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Love Your Imperfections!

Quit beating yourself up over messes and mistakes. Getting out of the perfectionist trap will make your life much easier and happier.

Are you striving to be perfect at work and at home? Do you freak out if the house isn’t spotless or if your memos aren’t masterpieces? Make 2011 the year you stop listening to your inner critic and start learning to love your imperfections.

“Perfectionism demands that you continually pursue validation — both inner and outer — to tell you that you’re OK,” says Kathy Caprino, a women’s career and life coach and author of Breakdown, Breakthrough: The Professional Woman’s Guide to Claiming a Life of Passion, Power and Purpose. “You’ll find it hard to feel safe and worthy unless you’re achieving some invisible standard you’ve created.” It also takes a toll on your well-being. Jonathan Alpert, a New York City psychotherapist, says that perfectionism can lead to anxiety, mild depression and impaired relationships.

Follow this six-step plan and you’ll be less perfect — but also a lot less stressed!

1. Get your priorities straight.
Instead of trying to be great at everything, pick the one area that matters to you most — work, family, your hobbies — and aim to do your best there while cutting yourself some slack in other parts of your life. “For instance, if your top priority is to be a loving, nurturing parent, let that be the area where you strive to get an A,” says Caprino. “The more you give up needing to be perfect in everything, the more loving a parent you’ll be.”

2. Learn to be OK with good enough.
Will your dinner party be a flop if you don’t produce a four-course meal from scratch? Of course not! It’s totally fine to serve frozen hors d’oeuvres and deli dishes, or to send store-bought cards instead of creating your own. “Accept the notion that there are more options than perfect or imperfect and right or wrong,” says Alpert. “There are countless shades of gray.”

3. Rediscover the word “no.”
Do you take on too much because you want others to think you’re amazing? Time to start saying “no” to things you no longer want to do, whether it’s coaching the local softball team or organizing the annual neighborhood garage sale. This will free you up to put your best efforts into the things that matter to you.

4. Give yourself a pep talk.
Every morning for a month, look at yourself in the mirror as you brush your teeth. Say out loud: “I thoroughly love and accept myself — imperfections and all.” Tell yourself that you’re great just the way you are, and before long you’ll stop being your own worst critic.

5. Watch your language.
Ban the word “perfect” from your vocabulary! Instead of saying, “My business proposal is perfect,” try, “I gave that proposal 100 percent.” If you’re complimenting a friend’s renovated kitchen, say, “Those cherry cabinets look beautiful with the black granite countertops” instead of “What a perfect match!”

6. Share your errors with others.
It takes courage to admit that you forgot a birthday or fumbled an important presentation. But sharing your shortcomings with family and friends actually helps you accept yourself as someone who’s great at certain things, good at others and OK with being both. As Caprino says, “If you beat yourself up for the mistakes you made, you miss the entire point of the mistake: to learn and grow.”

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