Challenge pessimistic thought processes. As the work of Dr. Martin Seligman and others in positive psychology (described in the post just cited) has shown, people can learn to modify a negative explanatory style. Sometimes you do mess up, but even then it usually is not the end of the world. And finally,

7. Examine your role models. Just as Dr. Borba notes that parents may unwittingly model perfectionism in their own lives, leading by implicit example, those who are susceptible to perfectionism should consider their role models, for at least two reasons.

First, do your role models themselves exhibit unhealthy perfectionistic tendencies?  If so, how have those tendencies harmed that person’s life?

Second, how well do you know your role model?  If the role model is or was a real person, he or she made mistakes.

I have been struck by this very last point recently because I have been reading biographies of each of the US presidents in order, from Washington forward. (I’ve just finished volume three of Robert Caro’s superb Lyndon Johnson series.) Each of those men was flawed, some deeply so.  Many of them came from disfunctional homes. Many suffered from depression. Many were womanizers. Many had physical disabilities and diseases. Most had towering ambition that led them to make choices of which they were not proud. Despite (perhaps in some cases because of) those flaws, they each achieved a status that many people envy.  Nobody’s perfect, right? Some, however, accept this and get things done.