This is the Editor’s Note that I wrote for 27th issue of Productive! Magazine. I hope it helps you look at the problem of perfectionism from a different angle.
I’ve been thinking lately about perfectionism. Laura Stack mentions it in her article in this issue of the magazine, too. It is quite a popular term to use and it has its place in the informal language. However, when one reads a little about this problem, it turns out that perfectionism is a really serious thing. It might lead to the loathing of yourself and others.
Can perfectionism help you?
Some people think that striving for perfection might be a good way to motivate ourselves for reaching ambitious goals. I wouldn’t agree. The desire to excel shouldn’t be confused with the desire to be perfect. My experiences and observations tell me that the latter only has negative implications. Paul Hewitt (PhD) from the University of British Columbia, and psychologist, Gordon Flett (PhD) have found that “perfectionism correlates with depression, anxiety, eating disorders and other mental health problems.”
What is perfectionism?
Perfectionism means putting pressure on ourselves to meet high standards, which then strongly influences our self-esteem.
Don’t get me wrong — setting of high standards for oneself doesn’t have to be something dangerous. Getting outside our comfort zones is great and is the only way we can develop. However, every time a person wants to do something new or difficult and achieve a perfect result — she is going to suffer.
There are three stages of a perfectionists’ behavior — it is worth to taking a closer look at each of them to be able to deal with the problem:
It starts with the relentless striving towards really high standards for ourselves and/or others. We then judge our self-worth based mostly on our ability to achieve such ruthless standards. Finally, we suffer from negative consequences of setting such demanding goals, but we continue to go for them anyway.
It’s a vicious cycle, and a perfectionist can’t prevent himself from getting to the following stages of it. This makes him more and more frustrated, unhappy, and “toxic” to the people he is with.
If you feel you might suffer from perfectionism, you can check out some tests that are available online. You can also decide if you are one simply by asking yourself if setting high standards and striving for them makes you and people around you unhappy.
Ways to deal with the problem
It is good to choose a specific goal directed at reducing your perfectionism — don’t try to change everything. Start with one field/area.
Perfectionists tend to think in a 0-1 system. Either they succeed or fail. There is no: “quite good”, “not bad” or anything like that. The first step to cut the vicious cycle is understand that there is not just black and white — standards fall on a continuum. You can go for 8 or 9 out of 10, which is almost impossible in given circumstances.
Try to remember moments when you are unhappy or you fight with someone because of your perfectionism. Wouldn’t you be more satisfied eliminating such situations from your life?
Mind that perfectionism is not only doing things — it also makes you procrastinate and not do things. Lowering your standards to a reasonable extent will make you more productive!
Stop comparing yourself to others — we are all different. Everyone has their individual strengths and weaknesses. It is totally natural!
Do not be afraid to reward yourself. It helps. Hard work deserves to be appreciated.
Make a list of your achievements — I am sure you can name a few.
Find some time to focus on less achievement-oriented stuff, like experimenting with relaxation and engaging in pleasurable activities.
Give yourself permission to make mistakes. Mistakes are a human thing. Name just one person who succeeds every time…
Quote of the month
“If it weren’t for our ability to think logically and deeply, we humans might still be living in caves. But with every good thing comes the tendency to abuse it, and once you’ve turned on the machinery of thought, it can be hard to turn it off. Sometimes this leads to overthinking, which can cripple your productivity.” — Laura Stack
Question: How is your “inner perfectionist”? Does he disturb you and make your life harder?