Does nuances and details take up lot of your time? Do you often procrastinate because something is not achieved to it’s perfection? If so, you are not alone in this, there are many other people with well developed skills, who either consciously or unconsciously indulge in perfectionist behaviours and perfectionist thinking. Many of us pursue perfectionism for most part of our lives thinking that it’s the key to success. When in fact, it is the ultimate saboteur of our true purpose.
Perfect does not make perfect. Imperfect makes us practice. —Mokokoma MokhonoanoTweet
Perfectionism most of the times is associated with high personal standards in which an individual strives being his or her best at everything he or she does. If you are someone who is 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.
No doubt that perfectionism is a healthy trait to persevere in your goal-striving, or to be positively motivated by high standards. 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.
While healthy striving is self-focused and makes you think of what you can do to improve, perfectionism striving is other-focused. It makes you strive to be as best as possible, but at the same time, it increases other concerns like worry and anxiety about not being up to the mark or measuring up to other’s standards. Worry that others will negatively judge you for mistakes or failure to be perfect results in negative emotional reaction to whatever situation you are in. Healthy striving on the other, lowers perfectionism concerns and increases your motivation to improve yourself.
Why Perfectionism is a ‘good enough’ saboteur
“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life, perfectionism hampers success. It can avoid or minimise the painful feelings of shame, judgment and blame.”Brene Brown
While perfectionism striving makes you set high standards, believe in quality outcomes, and helps you persevere to go that extra mile in order to be better, but it also is a saboteur of your productivity and personal growth. Because at its very nature, perfectionism is unattainable.
When we are perfection striving, our self-worth gets dependent on achieving unrealistic standards or goals. No matter how hard we try, the goal remains out of reach, leaving perfectionists feel unsatisfied or unhappy with their efforts. This leads to self-criticism, self-judgment, and a belief of unworthiness. Repeatedly experiencing what they perceive as failure is often demoralising and is ultimately self-sabotaging.
Perfectionists sometimes even can develop fear of failure that they may choose not to go for something for the risk of failing at it. For instance, if you are in the pursuit of personal growth, not being perfect makes you less likely to achieve any change at all, be it personal, health, or professional goals. Perfection striving makes you measure your worth based on how much you accomplish and what others think of you.
The tendency to judge yourself rather harshly for not being good enough makes you fall prey to compare and despair. When you focus on pleasing, and striving to prove yourselves worthy, you end up feeling inadequate and makes it hard for you to show up authentically in most situations. Excess perfectionism can be very harmful to the emotional health as an unattainable ideal of self can lead to self-loathing and self-defeating tendencies.
Moreover, as a perfectionist, you can adopt black and white thinking or rigidity, do not forgive mistakes, expect others to be perfect, do not recognise your weaknesses, and often feel overwhelmed by situations that aren’t perfect. Being frustrated, perfectionists impose demands on themselves. Other consequences of perfectionism are impatience, anxiety, low self-esteem, obsessive behaviour, stress depression and burnout.
Types of Perfectionism
Many times perfectionist tendencies arise from past conditioning, and having unattainable standards set by society which affect our lives negatively. According to Psychologists, perfectionism is a multidimensional personality trait with a characteristic of striving for exceedingly high standards of performance. Since it is a personality trait, they have further classified it based on towards whom it is oriented. It is important to know that even though there are different types, same person can have different types at the same time. And each can manifest depending on the context. Here are some of them
Self-oriented perfectionism. This is when a person is exhibiting perfect standards with himself. Self-oriented perfectionists always expect to be perfect in their endeavours and set very high demands on themselves and are hopeful to attain them successfully.
People who are self-oriented perfectionists are considered extremely self-critical if they fail to meet their set high expectations. If viewed in a healthy aspect, it drives them towards their full potential, but most of the times, it leads to frustration in wanting to achieve those standards. They go after their goals and ambitions but set extremely high expectations for themselves in their day-to-day life and work. However, by not imposing these demands on others, they form strong social relationships.
Socially prescribed perfectionism is one in which a person becomes perfection striving not because he imposes perfection standards on himself, but because he believes that other people expect him to be perfect. In other words, the perfection striving is not intimated by self, but from believing that others will be highly critical of us if we fail to meet set expectations.
This type of perfectionists are often self-deprecating and have low self-esteem. They find it difficult to find ways to cope with stress and adversity. Socially prescribed perfectionists undergo pressure to do their best in everything and get worked up about being rejected by others or failing to meet the expectations others have set. However, this is one of the most toxic types that leaves you ever anxious, linked to feelings of not measuring up with what others expect.
Other-oriented perfectionism. When your perfectionism is other-oriented, you are not a perfectionist with yourself, but hope others are perfect. Other-oriented perfectionists expect other people to be perfect and are highly critical of those who fail to meet their impossibly high expectations. They subject others to criticism and show their disapproval, and seek to dominate others while having little to no interest in helping ot supporting other people.
The rules or expectations an other-oriented perfectionist sets doesn’t apply to him or her, but he or she expects people around them to follow perfect standards. On a positive note, it is a good leadership skill, but in the downside, setting high demands leads to frustration and stress in others.
Overt perfectionists are typical perfectionists who are oriented towards themselves and others. They have a very strong liking for order and grow anxious when structure or order are not in place. Often being opinionated and preferring to be right, it makes them avoid activities that they cannot do well or understand. They fear failure and do everything they can to prevent it. People with fixed mindset are usually are considered Overt perfectionists as they believe that their abilities are fixed or pre-determined and cannot be developed.
Covert perfectionists are mostly closeted and are difficult to identify as such. A Covert perfectionist has self-oriented perfectionism thoughts, but their actions are far from their thoughts. In other words, internally they have perfectionist tendencies, but outwardly they are conformists. They have low expectations of those around them. Though outwardly they appear average, and laid back to avoid any pressure, inherently they want to succeed.
Some ways to cope with your perfectionism
Perfectionism can play out not only at personal, but at an organisational level where organisations drive their employees to deliver beyond expectations. It can also lead to a constant need to hold good reputation or compete over others leading to harmful effects on your well-being.
Perfectionist behaviour instead of benefitting, often leads to reduced productivity, discontentment and affecting one’s interpersonal relationships. But with the right strategies, you can learn to recognise when you are bordering into the extreme perfectionist tendencies and moderate your behavior to overcome them. Here are some do’s and dont’s ṭo overcome extreme perfectionist tendencies.
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.
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.
Stop being self-critical. You 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.
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. Become task oriented by taking direct action to reduce the amount of stress experienced.
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.
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.
Embrace your imperfections. Even though the fear of being mediocre holds you back, 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.
Also, sometimes what you consider as adequate effort far outweighs the expectations of others. Ask yourself, what you can do to see your capabilities in more realistic ways and set reachable goals. When you open yourself and accept your vulnerability, you can be realistic about your goals and unlock your potential.
Space for Self-reflection
So, in what ways are your perfectionist tendencies sabotaging your efforts?
Does the pursuit of high standards weigh you down more frequently?
Do you often strive to achieve a perfect standard so that others will see you as a success?
How many times have you avoided trying new things because you might not keep up to your so called—standards?
Do you need to perfect every single thing you do at the expense of your health and relationships?
How often do you procrastinate or constantly wait for the right moment to work on your goals?
What are some of your strategies to cope with your perfectionist tendencies?
Perfectionism isn’t a bad thing, but if done in excess, it becomes the ultimate saboteur of our potential and well-being. Many of the beliefs that support our perfectionist tendencies once become hardwired into our personal or work lives can be difficult to break. And at times, our perfectionist tendencies even affect those around us.
One way to move from perfect to good enough is to focus on your such tendencies when they are holding you back. Instead of striving towards perfecting everything, remind yourself that doing your best and giving your best in whatever you do is what exactly proves more productive. With more practice, and patience, you can cope better with the discontented perfectionist in you.
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