A Cure for Perfectionism

Aug 2, 2011
4 Min Read

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.

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