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Last Updated on March 5, 2020

How Self-Reflection Gives You a Happier and More Successful Life

How Self-Reflection Gives You a Happier and More Successful Life

Many world champion athletes, business people, and spiritual teachers all cite self-reflection as an essential key to success. This is also true for ‘everyday people’ who are fulfilled and happy with their lives.

So why is self-reflection so important? I’m going to tell you why self-reflection matters to you and how you can do it to lead a more successful and fulfilling life.

What Is Self-Reflection?

Self-reflection is defined as “meditation or serious thought about one’s character, actions, and motives.” It’s about taking a step back and reflecting on your life, behavior and beliefs.

A few years ago, I had the pleasure of hearing triathlete Craig (Crowie) Alexander speak at a conference in Sydney, Australia. Craig is a five-time Ironman World Champion and all around inspiring human being. One of the things he emphasized was the amount of time he took for self-reflection and the impact that had on his confidence and performance.

After each race, he and his team would reflect to understand what went well and what could be improved for next time. They picked apart every tiny detail, from the shape of his helmet, to when he took a salt tablet, to his emotional state throughout the race.

In practice, he did the same. The time he took to stop and reflect on all the details of his performances shaved seconds off his racing time, which was often the difference between winning – or not.

Now you might be thinking, of course he did! That’s his job. But, what if after every race he just kept moving? What if he never stopped to think about what he could do differently? Seems crazy, right?

Yet that’s what many of us do with the very thing that’s most important – our lives.

What Happens When You Don’t Reflect

We keep moving. We push through. We don’t stop to reflect. We stay in jobs that are (literally) killing us, relationships that zap our energy, circumstances that leave us stressed, unhappy, frustrated and tired.

We keep running on the treadmill of life thinking we don’t have time to waste. So we keep moving in order to keep up. But too often, we just crash and burn. That’s because the only way to keep up with the pace of life is to STOP. To hop off the treadmill. To reflect on what’s working and what’s not. To identify what to keep and what needs to change.

You may have heard the saying:

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“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again but expecting different results.”

Yet that is what so many of us do – continue on through life doing the same things and wondering why we aren’t getting a different outcome.

When a project or something doesn’t go well at work, what do you do? You take a moment to step back and see what went wrong and what you could do differently next time. The same should be true with life, yet we don’t often take time to reflect. Why not?

I’ve heard many reasons over the years. Maybe you feel you don’t have time and there is just too much else on your plate. Or maybe you don’t have the energy. You’re tired and feel like it’s just one more thing to do. Perhaps you don’t realize the significant and how it can positively transform your life. Or maybe you just feel like it’s too hard. Many of my clients feel they don’t know where to start or what to consider.

This is often why people hire a coach or consultant. To provide time and space they aren’t giving themselves. To ask the right questions and give space for the answers.

The good news is, you don’t need to hire anyone to reap the enormous benefits of self-reflection. All it requires is awareness, commitment and dedicating time.

The Importance of Self-Reflection

Many people find doing self-reflection difficult or troublesome. They don’t understand why they need it, and they don’t see the benefits doing self-reflection. Why is self-reflection important for you? Here I will reveal the benefits of self-reflection:

Improve Self-Awareness

It’s essential to understand yourself at a deeper level. Self-awareness and a little soul searching is critical to success in all areas of life.

Taking time for self-reflection about life leads to greater self-awareness which in turn leads to self-improvement. In addition, having a strong sense of self improves your confidence and level of self-esteem.

Provide Perspective

Self-reflection allows you to understand and see things from a different point of view. When you take a step back from a situation, you gain a new understanding. You can see the whole picture, not just the piece of the puzzle. You become more open minded.

Ever hear the saying, “Can’t see the forest for the trees”? This is an expression that highlights someone who is so involved in the details of a situation that they can’t see the whole picture.

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This is the benefit of self-reflection. You can zoom out and see the whole forest.

Allow You to Respond, Not React

Ever say or do something in the moment that you wish you could take back? When you react, you’re not thinking about the potential ramifications of your actions. However, when you spend time to reflect on a situation, you can respond more thoughtfully and change your behavior for next time.

Early in my career, a boss made a recommendation about this very thing. He advised me to wait 24 hours before addressing something I was upset about. This forced time of self-reflection allowed me to take stock of my feelings and emotions. I was then better able to approach the situation or issue with a level head and greater perspective.

Facilitate a Deeper Level of Learning

Many studies share the common conclusion that self-reflection facilitates a deeper level of learning and understanding. It’s a critical part of the education process. I’ve found this to be true in my own work as a facilitator and trainer.

When people are given time to reflect, digest and integrate, they are better able to make abstract connections, as well as retain and recall information. In fact, whenever I’m facilitating a group training and I introduce a new concept, I provide time for self-reflection about life. Even 5 minutes to integrate and think about what you’ve learned can make a critical difference.

Think about this for yourself. If, after you read this article, you move right on to the next thing, how much do you think you will remember?

However, if you read this article and take five minutes afterward to think about your learnings, how much more will you retain?

Improve Confidence

When you reflect, you gain a better understanding of what’s working and what’s not. This in turn, allows you to make better decisions and change your actions.

Each time you improve, it helps build your confidence with increased knowledge and perspective.

Challenge Your Assumptions

What you believe to be true is not always the truth. One of the best ways to tackle a limiting belief is to step back and debate the validity of that belief.

Self-reflection allows you to challenge beliefs and assumptions that are getting in your way.

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How to Self-Reflect (A Step-By-Step Guide)

Ok, so you understand the benefits and you’re ready to do get started? Here’s how:

The Process of Self-Reflection

This is a simple guide to the process of self-reflection:

  • STOP: Take a step back from life or a particular situation.
  • LOOK: Identify and get perspective on what you notice and see.
  • LISTEN: Listen to your inner guide, the innate wisdom that bubbles up when you give it time and space to emerge.
  • ACT: Identify the steps you need to take moving forward to adjust, change or improve.

What to Reflect On

There are two important components for self-reflection.

1. Reflect on YOU

This includes who you are and what you want for your life. This is the self-awareness piece we talked about earlier.

Many ancient philosophers from Aristotle to Socrates and Pythagoras touted the benefits of “knowing thyself”.

Here are some questions to ‘ponder’ when you reflect on YOU:

  • What are my core values? What are the beliefs, guiding principles or ideas that are deeply important to me? What are my priorities?
  • What are my unique gifts, skills, strengths or talents?
  • What are the weaknesses or blind spots I need to watch out for?
  • Who do I want to be?
  • What energy do I want to bring to everything I do?
  • What is the impact or difference I want to make? How do I want to serve, contribute or add value?
  • What are my passions? What do I love? What gets me engaged, motivated and excited?
  • Are there any beliefs that I have that are limiting me?
  • What do I want for my life? (after all, if you don’t know what you want, how do you expect to get there?)
  • When am I at my best?

2. Reflect on the Areas of Your Life That Are Important to You

This might include your relationships, home and family, career, health and well-being, finances, goals, spirituality and person growth, and fun and recreation.

A great tool that many coaches and those in the personal development space have used for years is called the “The Wheel of Life”. While the original wheel of life dates back to Buddhism, the modern wheel of life was created by Paul Meyer, a pioneer in the life coaching and self-improvement industry.[1]

    The purpose of the wheel is to look at areas of your life which are important to you. In each area, you rate yourself on a scale of 1-10. This gives you an idea of where you are in – or out of balance – and what areas you need to pay more attention to. It gives you perspective on the whole of your life.

    If you google ‘wheel of life’ you’ll get hundreds of different options to choose from. But here I recommend you the following examples. I prefer to use ones that have YOU or a space for YOU in the middle. I’ve also included a blank template where you can fill in the areas of your life which are most important to you right now.

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        Questions to Ask Yourself in Self-Reflection

        Here are some questions to ask yourself in the self-reflection process:

        • How do I feel overall about this area of my life? On a scale of 1-10, how would I rate my levels of satisfaction and success?
        • What’s working? What’s not working?
        • What do I want more of – or less of?
        • What are my accomplishments/wins/successes? (People often default to what’s wrong or hasn’t worked – it’s just as important to focus on what’s going right!)
        • What do I want? What are my hopes or goals?
        • What am I grateful for?
        • How would I improve this area of my life? What actions can I take?

        When to Self-Reflect

        The more you can make self-reflection a habit and part of your routine, the greater the impact will be. Below are some ideas to get you started. Identify which ones will work for you. Then grab your calendar or phone and schedule a reminder to make it happen!

        • New Years – There’s a reason New Years resolutions became a tradition. It’s a great time to reflect on the year that has passed and identify what you want (your intentions, goals, desires) in the year ahead.
        • Milestones – I have a friend that uses her birthday every year as a time for self-reflection. You can also choose an anniversary, the Spring equinox, a religious holiday or any date that has significance or importance to you.
        • Monthly or Weekly – Maybe you’d like to schedule time at the beginning of the month, or choose a day of the week, like Sunday to reflect on the week before.
        • Daily – A daily practice of self-reflection is probably one of the best ways to create a habit. I have many clients that like to get up early and reflect on the day before and the day ahead. Some prefer to journal in the evening before bed.
        • After an ‘Event’ – Just had a terrible work meeting? A bad interaction with your kids or spouse? Take a minute to step back and reflect on what happened. Doing this now will help you understand what happened and prevent future incidents similar to this one.
        • When You’re Off Track – Whenever you feel like you’re off track, unhappy, stressed or demotivated, it’s time to take a step back, reflect and regroup.

        Bonus Self-Reflection Tips

        Here are some extra tips for you to do self-reflection:

        • Grab a Journal – If you don’t have one, head to the store and find one you love. Writing has been proven to facilitate new levels of understanding and significantly reduce levels of stress. Moreover, when you see something, you are able to process it in a different way. And once it’s tangible, you then have a greater ability to tackle it, or let it go.
        • Schedule Time – Schedule uninterrupted time where you have space, feel quiet and can focus., whether that be 5 minutes a day or half a day once a quarter. If you think it’s just going to happen, it’s not. You have to do something to make it happen.
        • Accountability – Join a group, get a coach, find a buddy, tell your spouse – find someone to do this with. I was talking with a client of mine last week and she said the most valuable part of hiring me was the fact that she had someone she had to report back to weekly. It forced her to do the work that she wouldn’t have done otherwise on her own.
        • Be a fly on the wall – When you’re reflecting on something, especially relationships, it’s helpful to take the stance of a neutral observer. When you step back from a situation and view things as if you were a fly on the wall, it’s incredibly insightful. Try this with something in your life you’re having a hard time resolving. Take a step back and view the situation as if you were a fly on the wall, or as if you were watching the entire scene on a movie screen. Notice what you see, hear and feel about what you ‘observe’. It will give you a perspective that you hadn’t seen before!
        • Meditate – There are hundreds of studies that show the benefits of meditation. Something powerful happens when you don’t ‘think’ about something. Things bubble up. You have incredible, innate wisdom inside of you and meditation allows it to break through. Again, it’s just a matter of giving time and space to tap into it. Here is a simple guide to meditation: 5-Minute Guide to Meditation Anywhere at Anytime

        Final Thoughts

        If self-reflection isn’t a regular part of your life right now, this is your wake-up call. It’s time for you to take a step back. Time to hop off the treadmill of life. Time to reflect.

        Whichever step you take next is perfect. There’s no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to do this. It’s only what works for you.

        If I’ve learned anything from working with thousands of clients over the years, different things work for different people. There’s no one size fits all approach to self-reflection, just like there’s no one size fits all approach to life.

        So, how are you going to get started?

        More About Self-Reflection

        Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

        Reference

        [1] Paul J Meyer: Industry Pioneer

        More by this author

        Tracy Kennedy

        Lifehack's Personal Development Expert, a results-driven coach dedicated to helping people achieve greater levels of happiness and success.

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        Last Updated on October 21, 2020

        How to Stop Being a Perfectionist (Step-by-Step Guide)

        How to Stop Being a Perfectionist (Step-by-Step Guide)

        If you’ve found your way to this article, I’m guessing you consider yourself a perfectionist. And if you’re reading about how to stop being a perfectionist, you also know your drive for perfection can be as much a curse as it is a blessing.

        Like any natural force of nature (e.g., wind, fire, or water), too much of anything can lead to chaos. When the rain waters the earth, for instance, think about how it revives and brings new life to everything it touches. But excessive rain can cause flooding and leave a trail of devastation in its wake.

        The same principle is true with perfectionism. You already know the benefits of being meticulous, detail-oriented, conscientious, and successful. The challenge comes when pursuing these things does not lead to a sense of well-being and fulfillment.

        Continually striving to get everything right and be the best can come at a high cost and affect your personal relationships, health, and well-being adversely.

        I’ve worked with many highly-successful people quick to identify themselves as perfectionists — striving for the perfect life, the perfect relationship, the perfect body, the perfect email, the perfect image, or to be the perfect student, the perfect wife, the perfect employee… You get the point.

        They are talented people whose relentless drive has helped them achieve many great things. Although others may be in awe of their achievements, they talk about feeling stressed and anything but perfect.

        Listening to clients’ experiences, I’ve seen very clearly that striving for perfection is destined to bring pain, exhaustion, and a sense of failure because it is unattainable. There’s no finish line, checkbox, or wrap party. (Even if it were attainable, and there was a party, would there be anyone left to celebrate with?)

        What Is Perfectionism?

        The dictionary defines perfectionism as “the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.” One study describes it as “an irrational desire to achieve along with being overly critical of oneself and others.”[1] Perfectionism is an unrelenting need to meet your or others’ expectations of yourself.

        Refusal. Irrational. Unrelenting. These words represent difficult feelings for anyone to live with daily. These feelings can be attributed to the underlying fear and belief that they will never be good enough.

        As author and speaker, Brené Brown shares on Oprah’s Lifeclass:[2]

        “When perfectionism is driving, shame is always riding shotgun and fear is the annoying backseat driver….[perfectionism] is “a way of thinking…if I look perfect, live perfect, work perfect, do it perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, criticism, blame, judgement or ridicule…perfectionism is a 20-ton shield that we carry around hoping it will keep us from being hurt. When in truth, it keeps us from being seen.”

        So, how do you harness your perfectionist powers for good? How do you honor your drive, ambition, and motivation without causing undue stress, frustration, and pain?

        How to Stop Being a Perfectionist in 9 Steps

        As you read the following steps, remember that it isn’t about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, it’s about thinking deeper and wider about how you can keep those high standards without experiencing negative consequences.

        1. Acknowledge

        A mentor once told me that awareness is 90% of the solution.

        When you are aware, and you acknowledge something in your life, it loses its power over you. When you bring it from an unconscious pattern to a conscious choice, you are now back in the driver’s seat.

        how to stop being a perfectionist

          2. Understand

          Seek to understand what fuels your perfectionist nature. What’s your core driver?

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          There’s a reason why you are striving for perfection. Perhaps you learned that you needed to achieve that somewhere along the way or someone praised you at some point, and such comments made you feel worthy, validated, and recognized.

          Many strive to be perfect to fill a need for love, or a lack of self-esteem. I learned that much of my own perfectionist behavior came from my fear of getting rejected, even though it was ironically causing the rejection I was trying to avoid.[3]

          Take Action:

          Consider what drives your perfectionism. Being a perfectionist – no matter how painful or problematic it becomes – is likely serving you in some way, so try to understand the reasons behind it.

          3. Identify Consequences

          Based on an article, perfectionism can cause low productivity, troubled relationships, lack of confidence, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.[4] This drive you pride yourself on can come at a cost. When you identify and acknowledge the consequences of your perfectionism, it compels your mind to want to do something about it.

          How is perfectionism impacting your health and wellness? Have you missed opportunities to do something new out of fear that you wouldn’t do it perfectly? Is your pursuit of perfection causing friction in your relationships with your partner, kids, or friends? How is this trait sitting with your co-workers?

          As a leader and team consultant, I’m highly aware of how those perfectionist tendencies can be career-limiting if not recognized and managed.

          Take Action:

          Identify three negative consequences of perfectionism on your life, career, health, or relationships.

          4. Know You Are Enough

          Many people beat themselves up for not being ‘enough’ of something; for example pretty, fit, rich, successful, at home, etc. This is the inner critic’s voice. But guess what? That little voice that tells you that you’re not enough is wrong!

          You are enough. You are more than enough. You were born enough and will always be enough. You are deserving of love, happiness, and success, regardless of the things you do or how perfect you are. It might not be believable right now, but deep down, some part of you knows this to be true.

          I know it’s not easy. As a perfectionist, you tend to see what’s wrong before you see what’s right, including the one wrong question on the test, the single typo in your winning presentation to the team, or the three pounds you didn’t lose versus the seven you did.

          But instead of focusing on what went wrong, why don’t you acknowledge all the things you’re doing right? At least do that before you try to figure out how to make future improvements!

          Your new mantra: progress over perfection

          Take Action:

          Acknowledge your successes, talents, and strengths. Every day for 30 days, write down three things you are good at and what you like about yourself. These can be personality traits (kind, loving, hard-working); strengths (writing, speaking, your job); or wins from the day or lifetime achievements.

          Check out these articles for more tips, insights, and strategies to build your self-esteem and confidence.

          5. Do Your Best Every Day

          how to stop being a perfectionist

            Over the years, Dad has shared countless words of wisdom with me. However, “do your best every day” is the piece of advice I rely on the most. I’ve called my dad many times, worried about something that happened, beating myself up or second-guessing a decision. Here’s how our conversation goes every time:

            Dad: Did you do your best?

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            Me: Yes.

            Dad: That’s all you can do. You can’t control what happens from here.

            That’s it. Simple, right? But if you really stop to think about this, it’s a powerful way to stop being a perfectionist.

            When you do your best, you can rest, knowing you did everything you could. You can live with no regrets. Sure, you might want to do things better next time, and there are likely areas of improvement, but it’s just that — next time. You can’t change what has already happened, so using energy to beat yourself up about it achieves absolutely nothing.

            Take Action:

            Next time you beat yourself up over something you’ve already said or done imperfectly, ask yourself,

            “Did I do my best that I could [with what I had, with what I knew]?”

            If the answer is a resounding yes, then permit yourself to let go, move on, and use your time and energy to make things better next time.

            6. Switch

            Replace perfection with something more significant and attainable.

            Take a conversation I had with a friend of mine about my daughter, who is a successful and awarded competitive gymnast.

            Friend: Is she going to be in the Olympics?

            Me: No, she isn’t.

            Friend: Then, why does she spend so much time at the gym?

            Me: Because she loves it.

            Friend: Yes, but if she’s not going to the Olympics, why the waste of time and money?

            Me: Well, you run your own company, right?

            Friend: Yes.

            Me: Will your company be the best and most recognized one in your industry?

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            Friend: No, of course not. You know we’re a small company.

            Me: If you are aware of that, why would you keep the company running at all?

            That’s when she got it, but I was still concerned by her logic.

            “If my daughter won’t be THE BEST in the ENTIRE WORLD, why would she even do the sport at all?”

            Is this what our kids are hearing from us? If they won’t play NFL football, sing on a sold-out stage at Madison Square Garden, or display their work on the Guggenheim, why on earth would they continue pursuing sports, singing, or art, respectively?

            If you talk with my daughter, you will quickly learn that she does the sport because she loves the challenge. It pushes her body to the limit, and she finds joy, satisfaction, and purpose by going to the gym. I love that she loves it and know that she is learning life lessons that will serve her future success.

            Why not replace your drive for perfection with something much deeper and more significant?

            Take Action:

            Make the switch and identify what’s really important to you. Perhaps you can replace your drive for perfection with purpose, kindness, joy, fulfillment, contribution, or love. What resonates the most with you?

            7. Embrace Failure

            You’ve likely heard countless stories of successful people who have used their failures as a stepping stone for success.

            Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because his editor felt he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Oprah Winfrey was told she was “unfit for television.” And, in the words of Michael Jordan:[5]

            “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

            Most successful leaders, entrepreneurs, and elite athletes will tell you that failure has made them successful. Embracing failure is, of course, easier said than done.

            In one of my first jobs out of college, I worked on a project to get more people into a program I helped create. I was convinced it was awesome, and we could easily fill seats. I spent time, money, and energy trying to get it off the ground but to very little effect.

            I was embarrassed, defeated, and felt like a complete failure: I had let the company and myself down. One day, wallowing in self-pity, I called my mentor and told him what had happened.

            He said,

            “Tracy, failure is an event, not a person.”

            That single sentence has stuck with me throughout my career.

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            If you are growing and striving (which you likely are), you will fail a lot in your life. You will make mistakes, mess up, and let others down.

            When that happens, remember that you have made a mistake, but you are not the mistake.

            8. Celebrate Imperfection

            What if your greatest weakness was actually your greatest strength? What if your adversity is your advantage?

            In the famous 1937 personal development book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, Napoleon talks about his son, Blair, who had a birth defect. He had no physical signs of ears and was destined to be deaf and mute.[6]

            Napoleon believed, “His affliction was not a liability, but an asset of great value.” He also thought that “every adversity brings with it the seed of an equivalent advantage.”

            While he had no idea how his son’s affliction could become an asset, Napoleon had faith that it would. And he was right — Blair went on to lead an incredible, successful life. He attained his hearing and lived life on a mission to bring hope and help to the deaf and hard of hearing, positively affecting millions.

            Think of all the people who have overcome imperfections. Think of those who have inspired you many times. Often, our vulnerabilities and ability to overcome struggles and fears can create not only inspiration and hope but also a connection with others.

            “We cannot connect through this façade called perfection. Now more than ever, we are craving connection, but it is in the imperfect moments that our hearts speak to each other and the lessons are learned.” — Petra Kolber

            9. Step Back

            Chances are, sometimes your perfectionism gets a hold of you. Like a runaway train, you don’t even realize you are wasting time, money, or energy on something that doesn’t need to be perfect.

            When this happens, here are a few proven ways to get perspective.

            • Don’t do an A+ job on a C-level task. Identify what’s needed and decide on what is really important. After that, let the rest go. In economics, this is called the law of diminishing returns. It is the point at which the level of profits or benefits gained is less than the amount of money or energy invested.
            • Learn to satisfice (yes, that is a word). In his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Barry Schwartz talks about the power of satisficing instead of maximizing. Maximizers want to make the absolute best decision, while satisficers seek to find what is “good enough.” They know there is never a perfect choice, so they seek a decision that meets most of their needs or requirements. When you learn to satisfice instead of maximizing, you can make better, faster decisions with less regret.
            • When all else fails, meditate. Meditation has become the cure for all that ails you, and there’s a good reason why. It allows you to calm your thoughts, achieve greater clarity, reduce fear and anxiety, and create a silence that enables you to access your true self. Simply put, meditation will help you quiet your perfectionist tendencies, reduce your worries, and return your mind to a healthy state of balance.

            We Are All a Work-in-Progress

            You are human. Simply by being a human, you cannot be perfect.

            We are not finished “things” — we are ever-evolving beings. There will always be room for improvement, mistakes, and something new to learn. Like Sisyphus rolling his rock up the hill, perfectionism is never-ending.

            How to stop being a perfectionist when you are already one?

            Instead of focusing on perfection, focus on the learning, the growth, and the journey, and strive to be the best version of yourself every day.

            I’ll leave you with this beautiful passage from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life:

            “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”

            More on Ending Perfectionism

            Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

            Reference

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