Big I or little i? A Tool for Perfectionism

Big I or little i? A Tool for Perfectionism

Perfectionism is a nasty, but frequent, companion of all eating disorders.

Perfectionism is that little voice in your head that tells you that you cannot be good enough. That what you have done isn’t good enough, and therefore you are a failure.

Perfectionism doesn’t compromise. Anything less than perfect is failing, and this is why it’s so damaging to us. It feeds right into the low self-esteem feedback loop, dragging our self-belief down still further.

On a rational level, we all know that being perfect is impossible. But somehow, our brains manage to find a reason that perfectionism absolutely does apply in this case, that we simply must be perfect.

These thoughts can trigger overwhelming levels of anxiety which make us freeze, unable to finish, or sometimes even start, a task. Procrastination is perfectionism’s best friend. There’s always something to do to help us avoid the task, isn’t there? Handy that.

This tool can help you to take a step back from the absolute of perfectionism and insert some more realistic thoughts into the equation.

How important is this task, really? Is it life and death? In which case it’s definitely a big I. Does your entire future depend on it? Also a Big I. Or, far more likely, is this task important right now but won’t actually matter much in the future? In which case it’s a little i.

Here’s an example from my own life. I have an assignment to write. It’s the first assignment of my master’s degree and perfectionism is telling me that I absolutely must achieve a distinction on it. Anything less than distinction is just not good enough.

But let’s take a step back and look at this. How important is this assignment, really? Well, it does count towards my overall classification, so there is some importance there. But it counts for less than a fifth, so it’s not life and death. Also, it’s the first assignment. The first time that I have attempted any work at this level and the first time that I have been asked to write a critical literature review (not as dull as it sounds!) How good are we at anything we do the first time? We’re not always bad, but we’re most certainly not perfect! So how realistic is it for my brain to expect perfection in this case? It isn’t really. So I can class this assignment as a little i. It’s relatively important to me, but won’t actually mean anything in three years when I’ve finished my MA.

So, now it’s your turn (ask a trusted friend or therapist for help if necessary, especially if you think that the task is a Big I after this):

  1. What is the task that you’re either doing or facing?
  2. How important is it right now? Why?
  3. How important will it be in a few years? Why?
  4. How realistic is it for your brain to expect perfection from you in this case? Why?
  5. Is this task a Big I or little i?

Now that you’ve (hopefully) identified that this task is a little i, somewhat important now but not life and death, keep that more realistic thought in mind as you work through it. I like to write important thoughts like that down on a post-it note and stick it on the wall right in front of my face so that I can’t forget it—just an idea.

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