14 steps to a better you: promiss less, do more

In Too lazy to assign a category on June 9, 2008 at 10:27 am

A successful live means you've got realistic expectations of yourself. You don't have to be the perfect partner / friend / colleague / parent. People that are unreasonably demanding, put themselves under pressure and might become stressed or burned out. It can also influence others. If for example your boss asks you to write a report by tomorrow and you say yes, it's possible you can't honour your promise, and others might be disappointed or get the feeling they can't count on you. It is important you put realistic demands upon yourself.

Being too demanding might stem from a negative sense of self-worth. You don't think you're good enough, and think you'll only be loved if you excel. It's also possible you don't know your limits, or you overestimate yourself. This can also happen if you've got a healthy sense of self-worth. If you've got a positive image of yourself, it's possible you always tend to think it's no problem writing that report by tomorrow (to stick with the example above). People too demanding of themselves, want too much.


Being demanding is related to being perfectionist: you want to do things as good as possible. Being perfectionist isn't wrong in itself. On the contrary, there are advantages. It helps to bring out the best of you. Perfectionism is quite alright, as long as it stays healthy.

This means you like to excel and it's a challenge to do something without mistakes. It becomes unhealthy once you demand you do everything in a perfect way. By putting that much pressure on yourself, you become stressed and afraid of failure. Because nobody's perfect, you'll always be disappointed too. You'll always fall short and can never feel proud about yourself.

Be realistic

If you don't want to become overwrought or disappoint others, be realistic. Following tips can be helpful.

Work on your sense of self-worth

The best way to steer away from unhealthy perfectionism, is to work on your self esteem. When you think positively about yourself, and accept yourself, you won't feel the urge to be perfect and promise heaven on earth.

Want versus have to

Perfectionism becomes unhealthy if you have to be perfect. Notice there are so many things you have to, deliberately replace the words have to by want to or can. "I want to get an A on this exam", feels more relaxed than "I have to get an A on this exam" or "I can' make mistakes". That way it's also possible to discover what you want and don't want. Perhaps you'll notice there aren't so many things you have to do. Perhaps you'll find out someone else should do some of the things you saddle yourself with.

Be honest

In order to become realistic, you'll have to be honest, first and foremost with yourself. When someone asks you something, don't answer automatically in an affirmative way, but ask respite. Say for example: "I'm not sure if that's possible, I'll let you know as soon as possible" or "I have so see whether this fits my schedule". Verify how much time and energy it will consume. Is it realistic? Do you want to answer the request? Can you? When you've made up the balance, it's time to be honest with the other person. If in doubt, hold back a little. Say for example: "I will do my best, but I'm not sure it will work". Also ask for what you need. Think time, money, materials or help.

If you're honest with yourself and others, you take away the pressure. It also prevents you from disappointing others. If, perhaps against all odds, you manage to succeed anyway, you and others will be pleasantly surprised.


The following exercises can help you to be more realistic and honest.

Realistic promises

Think about a recent situation in which you made a promise or commitment that wasn't entirely realistic. Answer following questions: whom did you make this promise to, and about what? To what extent were you fooling yourself? To what degree did you have to convince yourself to keep this promise? If you knew the promise wasn't realistic, why did you make it anyway? Was there something you were afraid of? Did you want to avoid something, like a fight? In retrospect, what would you have done or said instead?

Future requests

Imagine a request you can expect to be made in the upcoming month by your boss, colleague, partner or family. Imagine how much time and energy it's going to ask from you. What's the situation? To what extent to you have the time or energy to answer this request? What can you say in order to make a realistic promise or commitment?

Test: how much of a perfectionist are you?

Answer the following questions with yes, sometimes or no.

   1. I feel guilty if I don't get it 100% right
   2. I'm afraid others might not like me as much if I fail
   3. When I start something, I'm afraid of failing
   4. No matter how well I do, I'm never satisfied with my achievements
   5. I worry about mistakes
   6. I am proud if I get it 100% right
   7. I like to give the best of me
   8. My successes stimulate me
   9. It's a challenge to be the best I can
  10. I like to be better than others

For each time you've answered yes, you get 2 points. For each time you've answered sometimes you get 1 point. Add up the points for questions 1 to 5. This is your score for unhealthy perfectionism. Add up the points for questions 6 to 10. This is your score for healthy perfectionism.

Unhealthy perfectionism

8 points or more: you suffer from unhealthy perfectionism and put too much stress on yourself. It's important to work on your self esteem.
4 – 7 points: to an extent you suffer from unhealthy perfectionism. You'll feel much better if you are realistic, and throw guilt overboard.
0 – 3 points: you don't suffer much from unhealthy perfectionism. Mistakes and shortcomings don't get under your skin. You know you're only human.

Healthy perfectionism

8 points or more: you're a perfectionist in a good way. You like to excel because it makes you feel good. Beware though. Don't mix up the things you want and the things you have to.
4 – 7 points: you're a perfectionist to a certain extent. You like to do things as good a possible, but you don't strive for perfection all the time.
0 – 3 points: you're not at all a perfectionist. That's fine, but if you want to improve your achievements, a healthy dose of perfectionism might help you.

Healthy and unhealthy perfectionism can coexist. It's possible you like to achieve but at the same time you think you have to.

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