A Cure for Perfectionism

A perfectionist is someone who goes all-out for seemingly impossible goals, extreme productivity, or overachieving accomplishment. We all know someone like this and we may even have perfectionist tendencies ourselves. Perfectionism isn’t all bad. It allows us to have a high attention to detail, to strive for excellence, and to not settle for mediocrity. But perfectionism does have a dark side.

What’s so wrong with being a perfectionist? Sounds like a pretty good problem to have, no? Well one problem is that perfectionists are rarely satisfied with merely a job well done. Second, they are often driven by a false belief that being perfect is a way (perhaps the only way) to achieve acceptance from others.

Besides perfectionism just being bad for your mental well-being, it can be a major barrier to success. When we are so focused on creating the perfect outcome, we fear failure. We avoid failure to such an extent that we may not take risks and become content living inside our comfort zone. A major downside—and the part that non-perfectionists hate about perfectionists—is being too hard on yourself and others.

You might be a perfectionist if you:

  • Worry about outcomes and performance
  • Beat yourself up over every error
  • Overplan in an attempt to prepare for the unexpected
  • Might be called a control freak
  • Feel anxiety about failure
  • Attempt to hide your vices and flaws
  • Think of mistakes as defects rather than learning opportunities
  • Procrastinate starting projects until the ‘right’ way to do it becomes evident
  • Have a tendency to overthink the details
  • Expect excellence from others

I have found that one way to combat perfectionistic tendencies is with another P word… progress. Well, progress and acceptance. First you must accept where you are at this current moment. This requires an honest self-assessment. Unfortunately, this can be the most difficult part as perfectionists can go to extreme lengths to hide their own flaws from themselves.

But if you can figure out a way to accept where you are now and then progress from there, I believe this is one way to overcome perfectionism. Seeking perfection is impossible, unsatisfying, and frustrating. On the other hand, achieving any level of progress is very doable, satisfying, and rewarding. Seeking progress instead of perfection will require setting smaller goals. Set an embarrassingly low goal, achieve it, and move on from there.

Eva Rykrsmith

Eva Rykrsmith is an organizational psychology practitioner. Her passion lies in bringing a psychology perspective to the business world, with the mission of creating a high-performance environment. Follow her @EvaRykr.

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  • http://bombtune.com Wells Baum

    Agreed.  Progress and acceptance is the key to dealing with perfection, something I struggled with for a long time b/c of this:  http://awe.sm/5RFd4

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  • Savannah

    I’m 16 and a perfectionist, a die-hard one really.However, I would like to day I’m not “driven by the belief that being perfect is a way to achieve acceptance from others.” I have wonderful, accepting parents, who only want me to be what I want to be, and I’ve had teachers that have actually told me that they find it annoying that I go all out, because it means more grading for them. I honestly do it more for myself than anyone. I feel I’m cheating myself if I’m not perfect. That although I could take the easy way out, I’d rather have the full grade than it marked down for careless errors. And tension really only comes when I have no choice but to be unperfect. For example, I’m learning how to drive. I’m terrible and I know it, and I can’t stand it. My instructor tells me I’m doing good, that I’m learning, but that only makes me want to cry because I don’t understand why I don’t understand what I’m supposed to be doing. I want to understand it, and the fact that I don’t nearly kills me inside. So although the notion of “progress” is a good idea, it would never work on me because I would die of self-disgust before any real “progress” was made.

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    Hustler2 Reply:

    Savannah, you sure you have wonderful and accepting parents? if they love you unconditionally, why making a (perceived) mistake “nearly kills you inside”? It’s somehow sounds strange to me. Am I wrong?

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    Mom of a perfectionist Reply:

    Don’t be so hard on yourself Savannah. Life is hard enough without beating up on yourself. Try to remember when you first learned something, you weren’t perfect at first. We only get good at something through practice. Focus your perfection energy on practicing and making progress rather than being immediately perfect at something. When you talk to yourself you have a big effect. Would you demand such immediate perfection from your best friend? Probably not, treat yourself at least as well as you would treat a friend. Be kind to yourself.

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