But.. is it really that bad?
"Perfectionism is a dangerous state of mind in an imperfect world."
- Robert Hillyer
Setting extremely high and demanding performance standards;
Relentlessly striving for these standards;
Basing your self-worth on meeting these standards.
Meeting unrelenting standards, setting unrealistically high goals, and doing so for several tasks/areas of your life can be really exhausting.
It may sound strange, but perfectionism is not always about being “perfect”. That’s because it is not actually possible to achieve perfection.
The problem with perfectionism (also known as maladaptive or clinical perfectionism) occurs when our standards are set unrealistically high so that they aren’t likely to be achieved, which can leave us feeling like nothing we do is ever good enough. In other words, you can inadvertently set yourself up for failure. What’s more, perfectionism often means that even minor deviations away from the original goal (80% vs. 100%) are seen as failures. This can have a serious impact on our overall wellbeing and self-esteem.
The irony is that striving to be perfect actually keeps us from getting much of anything done. We fixate on our performance at home, at school, at work, at yoga class, even on holiday!
"Perfectionism is not a quest for the best. It is a pursuit of the worst in ourselves, the part that tells us that nothing we do will ever be good enough."
- Julia Cameron
The work on perfectionism requires a deeper mindset shift that will allow you to re-define your relationship with imperfection.
Below is great case study from Harvard Business Review, which highlights the incredible importance of mindset shift around perfectionism and the need to focus on the efforts above the results.
Case Study: Shift your mindset and get comfortable with imperfection.
In the past, Stacy's perfectionism led her to avoid certain tasks. “I never wanted to start something unless I knew exactly how to do it,” she says. “It was a roadblock. It literally stopped me from doing new things.”
Earlier in her career, she worked for an online marketing agency. One of her tasks was to add tracking tags to client websites, which would allow her organisation to gather more information about their customers’ revenue and sales.
Stacy had never added a tag before and was petrified of doing it wrong. “I wanted my work to be good, and I wanted to be seen as doing a good job,” she says. “I didn’t want to mess up.”
Instead of trying and risking imperfection, Stacy busied herself with email, building ad sets, and working on other marketing campaigns.
Her avoidance of the task didn’t keep her from ruminating on it, though. “I thought about it constantly,” she says. “Every time I have something new to do, it doesn’t go away for me. It was at the top of my to-do list.”
Still, she couldn’t force herself to try. She realised a shift in mindset was in order. “To get this in check, I needed to make it clear to myself that getting it done was more important than making it perfect.”
To get this in check, I needed to make it clear to myself that getting it done was more important than making it perfect.
The turning point came when she happened upon a series of blogs by published authors. “Writers talked about that first step of getting a draft on paper,” she says. “The first draft is usually terrible. But then they go back and edit and rework it.”
Learning more about the writing process helped her gain perspective on her situation. “I had to give myself permission to know that the first one was not going to be great; it might not even work,” she says. “But I will get better.”
Eventually, she plucked up her courage and took a shot. Her first one was fine; her second one was an improvement. Her third attempt was great.
Today Stacy is her own boss. She runs a website devoted to inspiring side hustles. She has learned many lessons about battling her perfectionist demons. “Just because I think something is perfect doesn’t mean it is,” she says. “I likely need feedback from others, especially customers, so that I can change the product over time to keep making it better.”
How to Manage Your Perfectionism by Rebecca Knight, HBV
It's not all so bad! Perfectionism can serve you too.
Stacy's example is such a classic case study of mindset shift around perfectionism. This often requires an ability to have a powerful conversation with Self, more specifically, with the inner saboteur voice that often leads us to self-distractive behaviours (of course, all with good intentions).
I have recently had a conversation with a client of mine who said that, he actually really likes his perfectionism side. And it is true, it is not all so bad! There is a reason why you've developed the Perfectionist in you, and it might have even served you well for years in life. Perhaps, thanks to your inner Perfectionist you got that job you've always wanted and then that promotion that eventually led to your Best Employee Award, and so on. There are, in fact, many reasons why perfectionism became your second nature.
The question is: to what extend it serves you and to what extends it limits you? If you started noticing that your perfectionist behavioural patters negatively impact your relationship with self and others, your mental health and overall wellbeing - its probably a good time to start working on it.
And the work doesn't necessarily involves getting rid of the Perfectionist in you, it is more about managing it effectively, so that it continues empowering and not limiting you.
For more ideas and professional guidance on how to effectively manage your inner voices and find the right inner balance, check out this Ultimate Confidence Workbook, Part 2.