If you’re a perfectionist, have I got the book for you. It may not “cure” you of your perfectionism, but I think that if you read it with an open mind oriented toward changing some of your thoughts and behaviors, it’ll make an impact in your life.
Mindfulness is an philosophy and approach to change which is simply stated as being more aware of your actions, thoughts and feelings right here, right now — in the moment. Using a mindfulness approach, author Pavel Somov, Ph.D. has managed to hit all the right buttons in his new book on perfectionism, Present Perfect: A Mindfulness Approach to Letting Go of Perfectionism and the Need for Control.
The book is divided into six parts and 15 chapters, with the parts being:
- Introduction to perfectionism in general and to your perfectionism in particular
- Perfectly imperfect, completely incomplete, and just so
- Overcoming mindlessness, guilt, shame, and motivational apathy
- Rehabilitation of your self-view
- Time, performance, and uncertainty
- Coexistence, compassion, connection
While I don’t consider myself a perfectionist, I still benefited from this book because sometimes I find myself engaging in either perfectionistic behavior or thinking. The book is filled with over 150 exercises and mindful meditations, many of which I tried out and found helpful.
It’s the books many insights and deceptively simple observations that really drew me in, however. Take, for instance, the “Seven elements of existential rehabilitation.”
The following are the seven habits that, in my opinion, comprise the basis of existentially vibrant living and appear to be in particular deficit in the life of a perfectionist:
- The habit of making your own meaning
- The habit of noticing ordinary perfection
- The habit of being present in the moment
- The habit of making conscious choices
- The habit of self-acceptance
- The habit of accepting uncertainty
- The habit of forgiving and compassion
These seven vital signs of conscious, meaningful, and mindful living are the goals of the program of existential rehabilitation laid out in this book.
These are also the building blocks for living a more mindful life, and nobody could benefit from mindfulness more than someone who holds everyone (including themselves) up to impossibly perfect standards.
Somov as author is part wise sage, part Socratic teacher, part cognitive-behavioral therapist and part philosopher. Each chapter starts with a brief introduction, and then he jumps into arguing the point he wants you to get from the chapter. Chapters build upon gradually and logically upon one another, so this is not a book you can skip around in (or skip chapters you don’t think pertain to you). Arguments are illustrated with research references and examples, as well as many hypothetical challenges to your existing way of thinking.
I find the author to often be persuasive in his writing, but also sometimes challenging. You need to be able to rationally argue with yourself about the way you look at life, behavior, and other people — a skill that not everyone has (but one that can be learned and nurtured, just like any other skill). The exercises that end each chapter offer a down-to-Earth method for engaging in this argument with yourself and challenging your existing (often irrational) beliefs. They act as a perfect complement to the chapter narratives.
Somov’s writing is easy to digest, as sections within chapters are usually short in order to make a specific point. He then weaves together these points in a cohesive narrative. This style of writing, however, may take a little getting used to, as it’s not the typical self-help manual style (which is a good thing if you’re tired of the usual self-help books).
If you’re a perfectionist, this is a book I can readily recommend picking up as being worth both your time and money. If you’re someone who has perfectionistic tendencies, I think this book would also be beneficial, as there are many insights within that may help you tone down those tendencies a bit. None of us are perfect, and living in a world where we expect perfection can drive a person to a miserable existence. I think Somov’s effort here can help us learn to better accept what is, not what we would like it to be in a non-existent, idealistic world.
Disclosure: Pavel Somov, Ph.D. blogs regularly here on Psych Central at 360 Degrees of Mindful Living.