“Many people think of perfectionism as striving to be your best, but it is not about self-improvement; it's about earning approval and acceptance.”
- Brené Brown
In this column, you will learn simple but powerful tips on how to overcome perfectionism from a wide range of experts.
Clicking on the expert names below will take you to their individual blurb on how to overcome perfectionism.
There’s nothing wrong with striving for success and excellence.
However, that is not the same as perfectionism and it’s important to know the difference in order to recognize it and take steps to overcome it. Perfectionism is a tendency to set standards so high they can’t be met, yet never being satisfied with anything less.
It is driven by fear; fear of being judged, rejected, making a mistake or failing.
While most people realize that sometimes mistakes are inevitable and even a learning opportunity, perfectionists think making a mistake makes them a total failure. They exhibit “all or nothing” thinking.
Psychologist Dr. Ellen Hendriksen says,
"Contrary to the name, most perfectionists aren’t driven by the pursuit of perfection, they’re driven by the avoidance of failure."
Being a perfectionist isn’t about being perfect, it’s about never being good enough.” Perfectionism can show up in body image, leading to eating disorders or over-exercising. It can show up in one’s career, resulting in procrastination or agonizing over a detail for so long projects don’t get done on time—or at all. And it stunts personal growth as the perfectionist is constantly critical of herself for not being where she thinks she ought to be in her development. Even love is performance-driven. All of this often leads to depression.
While many people believe perfectionism leads to success, in reality, perfectionism can actually hinder success.
Perfectionistic behaviors can increase performance and social anxiety. The perfectionist focuses so much on the end product that he doesn’t concentrate on the process of completing a task. It’s all about trying to control the outcome in order to receive love and acceptance.
So if you find you are a perfectionist, what can you do?
1. Be aware of your self-critical and “all or nothing” thoughts.
When you find yourself criticizing a performance you deem less than perfect, stop yourself and focus on what was good about it. Make a list of the things that went right. Focus all your attention on this list of positive aspects.
2. Set realistic goals.
By setting realistic goals (lowering your standards) you will soon find that less than “perfect” results don’t lead to the rejection or harsh criticism you are afraid will happen to you. Realistic goals are just out of your reach. They require you to stretch some, but allow the likelihood of success.
Test out lowering your standards by what you would consider 90% effort instead of 100% and then analyze what happened. Did earth stop spinning? Did someone complain? When you realize perfectionism is actually harming you, your performance and others around you, it is easier to quiet the inner critic and feel good about “good enough.”
3. Remember that you and everyone else are human, and with that comes imperfection.
It’s necessary to our experience. We learn and grow through the mistakes we make, and perfection simply doesn’t exist. “ Ring the bells that still can ring. Forget your perfect offering. There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.” ~ Leonard Cohen
4. Be aware of the media sources you spend time with that try to reinforce perfectionism in you.
Do the websites, TV shows, magazines, podcasts and books you engage with have realistic and positive views of life? If not, spend more time with positive and uplifting sources.
5. Spend time with people who are positive and living life in a healthy and relaxed way.
Since we become like the five people we spend most of our time with, see who you know who is relaxed and a free spirit.
6. Practice self-forgiveness and self-love.
These free you from negative self-talk and open you to love. Look in the mirror every day, with your hand on your heart and tell yourself, “I love you.” It may feel silly or difficult at first, but keep at it. When you think you have failed in some way, stop and say to yourself, “I forgive you. I love you.” Surrender to the idea that you are fine, just as you are. And, review step 1! Ask yourself what went right!
Find reasons to laugh. Watch something funny. Laugh at yourself when you make a “mistake”! Laughing releases the feel-good hormones like endorphins and dopamine and can get you through the hard times. Laugh every day—make it a practice.
When you can learn to relax, embrace all that life offers and release the need to be perfect, you will love your life!
Estra Roell, Life Purpose Coach– www.americaslifepurposecoach.com
Perfectionism is a subject near and dear to my heart. I even wrote an essay entitled “The Art of Mediocrity,” so you can see I’m serious about the subject.
I am a proudly recovering perfectionist who is doing a good enough job at keeping it at bay and, as a therapist, teaching others to do the same. Here are some tips for you to manage your tendency toward perfectionism rather than have it rule your life.
#1. Understand how and why you learned to be a perfectionist
This trait did not worm its way into your personality out of the blue. People become perfectionists due to their parents modeling this trait, how much they were encouraged to do things right and punished or shamed for doing things wrong, and whether they developed a need to be perfect as a way of dealing with abuse or neglect, as in, “If I just do things perfectly, I’ll be loved, cherished, not humiliated, etc.” This is a common trait among children of parents with substance abuse problems.
#2. Recognize that perfectionism is not something everyone values
Rather than consider perfection a prize trait, realize that there are some people who could care less about it and think you’re driving yourself crazy to be perfect for no good reason. These are people who are fine with words like acceptable, satisfactory, adequate, and good enough. For whatever reason, they neither seek perfection nor value it. By understanding that not everyone is striving for perfection, you can see what they get out of shrugging it off and marching to their own drum.
#3. Realize that perfection may be valuable in some circumstances, but not in all
If you’re a surgeon or pilot and I’m your patient or passenger, I sure hope that you’re looking to do a perfect job while I’m in your care. However, please note that I don’t give a hoot if your house is clean and neat or whether you occasionally yell at your children. What I’m saying here is that emotionally healthy people pick the areas in which they aim to be perfect (such as being an Olympic skater or a life guard), and areas in which they can afford to do a fair or poor job. Doing so, gives you a better chance of doing well where you really need to.
#4. Know that you will make mistakes and fail
When you already know and accept that you’ll make errors and encounter failure at many things in life, you won’t be aghast when you do. Part of being human (and not a machine, though they fail sometimes too) is not always doing things well or right. If you anticipate that you will mess up at times, you will take it more in stride. Develop the mindset you want to have when you make a blooper.
I encourage you to learn to laugh at yourself, use the situation as a teaching moment for yourself or others (especially your children), share your most embarrassing moments with others, shower yourself with kindness and compassion, and remind yourself that, like the rest of us on the planet, you have strengths and weaknesses.
# 4. Don’t measure progress against perfection
If we measure every aspect of our lives against some perfect ideal, we’ll be pretty bummed out nearly all the time. Considering that humans are imperfect beings, how can we expect anything that we’re involved in—baking a cake, parenting a child, giving a speech, planning a party—to be done 100%? Whenever humans are involved, we need to toss out the concept of flawless and get real. And real means flaws, faults, and defects. Real means good enough, getting comfortable with compromise, enjoying surprising, occasional success, and often accepting (and even valuing) mediocrity. I encourage clients to do their best when it’s important, but to not throw themselves into doing their best when it isn’t.
Non-perfection will take a while to get used to.
It will feel awkward, uncomfortable, wrong and scary for a while. That’s fine. Expect that you’re not going to be perfect at accepting imperfection one-two-three. If giving up perfection causes you to feel anxious, self-soothe with encouraging self-talk, reread this and other blogs about the benefits of not being a perfectionist, and remind yourself what you don’t like about perfectionism. Gradually, you’ll give it up and be the happier for it.
Karen R. Koenig, LCSW, M.Ed. – www.karenrkoenig.com
Perfectionism is the opposite of creativity, growth, and innovation.
Dr. Brene Brown shares from her research that to live whole heartedly, vulnerability is a requirement for creativity, innovation, and change. We often use perfectionism as a way to numb our feelings of shame, pain, suffering, or our shortcomings.
Perfectionism is also rooted in a need to control how others perceive us, as opposed to living authentically.
The way to surrender our perfectionism starts with stepping into our abundant lives and deeply appreciating and feeling that we are always enough.
Perfectionism is a way we shield ourselves from truly being seen by others.
Being our authentic, imperfect, vulnerable selves opens us up to connect deeply with others.
The journey from perfectionism to vulnerability and authenticity is a challenging practice.
When we take steps to practice showing our vulnerability with those who are deemed worthy, we open ourselves us to experiencing sustainable connections with others.
It may feel like we’re going against societal conditioning which tells us perfectionism equals success, love, wealth, happiness, and beauty.
In reality, perfectionism leads to loneliness.
When our focus is on being perfect, we shield ourselves from others and often feel deep unhappiness.
We must begin to shift our focus to living in the moment and claiming our imperfections.
We also must step into our sense of authority and begin to lead our lives being fully seen.
Visibility often scares people, because it means that there is no hiding. When others know our values, our dreams, our passions, and what we stand for – it opens us up to potential criticism, scrutiny, and judgement.
This is where healthy and loving boundary setting comes into play. Dr. Brene Brown describes boundaries as a line between what is okay and what is not okay for us.
This applies to how others treat us and what is asked of us.
If we practice boundary setting, living a life with vulnerabilities and letting ourselves be fully seen, we will overcome perfectionism. Stepping out of perfectionism and into a life of creativity and connection will lead us to feeling sustainable joy.
Brooke Campbell, MA, LCAT - www.creativekinections.com
“Perfectionism doesn’t make you feel perfect; it makes you feel inadequate” – Maria Shriver
Are you a perfectionist? I know I once was! As a recovering perfectionist I have learned a lot along the way about letting go. I used to work myself to death trying to be the perfect wife, mother, employee, you name it. I went above and beyond and you know what it got me? Anger, panic attacks and depression, not perfection!
You see perfection is just an illusion.
We try to obtain a level of perfect based off of not only our standards, but the standards of everyone around us. Think about that. Your idea of a clean house or good parenting is probably pretty different than mine. So if I do something to my level of “perfect” and you make a critical comment, now I am trying to meet your level of “perfect” on top of my own. It’s a viscous cycle that, unfortunately, is far too easy to get sucked into. So if you are ready to release your need for perfectionism and embrace your need for peace, this is for you.
1. Recognize that perfection is impossible
Wait, what, that can’t be true! Trust me, it is. I know it is hard to accept that you will never be perfect, but it’s true. No one will ever be perfect, and nothing will ever be done perfectly, it’s just not possible. The reality is if any of us were able to reach the status of perfect that would mean that there was nothing left to do. No more growing, no more improving, no more changing the world. Don’t stop striving to be better, just stop striving to be perfect!
2. Stop comparing where you are to everyone around you
We are all here for our own journey. We are all doing the best we can in any given moment. We all have different pasts and different ways of seeing the world. The moment we strive to be more like someone else is the same moment that we give away a piece of ourselves. We can never be anyone other than who we are. Letting go of this is one of the best parts of letting go of the need to be perfect.
3. Treat yourself just like you would treat a friend
When you visit a friend are you criticizing her for a messy house or a burnt dinner? Of course not. If you were you probably wouldn’t be invited back anytime soon. So why do we do it to ourselves? It amazes me the critical self-talk that I have witnessed in people through my coaching practice. Learning to build yourself up instead of beating yourself up goes a long way towards overcoming perfectionism.
4. Intentionally screw up
One way to overcome perfectionism is to screw up on purpose and witness what happens. It will feel uncomfortable, it will feel hard, but if you do it enough intentionally it will suddenly not seem so bad when it happens unintentionally. I can actually remember the first time I invited a friend over and consciously made the decision not to run around like a chicken with my head cut off to get the house clean. I simply told her when she arrived that if she came to see a clean house she came to the wrong place.
What came from that was life changing for me.
She actually confessed that the reason she hardly ever invited me over was because she felt intimidated by how clean my house always was and believed I would judge her for the state of her house. Talk about an eye opener! My perfectionism was costing me invites to hang out with a dear friend! I didn’t care what her house looked like, I just wanted to spend time with her.
At the end of the day the best we can do is say I tried my best.
If you didn’t try your best, tomorrow is a new day to start over again. Recognize that no one, not one single person on this planet is perfect, and not one single person will ever be perfect. Embrace how boring life would be if we were perfect. Most importantly remember that perfection is nothing but an illusion. Strive to be better, strive to do better, but always give yourself enough grace to allow the space to mess up, learn and grow. True perfectionism is just being who you are, an imperfectly, perfect human being!
Kimberly Speer, CLC, ELIMP - www.destinybydesignlifecoaching.com
“Perfectionism is the voice of the Oppressor.” Anne Lamott
We live in a very critical world.
And more and more, we live in a very publicly critical society. It can be painful to watch what celebrities and politicians go through on the public stage. It is often cringe worthy. That cringe is often accompanied by an inward voice that says, “I would never put myself through that.” This in turn, becomes a desire to stay small, to not take risks, because, we wonder,”What will people think of me?”
How many of us were told as children, “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing right.”?
I know I heard it many times as a child and certainly it is one of those sayings that got stuck in my head, and rears itself to challenge me whenever I try to do something new ..Or even when doing the laundry or dishes! The flip side is, Well, why do it at all? Or, it is going to take so long to do it right, I might as well not even start. Procrastination is the devil in the details of perfectionism. How any times have you put off starting some project, thinking it will take too long to “do it right.”?
This is a fear of failure wrapped up as a virtue, “If I can’t be perfect, I won’t even try.”
There are so many reasons we fear failure- the judgement of our peers and colleagues, as mentioned above. The fear that we will be letting someone down; the fear of being unable to live with our own flaws and imperfections.
And underneath all that, there is the very deep and real fear that we are irreparably flawed and unacceptable human beings.
This is the deep root of shame, and in order to cover up this feeling of personal inadequacy, we may become perfectionists. We may try to always appear to have the right answer, the perfect plan, and the best ideas. But underneath, we may fear being found out.
Perfectionism is often found in people with depression.
Eating disorders often stem from being the best little girl possible. In these issues, people are often suppressing their true selves in order to meet the expectations of family or of society in general. But when we aim for perfection, we don’t allow our true and unique selves to thrive, in all their imperfections.
It is important to examine your fears and insecurities, with the help of a therapist if option is available to you. It is essential to explore the roots of your shame and to confront the untruth that it contains and embodies. It is important to try to do what you feel you cannot do, and to fail if that is what happens. And by making mistakes and surviving, that is when you will learn. That is when you will grow as a human being.
Faye I Maguire, MA, CAT, CAC – www.maguirecounseling.com
1. Understand what perfectionism is and why it is a problem.
Often, people with a perfectionist mindset don’t recognize that that is the case, nor do they see the problem. Therefore, it is impossible to overcome.
· What is perfectionism?
Perfectionism is defined as the desire for everything to be done perfectly and the inability to accept anything less than that. The problem is that this is not a realistic, sustainable outlook on things.
· What is the problem with being a perfectionist?
It paralyzes you and can keep you from getting anything done. It makes it impossible to be satisfied with the outcome of any of your work. When you are waiting for perfection, it doesn’t come, leading to procrastination and unfinished projects.
· What are symptoms of perfectionism?
Anxiety, stress, and low self-esteem. Those who have a perfectionist attitude tend to go over everything with a fine-toothed comb, always finding something that isn’t “right.” This often leads to a lot of beating yourself up and self-deprecation, which can easily prevent you from finding happiness.
· Other consequences of perfectionism:
Difficulty with time management and a feeling of always being behind. It becomes extremely difficult to move through your to do list. Projects take much longer than expected and sometimes don’t even get completed. When you have a perfectionist attitude, you are ruled by specific guidelines and expectations that make it easier to get thrown off when things don’t go as planned. The result is that there never seems to be enough time.
2. Recognize and identify perfectionism in yourself. Common characteristics are:
· Believing something is either a success or failure, and that there is no in between.
· It’s a catastrophe when things don’t work out the way you planned.
· Inability to trust others to do things correctly.
· Difficulty moving past a mistake or something you feel was not done right.
· Obsessing over the details, no matter how small.
· Procrastinating getting things done
· Focus on what you feel “should” be and strict rules around everything
· Measuring and defining oneself based off of accomplishments and failures.
3. Change your mindset.
· Allow yourself to be human. Recognize and accept that you will make mistakes sometimes, but it is not the end of the world.
· Ask how you would perceive this if it were someone else. It is generally easier to be less harsh on others. The perfectionism attitude often does not get applied outside yourself. Therefore, to gain objectivity, you can ask yourself, “would this be acceptable if it were someone else?” More often than not, the answer is yes.
· Listen to other people. With perfectionism, positive responses are not believed and don’t matter. Start letting and trusting that feedback, instead of obsessing and overanalyzing.
· Catch negative self-talk and blame. Notice when you start beating yourself up and hyper focusing on “mistakes.” Force yourself to stop such thought patterns and, instead, replace them with positive thoughts.
· Let go of all or nothing thinking, believing that something is either a success or a failure. Allow there to be a gray area. Know that something can be great even if it’s not perfect.
· Let go of shoulds. Shoulds get you stuck in one way, rather than having the flexibility to evaluate as things develop. Focus on what the goal is and if that goal has been reached, rather than how you think you should have gotten there.
Perfectionism adds unnecessary stress and anxiety that is avoidable. It is important to notice perfectionist tendencies and attitudes and work to shift away from that. Don’t let perfectionism stand in your way.
Alyssa Mairanz, LMHC - www.alyssamairanztherapy.com
Perfectionism stems from early on in life of trying to be perfect for others. At the core, we all want to be loved and admired. We have a sense that if we do everything perfectly that we will receive that love. Perfectionism is also an attempt to avoid any kind of rejection, hurt and pain. Perfectionism is a desire for love and acceptance.
Life is full of mistakes and learning lessons. We are going to make mistakes, and this is ok, because there in lies powerful lessons that help us to grow and learn. Our greatest lessons come from our biggest mistakes. Mistakes are nothing to be ashamed of.
One of the ways to begin to let go of being perfect is to surrender to right here, right now, in this moment.
It’s all we have. Learn to cut corners. You don’t have to bake the cake from scratch. When you can surrender to the moment of what is, you are already perfect. You don’t have to strive for more. Just be the best you can be in the experience and you are already achieving excellence.
One thing to remember is that we are human beings having an experience.
This does not constitute having to be anything more. Perhaps you feel the need to challenge yourself to be better in your work and in your relationships. While that is a worthwhile goal, just don’t slave over every detail and drive yourself into a downward spiral trying to do it perfectly.
If you let go of trying to control the outcome in order to receive the love and acceptance you are striving for, you will be able to let go of the fear and accept just where you are in this moment.
By letting it all unfold, you are welcoming the life you are meant to have and trusting the process. By trying to control, you are living in fear and this only brings constant stress and anxiety.
Perfectionists need to work on self-forgiveness daily.
Nothing has to be perfect. If you live in this world, change it and embrace imperfection while creating and cultivating moment to moment awareness and acceptance of yourself now.
Learn to forgive yourself and others.
Learn to laugh everyday. Laughter loosens up the solar plexus and frees you from tension you hold in your body. Using humor creates enough dopamine and endorphins to handle those stressful times.
Learn to surround yourself with loving, non-judgmental people who accept you just as you are.
When you learn to let go of controlling every detail of your life, you will be in a place unlike one you have ever experienced. It may feel a bit strange initially, however you will learn to really like being perfectly imperfect.
Connie Clancy Fisher, ED.D. - www.connieclancyfisher.com
You may be a perfectionist, expecting to do everything just right.
And because of that you do not even attempt certain things because you're afraid you may not do it well or perform up to your "standards". This is a difficult way to live your life, because you are always in a state of frustration, disappointment, guilt or anxiety.
It's difficult changing a life-long habit of perfectionism, but it is possible over time.
Essentially you need to ALLOW your expectations of yourself to become more realistic. That enables you to learn as you go and ACCEPT small mistakes as part of the learning curve.
The more you try doing something, the closer you get to completing it. And that always feels good. After all, life is a journey. Taking some action is the secret to success and while you may not succeed at the pace you expect or the quality you expect, you are still making progress.
Here is the key: Be patient and kind to yourself.
You are your own worst enemy because the things you tell yourself about the things you are doing, are counterproductive. Every step towards your goal, whether perfect or imperfect, is positive. And the harder you are on yourself, the longer it will take for you to see the end result.
So, here are some steps you can take to overcome being a perfectionist.
1. Understand that nobody is perfect and that striving for perfectionism is not based on any reality.
2. Mistakes are part of being human. We all make them and it is wonderful if you learn their valuable lessons so you can move on, in another direction.
3. Remain open to new ideas, patterns and behaviors because it means you are flexible and willing to try something different. Your own ideas may not be in your best interest and may be causing you the frustration you experience.
4. Be happy with yourself for trying and for doing as well as you are doing. Get rid of “should have” “ought to” and “must” from your vocabulary and things will progress at the pace it’s supposed to, leaving you capable of enjoying the journey with less stress and worry.
Amy Sherman, M.A., LMHC – www.yourbabyboomersnetwork.com
“There’s no need to be perfect to inspire others. Let people get inspired by how you deal with your imperfections.” - Ziad K. Abdelnour
It is healthy to have a natural desire for growth, connection, appreciation, success, etc. these desires keep us learning and growing and striving.
What can be crippling and unhealthy is having a desire to be “perfect”. The need to be perfect can actually be a hindrance in personal growth and expansion… I often tell my clients who are totally fixated on seeing things one way, to go out into nature, that alone defies the idea of “perfection” as it’s constantly adapting and moving, it can’t be limited to any one way.
Yet as people we can become so fixated on perfect that we actually prevent ourselves from completing projects, or trying new things because “what if we fail” i.e. Don’t live up to our own high standards. Failing is where much of the learning and wisdom comes from, as they say, the master has failed more than the beginner has tried. You can never get to be The Master if you are to afraid to try because you think you have to be “perfect”. The only thing I would encourage you to do, is be perfectly you… always growing, learning and adapting.
Perfection doesn’t equal joy.
So often when we focus on being “perfect” we actually lose the ability to truly enjoy and experience the ride along the way. For example if you’re on a date and things aren’t going exactly as you had planned you might get so anxious you totally stop actually focusing on the person you are with and the way they are showing up, the gratitude just for being there.
Maybe you are so focused to keeping yourself on a deadline that you totally miss the opportunity to go in for that kiss with your partner, or witness your children’s laughter as they have fun spilling the brownie batter all over the counter, onto their fingers and into their mouths instead of just in the pan as it “should be” … I say that should is relative… it’s a learning process, this whole journey of life and it asks us to be flexible and adaptable and to have some fun. Life should be fun, and if it’s not … you may not be doing it right..
Seeking perfection can actually take us away from being able to just really feel and work from the heart.
It’s like a singer or playwright or builder, or architect or anyone will tell you… there’s this magic place when you get out of your own way and own head, where you connect into the innate beauty and wisdom within you and you begin to express from the deepest most pure place that’s not concerned with perfection, but with sharing authentically, just for loves sake.
When we can laugh at ourselves, show up, challenge ourselves to grow and be present, but ultimately let not being “perfect” be not only ok, but welcomed because we know how much we can grow there, that’s when the magic happens. We can then see and enjoy and be truly grateful for the things we would have missed when we were so worried about being perfect.
“Perfectionism is a dangerous state of mind in an imperfect world.” -Robert Hillyer
Take the path of least resistance, take a cue from nature and relax, in that open hearted authentic, humble loving space, you ARE your best self.
Ashley Davene, Relationship Counselor - www.ashleydavene.com
Underneath the need to be perfect is a deep fear that we are not good enough.
When a parent’s expectations are beyond what is reasonable for a child to achieve, that child begins to feel that nothing they do is good enough. That is the foundation for a lifetime of striving to be perfect. Really the goal to be perfect is an unconscious need for parental approval. It’s normal to seek parental approval when you are a child. That’s why it’s so important that parents take care to ask enough of their child but not too much. Too much leads to feelings of failure and insecurity about one’s competency that can be very difficult to overcome.
Ironically, the need to be perfect actually results in lower levels of performance, and increasingly less risk-taking. For a perfectionist, life becomes predictable, constricted and boring!
Perfectionism is essentially a result of constantly seeking external validation.
Praise and respect from others is the reward. To overcome perfectionism, you need to find better, deeper rewards for your efforts. You need to begin to really question and define what it is you value and what it is you want. Those internal criteria need to become the real measure of success.
Of course, everyone enjoys praise.
It just has to become way less important than your own self-evaluation. To actually stop caring about what other people think is liberating! Feeling the freedom to think about what is important to you and the self-esteem to go for it is the gateway to a full and satisfying life. No one can tell you what you should want. Whether it’s money, fortune, adventure or a secure and loving family, or all of the above, the choice is yours to make.
It’s hard to shift from relying on others approval to caring more about your own thoughts, feeling and ideas.
This new way of thinking needs to become a habit and it has to be cultivated. It won’t come automatically because it’s so new. It can also be difficult if you run into disapproval, which of course is a possibility.
It takes practice to look inside and ask yourself, “What is important to me here? What do I think? What do I want?” It can feel lonely to take the risk of not just going along. Sometimes friends and family don’t like it. You used to be so easy-going!
Nobody ever actually achieves perfection anyway. Ultimately you are trading the impossibility of perfection for the reality of living a full and meaningful life.
Sally Leboy, MS, MFT – www.sallyleboymft.com
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