Perfectionism is defined by American Heritage dictionary as a propensity for being displeased with anything that is not perfect or does not meet extremely high standards. Perfectionism is a self-defeating behavior that is often disguised as a virtue. In fact, many non-perfectionists often wish they were more like those they see with “perfect” lives. The unfortunate thing is that dysfunctional perfectionists often live a tortured life in which nothing is ever good enough.
One thing to keep in mind while reading this is that a little bit of perfectionism is a good thing at times. The desire to produce high quality work is certainly acceptable. The line is crossed when perfectionism is a persistent issue that negatively affects a person’s life and the lives of those around them.
Perfectionism is a self-defeating behavior that causes anxiety and procrastination. In some cases perfectionism can be paralyzing. Perfectionists often feel that they can’t begin a project or task unless they can do it perfectly. Until they have the right tools and the right knowledge they can’t begin. Often when they do begin they are unable to finish projects because they constantly refine their work to be sure that it is perfect.
In an office environment the perfectionist may have a desk covered with stacks of paper. He can’t do anything with the stacks because he hasn’t figured out the perfect system for filing the papers away or handling the tasks associated with the paper. So the stacks remain and day after day the perfectionist beats himself up over his imperfect office conditions.
Perfectionism is debilitating for the business owner. Imagine the opportunities squandered as the business owner struggles with simple decisions involving very basic business functions. Fussing over the perfect wording for each letter or email sent, constantly refining business materials, and never happy with anything. This is the life of the perfectionist.
Perfectionists often don’t reserve their high standards only for themselves. They expect above average results from everyone they come in contact with. When they don’t receive those results they can be abusive and abrupt. Working with a perfectionist can be a tough job.
For those of you who identify with some of what you’ve read here, there is hope! If you know someone struggling with this issue, pass this along.
- Self-talk is often your worst enemy. Listen to what your inner critic is saying about you. Counter those statements with statements of your own. For example, if your inner critic says that you can’t do anything right, challenge that statement by thinking of things that you have done right. What evidence does your inner critic have to support the statements that it makes about you? Most often the statements are wrong and completely false.
- Recognize that your value as a person does not come from your performance in the various roles you play in daily life. Consider that when something is wrong in your life or you make a mistake that it doesn’t mean that you are an idiot or can’t do anything right (or whatever your inner critic says to you). It may mean that you need some training or improvement in that area of your life. If feedback is coming from external sources, the problem may not be yours at all. Perhaps the person giving the feedback is having a bad day.
- Realize that perfection is an unattainable goal. Realign your goal to pursuit of excellence or mastery. You will find much more satisfaction.
- Make mistakes intentionally. Since mistakes are extremely dangerous for perfectionists, this is an experiment that may cause a lot of stress initially. Try “forgetting” to sign in at a meeting or class. Most likely, the person in charge will simply remind you to sign in. Let yourself experience the feeling. You won’t die and no one will think you are an idiot. Mistakes are actually great opportunities for learning. If you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t growing.
Next month we move on to the last in the self-defeating behaviors series: Procrastination. Everyone does it. I will give you some tips on how to overcome that nasty behavior issue.
Have a great month!