‘Perfection consists not in doing extraordinary things, but in doing ordinary things extraordinarily well’ – Angelique Arnauld
There is nothing wrong with striving to do the best you can, right?
Absolutely nothing. But when you strive for perfection all of the time, in everything that you do, you could be causing yourself some heartache.
Recent studies have shown that perfectionist attitudes actually interfere with success. Self-defeating thoughts and behaviours are associated with being a ‘perfectionist’ plus, setting high and unrealistic goals can mean that perfectionists put themselves under constant, unnecessary pressure because of the expectations they have of what they can achieve, and the desire to be perfect can deny you a sense of satisfaction, and cause you to actually achieve far less than people with more realistic goals.
So when you look at it like that, perfectionism isn’t really all its cracked up to be. A sense of accomplishment and a sense of pride in what you’re doing are both admirable, healthy attitudes, but when perfection kills your passion, then you’re on the wrong track.
It’s important to know your limitation because when it’s your primary driver, perfectionism can get in your way of launching a project or finishing an assignment because ‘it just doesn’t look right’ or ‘feel’ or it’s not ‘this or that’. It can be an unnecessary burden that takes the fun out of things and it can also powerfully influence the way we feel about ourselves.
Perfectionism Reduces Playfulness
Do you know why you strive for excellence? It is most likely that you learned early on in life that you were mainly valued for your achievements. As a result you may have learned to value yourself on the basis of other people’s approval. So your self-esteem may be based primarily on external standards. This can leave you vulnerable and sensitive to the opinions and criticism of others.
Perfectionism is often associated with fear of failure, makings mistakes or protecting one’s self from critique, rejection and disapproval. Perfectionists frequently believe that they are worthless; therefore they need to keep proving themselves. Perfectionists also tend to see others as achieving success with a minimum of effort, few errors, little emotional stress and maximum self-confidence. At the same time, perfectionists view their own efforts as unending and forever inadequate.
Perfectionism is an Illusion
This premise is very similar to the disease of busy-ness that we’re currently experiencing across our society. People seem to place a lot of value on how ‘busy’ they are when in reality it should be the other way around, because this is a trap within itself. If you believe your self-worth is based on how ‘busy’ you are, then you may find yourself never having any down time and not enough time to enjoy life.
Imagine if we lived in a society which valued highly those people who have a healthy balance, a life which proportions work, relaxation, time to re-charge, exercise, and with family and friends. Imagine if this was the determinant of a ‘successful’ life and not the hours you clock up at the office, the salary you bring home, where you live, what you drive and how many gadgets you own, or the fact that you never have free time to just do … well, nothing, if that’s what you want.
The first step is to understand what drives your perfectionism. Then to challenge those self-defeating thoughts and behaviours. Stop. Review. Set new goals that are more realistic and achievable. Set goals with a plan and milestones along the way that you can feel good about achieving. Celebrate the wins, learn from the losses and remind yourself often that sometimes, under some circumstances ‘done, is better than perfect.’
By focusing on the process and not the end result, you become mindful…. And this allows you to check in with how you feel about what you’re doing. Are you enjoying it? If you are, great! Keep going. If you are not, explore that too… it’s always important to understand what motivates you, and if you discover that it’s fear … fear of failure, then just smile to yourself. A lot of perfectionists are actually afraid of failure. But there is a world where failure doesn’t exist, only feedback, and that might be something you want to look into next.
Making mistakes is a critical part of evolving as a human being; if you make one, embrace it. And ask yourself ‘What did I just learn?’
Pursuing excellence and having high standards is nothing to be ashamed of, it means you care and you are putting a lot of time, energy and effort. You are not afraid to challenge the status quo and you get pleasure out of achieving what others can’t do, just beware of the flipside.
Perfectionism can mean that you’ve set unrelenting standards, or that you blame yourself when things go wrong, or that in your mind no achievement is ever ‘enough’ and having no faith that others will do something well enough, and you become a control freak that no one wants to be around.
You are more than extraordinary, and you know you can put in a big effort when you need to. Remind yourself of this every time you feel your need for perfectionism getting out of control. The most important thing of all is that you’re enjoying your accomplishment. Not just the end result, but also the journey along the way.