“Continuous improvement is better than delayed perfection.” – Mark Twain
When it comes to doing your work or getting what you want in life, having high standards can be a good thing. Being a perfectionist motivates you to go beyond your comfort zones and keeps you focused on your goals and leads to big rewards. Perfectionism is often considered as a positive trait when it comes to excelling academically and professionally. Because of this we tend to associate it with our self-worth and the drive to perfect everything starts from very young age to overcome fear of rejection or failure.
Perfectionism helps you do well in your career, academics, and to excel in your personal goals. And while it sounds positive on the surface, it has its downsides and can sometimes do more harm than good. Perfectionism can sometimes become too big a burden as it is always more demanding and time-consuming. It can turn you into an obsessive, restrictive, and stressed person for things you haven’t done perfectly and might cause you to place too much pressure on yourself. This can lead to feelings of unworthiness, depression, anger or frustration and can become detrimental to your well-being and success.
What is being a perfectionist?
Perfectionism is a personality trait whereby the individual sets high personal standards for their own behaviour and actions and can sometimes set the same expectations for others. Perfectionists tend to want or expect things to be flawless. Here are some signs that you are a perfectionist.
• You end up spending lot of your time just to perfect something,
• You have extremely high standards for yourself and others.
• You constantly wait for right moment to work on your goals so as to deliver best quality work.
• You are highly demanding, critical and exceptionally hard on yourself.
• You would like to do your work yourself rather than delegate.
• You think there is no room for mistakes and think you know what others should do.
• You feel anxious and stressed when something doesn’t conform to your approach or when things don’t go the way you want.
• You are highly organised and have a specific manner in which things should be done.
• You feel dissatisfied and feel like no matter what you do, it’s never good enough.
• You find faults in what you or others do.
• You avoid situations that could result in perceived failure.
Some of the above traits can be advantageous at times, but when you become overly rigid, it can have negative effects on your health, relationships and self-worth. Though many view perfectionism as a strength, it often gets in the way of achieving your goals. Perfectionists strive ṭo produce flawless work, and they also work more engaged and are motivated, always ready to push themselves to achieve that next big thing. However, they are also likely to be rigid, inflexible, and have a habit of getting overly critical with themselves. They hold excessively high standards to evaluate their and others’ behaviour, hold ‘all-or-nothing’ mindset and associate their self-worth to performing perfectly. They become over-stressed always pushing themselves to constantly do more and achieve more. While certain perfectionist tendencies might be beneficial, they can also clearly impair your productivity.
“Seeking perfection just ends up creating ridiculous amounts of stress and disappointment.” – Arielle Ford
The Downside of ‘Perfectionism’
According to research studies, perfectionism has an impact on a range of outcomes. According to them, individuals with higher levels of perfectionism experienced stress and emotional distress.
There are generally considered to be two significant dimensions of perfectionism. The primary being excellence-seeking perfectionism where there is excessive fixation on perfectionistic striving and refers to the individual themselves, whereby the person attempts or endeavours not to make mistakes and does their best to be as good as possible at whatever activity is in hand. People with this type of perfectionism not only evaluate their own performance but also hold high performance expectations for others in their lives.
The secondary being, failure-avoiding perfectionism which involves perfectionistic concern where they worry or feel anxious about making mistakes, they have doubts about their own actions, and feelings that there is a discrepancy between their own standards and their own performance or actions. They worry that others will negatively judge them for mistakes or failures and negatively react to situations that do not meet their exacting demands. The beneficial effects of perfectionism are stronger in excellence-seeking perfectionists where as the detrimental effects of perfectionism were stronger in failure-avoiding perfectionists. The research further shows there is no link between perfectionism and performance.
However, perfectionists have incredible work ethic and have what it takes to perform as they approach challenges with courage and motivation. But if left unchecked, perfectionism can sabotage your success. Here are some downsides to perfectionism.
• Perfectionists have a specific manner in which things should be done. Being detail oriented and getting obsessed with every single thing weighs them down. With the need to do things perfectly, they tend to put off the tasks for later time, some get in analysis paralysis and some even give up. Also due to extreme high standards, the targets stress them out and makes them procrastinate out of fear that they can’t meet the standards they have set for themselves.
• Trying to perfect every small thing ultimately leads to emotional exhaustion and wastage of time as they spend lot of time just to get simple things done to achieve that final perfect output. With the obsession ṭo achieve high standard, they try and try and strive to the point when it becomes detrimental to their health and relationships. They aim for high standards at the expense of their well-being.
• Perfectionists mostly compete against themselves and feel the need to be in control. Their perfectionist tendencies are not restricted to only their work, but also in managing other personal activities like cleaning, cooking, and parenting. Because they let their achievements define who they are, they often experience constant worry, unhappiness and feel nothing is ever good enough.
• Whenever something is perceived to have gone wrong, the perfectionists become extremely hard on themselves and are flooded with negativity thereby failing to learn from it or see it as the lesson that it is. They get depressed and feel everything must be their fault if they don’t achieve that perfect or desired standard.
• Having very harsh expectations of themselves, perfectionists are rarely satisfied with what they are doing. The always look for mistakes and issues to correct. This makes them often experience recurring feelings of dissatisfaction and regret over seemingly small things. They have difficulty in letting go of mistakes and imperfections and often mull over outcomes that don’t turn out as expected.
“The key to happiness is letting go of that idea of perfection.”– Debra Messing
How to balance your perfectionist tendencies?
Most part of your perfectionism might be a result of your passion about improving and giving your best at everything you do. If you are educated in an environment where success is extolled and mediocrity rarely regarded, you tend to achieve perfect standards in every area of your life making you an overachiever. Perfectionism is a healthy trait. To persevere in your goal-striving, you need to be positively motivated by high standards that can take you forward. But the problem comes when you get into a perfectionist mind trap and play host to a harsh inner-critic. You reach a point where your life seems to be programmed from a place of stress and fear rather than positivity or creativity. But with the right strategies, you can learn to recognise when you are bordering into the extreme perfectionist tendencies and moderate your behavior to overcone them. Here are some do’s and dont’s ṭo overcome extreme perfectionist tendencies.
1.Stop working when you feel you’re getting diminishing returns. Focusing on every detail and unimportant information drains you from getting more done. It is important ṭo ask yourself whether the details you have been obsessed about are essential to your end goal. If not, it is time to set them aside. Trying to push every little thing, especially the ones that do not affect what you are trying to achieve decreases your overall output. Check in with yourself when you are striving so hard for an external goal that it’s getting you down, and reassess your short and long term priorities before continuing on.
2.Avoid failure-avoiding perfectionism. Putting lot of emphasis on external achievements gets you wrongly associated with your self-worth and your perfection gets steered by a fear of failure. This leads to ‘all-or-nothing’ approach where you either do everything well or you don’t do it at all. Such mindset is self-defeating as no one achieves success without having failed in some form or the other. Everything happens in progression and not in all-or-nothing manner. Instead of seeing mistakes as failures, choose to see them as part of the learning process. Instead of trying to avoid mistakes and failure, reframe them as normal and as an essential part of your growth.
3.Stop self-criticism. The need for perfection makes you feel compelled to keep moving towards your goals with high standards and it’s easy to beat yourself up when things don’t go the way you want. Such situations can make your inner-critic quite harsh and strong. Check out the negative things you are saying to yourself in such situations. Ask yourself whether the need for perfection is self-driven or is it driven by your need for others to approve you. By understanding your motives, you can switch your negative self-talk to positive. Instead of blaming yourself, love and appreciate yourself.
4.Adjust your expectations. Have realistic expectations. It is impossible to do everything perfectly. Try to focus on the task at hand rather than running on what the end result will be. High standards and unrealistic expectations of yourself and others constantly make you disappointed and frustrated. Realise that you cannot control every situation and force others to meet your unreasonable expectations. Balance your pursuit of perfecting in all things with excelling in fewer and more important things. Choose tasks that are worth the effort and put your perfectionist traits to work on them.
5.Stop focusing on your achievements. Perfectionists tend to associate their self-worth and success with their achievements. When you focus on the outcome, you work towards pleasing others. Let go of comparisons and the need to prove yourself. Instead focus on the process and on your strengths and values. You are more than your goals and achievements. Treat your goals as guides and not as absolutes. Whether you have accomplished a particular task yet is not as important as the fact that you are progressing towards it.
6.Delegate and let go. As a perfectionist, it is tough to work with people as you may feel that it is easier and faster for you to do everything yourself as opposed to relying on others. You also may think having to rely on others is to deal with the errors and their imperfections. To achieve high standards, it is not possible to do everything alone. It is important that you find the right people and delegate your work by sharing your expectations with them. Allow yourself to let go of your expectations of them. Not everyone one will be able to measure up to your expectations.
7.Finally, Embrace mediocrity. The fear of being mediocre holds us back in many of our pursuits. But the key is to embrace certain imperfections. You dont have to be perfect to set out to accomplish your goals. Instead sometimes just getting started without worrying that you are good enough is also important. You can trust some of your imperfections and mediocrity without treating it as indicative of your abilities as a whole.
“The secret to getting ahead is getting started.” – Mark Twain
Are you a perfectionist? Does the pursuit of high standards weigh you down? Do you often seek to achieve a perfect standard so that others will see you as a success? Do you need to perfect every single thing you do at the expense of your health and relationships? Do you become extremely hard on yourself whenever something goes wrong? Do you constantly wait for the right moment to work on your goals? Do you feel anxious and stressed when things don’t go the way you want? Do you get stuck in ‘all-or-nothing’thinking? If your answer to the above is a ‘yes’, then it is time to balance your perfectionist tendencies. Use the above strategies to embrace your true self with some imperfections. Sometimes it is important that you should lay aside your perfectionism and let go of it to develop a healthy and a happier approach.