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It’s normal when you awake each morning to start to think about what you have coming up in the day ahead regarding your family, personal life or work. For some people, this process can fire off thoughts and emotional pangs of anxiety about what lies ahead.

Causes for these pangs of anxiety may be fears about failing at work or not being good enough in some aspect of your job, such as meeting with a manager or making a presentation. The root cause for some of this fear may be linked to the conscious or unconscious drive for perfection. A perfectionist sets high standards that have little room for thinking about failure, and no room for actual failure.

This microskill helps reduce the burden of perfectionism through focusing on self-compassion.


One of the first steps to overcoming the burden of trying to be perfect every day is to accept that perfectionism is an unrealistic goal. There’s little probability that any human being will not make any mistakes. No one can be perfect all the time, regardless of their dedication, intentions, desire or skill set.

Becoming aware and accepting the notion that it’s impossible to be perfect all the time is a first step to learning to replace the desire to be perfect with a commitment to excellence. Excellence is the commitment to be the best you can by taking the best actions you can. By reframing your view, it can help you understand that in life all you can do is try to do your best, and sometimes your best may not be good enough to get what you want.


Each of us has a unique personality, view of the world and approach to how we interact with and perform in the world. Once you can accept the notion that “it’s impossible to expect that I’ll be perfect all the time,” you position yourself to accept that as hard you try you may not always be successful.

One way to deal with failure is to learn and practise self-compassion. Self-compassion is like supporting someone you care about through a difficult time. Self-compassion begins with acknowledging that when you fail it’s hard and difficult, and includes not ignoring or accepting the failure.


Like any skill, self-compassion takes practice to learn how to comfort ourselves and turn off internal self-attacks, shame and criticism. Self-compassion is a powerful microskill for helping to dust off and build resiliency to push through setbacks.

Coaching tips for developing self-compassion:

Practise self-kindness: Treat yourself the same as you do a child you love who fails, by displaying empathy, tolerance and patience to encourage them to try again. When self-criticism and self-loathing are active, ask how these thoughts are helping you feel better. Self-kindness is about accepting the situation, focusing on what you can control and preparing to move forward by focusing on what you want, not on what you don’t have.

Be mindful of emotions: Self-compassion can be facilitated by accepting some learning offered by Eastern thinking, that our automatic, negative thoughts are nothing more than thoughts. They’re just random information, and there’s no evidence that they’re true or have any divine truth. When you don’t overidentify to negative thoughts that lead to negative feelings you position yourself for them to leave as fast as they come.

Self-compassion means focusing on your belief that you’re a good person who is tired, fallible and not perfect, but is committed to doing the best you can. This line of thinking can help facilitate self-acceptance.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto.

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