Are you a perfectionist? Does your perfectionism limit your life? Cause you to feel overwhelmed and possibly even compromise your health? While a certain amount of healthy perfectionism is a good thing, over-attention to detail is not. The way to overcome perfectionism is to discern what is important and what is not, to know healthy perfectionism from unhealthy.
Signs You Are a Perfectionist
- You avoid mistakes to the nth degree – there is no room for error in your life. Should you ever make a mistake, you are mortified, shamed and depressed by your failing.
- You work late to improve, refine, and obsessively fiddle with a project that is already complete.
- You take on other people’s work ‘for the good of the team’. Your competitiveness won't allow you to hand in less-than-perfect work.
- You procrastinate on starting a project because the timing isn’t right or certain circumstances have to be in place.
- You care too much how things are done.
- The end result is more important than the process of getting there.
- You are critical of others.
- You are even more critical of yourself.
- Pride in your achievements is momentary – soon you have to move on to the next level. You always feel you have to better your own results.
- You have difficulty getting to sleep.
Healthy Perfectionism vs Unhealthy Perfectionism
Healthy perfectionism is caring about your work to the extent that you do the job correctly and efficiently. Unhealthy perfectionism keeps you working late, tweaking every tiny detail, stressing out over things that are not important.
Healthy perfectionism motivates you to be a better person. Unhealthy perfectionism turns you into a monster or, worse, a depressive.
Healthy perfectionism has room for improvements along the way. Unhealthy perfectionism prevents you moving forward and can even sabotage the end result, i.e. the job never gets finished.
Healthy perfectionism gives credit. Each achievement is recognized. Unhealthy perfectionism is never satisfied. It looks for flaws and inconsistencies.
Healthy perfectionism is conscientious; unhealthy is obsessive.
Healthy perfectionism shrugs its shoulder over past mistakes, learns from them, and moves on. Unhealthy perfectionism beats itself over the head repeatedly with self-chastisement.
Perfectionism Leads to Overwhelm
Perfectionists need everything to be… well, perfect. And they need it so right now. Their attention to detail causes them to see all the things that must be done and while this is useful if you are a wedding planner, it’s not so good when you are in tears because you have guests arriving in an hour and the house is a tip. Overwhelm and paralysis ensues.
You Won’t Ever Completely Overcome Perfectionism
But you can reduce its impact on your life. There is magic in letting go, relaxing control and adopting a go-with-the-flow attitude. There is space for happy accidents, discoveries, serendipity, unexpected consequences, the opportunity to be thrilled by the workings of an energetic universe. All the things that you hold at bay with perfectionism.
You are probably trembling in fear at the prospect of not having control of every single aspect of your life. However, letting go a little doesn’t mean that you have to let go of everything. You can do it in baby steps.
Tolerance for the Unexpected
The first thing you can to do overcome perfectionism is to tolerate the unexpected. This means, instead of launching into damage limitation mode as soon as something goes wrong, you stand back and allow things to unfold just for a while. Like an artist who accidentally lets paint run on the canvas. Watch it and see what happens. Sometimes that small section of the painting will end up being the best part of it.
If your child accidentally tips the flour over while baking cookies, encourage her to draw in it with her finger. You can clear it up later. Meanwhile let it be an opportunity for her to get creative. You can try it too – drawing in flour is fun.
Mistakes are a Path to Discovery
Change your perception of mistakes. If mistakes never happened, science would be decades or even centuries behind where it is today. Slight errors in procedures have often produced unexpected results that led scientists down new paths they hadn’t even considered. That goes for engineers, artists, writers, chefs, and home schoolers.
Mistakes are Learning Opportunities
Allowing yourself and others to make mistakes is a way of improving your performance next time. As it is often said, you learn more from your mistakes than from your perfection.
You’ll learn not to repeat that mistake.
Or you’ll learn there’s more than one way to tackle a procedure.
Or you might learn a new thing all together.
Relax Your Standards
You probably accept things in other people that you could never tolerate in yourself. Why not experiment with a little role play?
Pretend that the world won’t end if you don’t iron your underwear.
Pretend that your boss won’t sack you if you leave work at the same time as everyone else.
Pretend that store-bought holiday decorations are just as good as home-made.
You get the idea. Simply drop a few of those unimportant obsessions. If you can let go of one, you can let go of another, and another. Pretty soon, you’ll be able to go to bed before midnight.
Give Up Negative Self-Talk
Why do you keep doing that thing? It doesn’t make you more adorable. It certainly doesn’t make you a better person. In fact, quite the opposite. When you catch yourself beating up on yourself, just turn your attention elsewhere for a moment or two. Remember something you did right today. Remember something you did right yesterday. Congratulate yourself for all the good stuff in your life. Then work on the art of being nice to yourself. That’s healthy perfectionism, right there.
Make Perfectionism Work For You
Instead of allowing your perfectionism to dictate your goals, let it guide you along the way. For example, you’ll be focused on finishing a report to the highest standard by 6pm. It doesn’t actually need to be handed in until the end of the week, but you have your self-imposed target to reach. Stop. Why not allow your perfectionism to help you source a new idea to add to the report? A new suggestion for your boss. It’ll improve your standing far more than having the thing on his desk three days early.
Overcome Perfectionism: Points to Remember
And of course, you will remember them because you are a perfectionist.
1. Tolerate the unexpected – it might be fun.
2. Make room for mistakes and change your perception of them.
3. Learn from your mistakes and don’t beat yourself up over them.
4. Stop ironing your underwear – and other small things that take up time you could be sleeping, having fun or making exciting mistakes. Use legitimate short-cuts whenever you can.
5. Replace negative self-talk with reminders of what you did right already.
6. Let Perfectionism be a guideline, not an absolute goal.
Transform your perfectionist tendencies into useful allies – don’t let them curtail your freedom and creativity.
Images via Pixabay