Hello. In this blog post I’m taking a look at an issue that more and more people are struggling with in our hectic, competitive society – perfectionism. Although on the surface perfection may seem like a good thing to strive for, the impossible quest of achieving it can actually cause quite a lot of harm both to ourselves and those around us. I’ll take a look at why it can be a problem as well as signs to look out for and how you can overcome it.
A perfectionist is defined as ‘a person who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection’. But there’s a difference between being a high-achiever and being a perfectionist. Both types of people want to succeed. However, high-achievers are motivated to do their best, while perfectionists are motivated by fear and paralysed by the idea of failure.
“Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing”. (Harriet Braiker)
Why is perfectionism a problem?
- Perfectionism can greatly diminish our self-esteem, enjoyment of life and sense of peace, as it can lead to immense stress, fear of judgment or worries of inadequacy.
- Traits of perfectionism are often linked to mental health issues, like anxiety, OCD and stress.
- People who are perfectionists put pressure to meet unattainable standards on themselves. They are highly critical of themselves and beat themselves up over anything that doesn’t meet their standards.
- Perfectionists also fear that if they don’t aim for perfection, they will become low-achievers and not reach their goals.
- Sometimes perfectionists fear of failure is so terrifying that they procrastinate because they would rather not do something at all if it can’t be done perfectly.
- We can harm other people when we buy into the myth of perfectionism, by setting unrealistic expectations for those around us.
“Perfection is a twenty ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.” (Brene Brown)
Five signs of excessive perfectionism
- Feeling constantly guilty, that nothing you can do is ever going to be good enough, that you are always letting yourself and other people down can be a sign that perfectionism is becoming a burden.
- When even the small, unimportant things have to be perfect. Getting upset, angry and having a tantrum if there are lumps in your gravy indicates that your perfectionism may be spreading a bit too far.
- When you constantly put things off. Procrastination is one of the biggest difficulties perfectionists face. Perfectionism is often driven by fear of failure and not starting something is one way of making sure that you never fail at it.
- If you’re always seeking the approval of others. If you need praise from others for everything you do, then what people say becomes more important than what you do.
- Judging others is becoming an issue. Highly self-critical perfectionists can turn that criticism outwards, focusing on the smallest imperfections of others which isn’t helpful for relationships with others.
“A person who never made a mistake, never tried anything new”. (Albert Einstein)
10 steps to overcoming perfectionism
- Become more aware of your perfectionist thoughts and tendencies
Once we are aware of how we allow perfectionism to take hold of our lives, we will be more able to alter our self-talk around this issue.
- Focus on the positives
Wanting everything to be perfect means that we tend to fixate on the negative parts of our work or of ourselves. Make a conscious effort to also recognise the good. For everything you’re not quite satisfied with, challenge yourself to identify three things that you do appreciate.
- Allow yourself to make mistakes
When we allow ourselves to make mistakes, we can see that it’s not the end of the world when we fail. Mistakes are opportunities for us to learn, grow and do better. One way to practice this is by taking up a new hobby that you’ll likely not be good at on first try. Instead of trying to be “perfect” at it, focus instead on enjoying the activity and slowly learning how to get better. What you might find is that mistakes are necessary to get to where you want to be.
- Set more reasonable goals
Perfectionists tend to set goals that are unrealistic, because of impossible standards. One way to let go of perfectionism is to set goals that are more achievable. We will feel much less stressed and more confident in our ability to reach our goals when they are realistic and challenging in a healthy way.
- Learn how to receive criticism
Constructive criticism that can help us to learn and grow is important. Try to recognize that healthy criticism can be helpful and is normal because it can allow us to do better. Mistakes or missteps are perfectly normal along the way.
- Lower the pressure you put on yourself
Remember that the person who pressures you the most is yourself. Be kind to yourself and practice self-acceptance by lowering unrealistic standards you set for yourself. If you are still motivated and doing your best, you’re doing just fine. There is no such thing as “perfect,” but we can be proud of doing our best.
- Focus on meaning over perfection
Try to shift your focus on finding meaning in what you do, rather than trying to do it perfectly. If something brings you joy and purpose, then it doesn’t matter if it’s not done perfectly. There is more fulfillment to be had in finding meaning along the way.
- Try not to procrastinate
The hardest part is always starting, but even creating a rough outline of our work ahead of time is better than nothing. Remember that it’s okay if your work isn’t perfect with the first try or first draft, and give yourself the grace to continue working on the project.
- Cut out negative influences
It’s important to recognise how things like social media, TV and movies, books, or podcasts can reinforce perfectionism. If you need to limit these channels, or delete them altogether, this can also help you shift away from perfectionism.
- Try therapy
Therapy can help with you with anxiety around perfectionism, help you to reframe your thoughts and give you even more tools to overcome perfectionism.
“No one is perfect… that’s why pencils have erasers”. (Author Unknown)
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