“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.” ― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
This is part 1 of the 2-part series on perfectionism.
Are you putting off that creative task because you are afraid that you will not be able to meet your own expectations?
Do you shy away from taking on responsibilities because you feel like you will not be able to satisfy the exacting standards of others?
Do you painstakingly complete something to the best of your abilities but do not launch it out to the world because it is still not good enough?
Are you feeling paralyzed by perfectionism?
Here is a system of 12 points to get you beyond perfectionism:
1. Awareness and Realization That you get Stuck by Excessive Perfectionism
“Good enough is good enough. Perfect will make you a big fat mess every time.” ― Rebecca Wells
What is perfectionism? It is trying to make your best work even better. Now, there is nothing wrong with attempting to do the best work of your life.
The issues come up when you allow your desire to be perfect interfere with your desire to launch and put your work out there and as a result feel stress and anxiety.
The problem begins by setting unrealistically high standards that you find impossible to achieve and attaching your self-image, esteem and confidence to the achievement of those standards.
For many of us, this is a problem we live with and struggle with everyday. We do our very best but there is still something nagging us that it is not perfect. Thus, we hold our life’s work back in an attempt to improve it and make it even more perfect.
The first step in unraveling the frustrating journey through perfectionism is the awareness that you are stopping short of living the way you would like to because of crippling perfectionism.
For a long time, I struggled with perfectionism. I wanted to do the most perfect and best creative work that I had ever done. I wanted to write but I was “not perfect” and was comparing myself to the masters who had been writing for decades. Not a great call because I slipped deep into the myth of perfectionism and inaction.
Perfectionism within boundaries is great but borderless perfectionism is not useful for you!
Become aware of perfectionism operating in your life.
Are you stopping yourself because you are trying to be a perfectionist?
Make a short inventory of your life and if you are trying to be so good at everything that you are feeling stymied and feel like you are not going anywhere.
2. Kinds of Perfectionism
“At its root, perfectionism isn’t really about a deep love of being meticulous. It’s about fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of failure. Fear of success.” ― Michael Law
What are the different kinds of perfectionism?
In a research article by psychologists Hewitt and Flett in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, perfectionism has been categorized into three components or dimensions:
1. Self-oriented perfectionism where individuals place excessively high standards on themselves, resulting in evaluation and self-censure.
2. Other-oriented perfectionism where people placed excessively high standards on significant others and thus continuing to evaluate them.
3. Socially-prescribed perfectionism where people feel that unrealistic high standards are being placed on them from significant others.
Another way to classify perfectionists according to psychologists is adaptive and maladaptive. Both have very high standards but adaptive perfectionists do not have the same amount of stress and self-censure associated with maladaptive perfectionists.
Realize that perfectionism comes in different dimensions and may be induced by you or it may be directed outwards at others or inwards towards you.
Perfectionism may or may not induce stress and other maladaptive states.
3. Scratching Below the Surface: Cast Aside the Past Beliefs that Sustain Perfectionism
“I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die.” ― Anne Lamott
Did you ever hear statements like the ones below?
“You should not provide half baked solutions.”
“It is not worth doing if it is not perfect.”
“My parents and friends will not approve of this work.”
The problem with these mind “memes” or programs is that they may have outlived their usefulness. They may have gotten stuck in your head at an impressionable age and the people delivering them may have meant the best for you.
However, if these voices and past programs are preventing you from doing your best work and causing you much anxiety and stress, it is time to call them out.
Let us rephrase them to make them more realistic:
“It is far better to provide half-baked solutions than to provide no solutions at all.”
“It is much better to launch something that is good enough rather than waiting, getting stuck and not launching something perfect.”
“My parents and friends will be proud of my work and even if they are not, that is perfectly fine since I cannot please everyone.”
Do you see the difference in tone and acceptance between the two sets of statements? The former statements were rigid and set you up for perfectionism. The second set of statements set you up for realism and acceptance.
Become aware of and cast aside programs and beliefs that predispose you towards unrealistic perfectionism.
Question the validity of assumptions that these beliefs are based upon and choose new beliefs.
4. Dismantle the Anxiety and Stress behind Perfectionism
“Don’t let perfect be the enemy of the good.”- Voltaire
According to psychologist Kenneth Rice and his colleagues from the Journal of Cognitive Psychology:
“The defining feature of perfectionism appears to be high personal standards. The distinction between having high standards and the affective, intrapersonal, and interpersonal responses to living up to those standards distinguish adaptive from maladaptive perfectionists.”
In other words, maladaptive perfectionists experience more personal distress when their high standards and goals are not achieved when compared to adaptive perfectionists.
Become aware that the perfectionism trap is a cycle of unrealistic expectations, excessively high standards, incorrect assessment, stress, overwhelm and self-censure.
Break the cycle of maladaptive perfectionism by deciding to consciously reduce the stress associated with performance.
5. Peeling off the Layers of Perfectionism- The Three Primal Problems: Fear, Self-Worth and Shame
“It’s in our biology to trust what we see with our eyes. This makes living in a carefully edited, overproduced and photoshopped world very dangerous.” ― Brené Brown
When you peel off the layers behind the reasons why you may be acting like a perfectionist, you may collide against unresolved worth issues, non-justified fears and shame.
Do you believe that your work is not worthy for this world and hence you overcompensate by attempting to make it more perfect?
You may have deep-seated fear of getting rejected or getting fired from your position at home or at work and replaced with someone more “perfect.” Fear compels us to keep working long after the need to make something better has subsided.
There may be many types of fear: fear of failure, success and of rejection.
You may feel ashamed of being caught as “a fake” and keep on making your work better and more perfect.
Shame that cloaks itself as perfectionism will stop you because you feel a void in your life that you are feeling personally responsible for.
According to research professor Brené Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection, people who feel shame attribute it as a character flaw and cannot distinguish between the action that caused the shame and themselves.
Hence, they portray themselves as being deficient in their own minds and get stuck from taking action to auto-correct.
Perfectionism coupled with fear, self-worth and shame is a potent mix that will get you caught up in trying to make things unrealistically perfect to fit an imaginary mold or construct that does not exist.
The sooner you realize and break free from their play, the sooner you can relax and embrace the immense gifts and benefits of being realistic and imperfect.
Understand that fear, shame and low self-worth may be orchestrating the perfectionism that you experience in your actions.
Embrace the opposite: excitement, acceptance and great self-worth.
Affirm and believe that your work is good enough and you will be less of a perfectionist by building awareness and not engaging with self-defeating thoughts and actions.
6. Blame, Self-Criticism and Criticism From Others: The Judgment Trap
“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing, there is a field. I’ll meet you there.” – Rumi
Do you have a quick pattern of blaming and criticizing yourself when something does not go right with your life or a project?
Do you have thought patterns of “My work is never good enough?”
Do you think and feel that others are better than you?
Are you constantly comparing yourself with others and fueling a non-realistic perfectionism because of that.
Are you becoming a victim of someone else’s perfectionist ideals and standards because you default to making everything your fault?
Are you saying sorry much too often and attempt to make everything better even if nothing needs to become better?
Do you believe that you need to be perfect to be loved and accepted?
Are you battling inside for external validation and approval?
If you engage in self-defeating mental chatter and a state of overwhelming negativity and thoughts of “It is all my fault,” you may experience the snowball effect of thoughts, emotions, feelings, overwhelm and perfectionism.
When you do not value your work and you are your worst critic, the tendency to overcompensate and become a perfectionist is all too natural.
Move the focus of approval to an internal meter of approval and praise. Instead of automatically accepting blame from yourself and others and diving into self-criticism, take a breather and disconnect yourself from the situation.
Now realistically analyze from a third party perspective if what you are jumping into believing is indeed the reality.
Deeply love and accept yourself just as you are and that you are doing the best that you are doing. Read the article on loving and appreciating yourself: 13 practices to love and appreciate yourself.
Cast aside self-criticism and self-blame that is propelling your perfectionism forward.
Choose self-acceptance and praise your work as good enough.
Now over to you! Do you think that perfectionism is a problem in your life and how do you manage it? Please let me know in the comments below.