Dealing with Perfectionism

dealing with perfectionismPerfectionism came up as a comment on my last post, being good. It sounds fine – searching for the highest standards, being displeased with anything less than perfect. But it can lead to distress and self condemnation when you do anything thats less than perfect.

I’ve come across this interesting test that gives you a rating (%) of how much of a perfectionist you are. But most of us know whether or not we are perfectionists, and whether or not it you feel its an asset or hindrance.

There are differing theories as to where perfectionism comes from, some suggesting that there is a genetic component as it tends to run in families. But equally the behavior of parents towards children has a huge effect. If parents are strict, disciplinarians then children learn to fear making mistakes.

If a child only receives love or attention when successful – such as getting top marks in class, they will strive towards perfectionism in adulthood. To be loved, they have to be perfect. And a child who learns either an authoritarian style of parenting or this “conditional love” may well continue with it when dealing with their own children.

Where nature or nurture, I’m not arguing perfectionism is all bad. It can drive high achievement, separating those that win gold medals from those that finish down the field. Recently I gave the example of TV chef Gordon Ramsey, whose bullying behavior can be linked to his own perfectionism, which he expects of others. But he is extremely successful – and very rich!

However, its a myth to say you have to be a perfectionist to succeed. Likewise its perfectionism that gets the best result. Here are some ways to start tacking perfectionism:-

1) Treat yourself as you would a friend. Especially if you impose impossibly high standards on yourself, but not others.

2) Don’t set yourself goals that are unreachable. This creates a vicious circle of blaming yourself for not being good enough when you fail to achieve the goal – and then set further unrealistic goals (saying you must work harder as thats why you didn’t succeed before).

3) If you accept perfectionism is undesirable and undermines your self esteem start writing down the self defeating thoughts that fuel this behavior. Then start challenging the negative thoughts. When you find your self talk full of “I must”, “I have to”, “I need to” – ask yourself why. Look at alternative ways of viewing the situation – combine with thinking how you’d advise a friend.

You may want to write out positive affirmations that reinforce this message

“xxxx will never be perfect, but its still very worth doing.”

“I am capable of doing a very good job, trying to be perfect undermines my performance.”

“I set myself goals that are achievable”

“I will do my best – doing my best is good enough”

“xxxx won’t stop liking/loving me whatever kind of performance I put in.”

4) Stop yourself from doing things that perpetuate perfectionism. This mainly centers on repeatedly redoing something because its not quite perfect. Give yourself cut off times or limit yourself to rewrites/checking.

Making mistakes is how we learn and develop.

“Assert your right to make a few mistakes. If people cannot accept your imperfections, that’s their fault.”

a quote from David Burns, who also said

“Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make you a far happier and more productive person.

The worst thing of all is avoiding doing anything at all, to put off or procrastinate. Again, this is linked with unrealistic goals or how you see the task. Make small, realistic goals – break down tasks until you find something you can undertake. Focus on the journey, the process, rather than getting overwhelmed by the end result or goal.

Robert A. Henru May 5, 2008 at 11:26 pm

Hi David, I read about busyness caused by perfectionism before. One important point he shared was to apply 80/20 rules. The first 20% will get you the 80% of the job needs to be done. The subsequent 80% will only give you additional 20%, if you manage to get the perfection you want.

That point helped me to avoid perfectionism. Don’t get busy being pefect!

Thanks for the quote, on whose fault when we have mistakes. That’s really inspiring.


Robert A. Henru’s last blog post..Money and blogging, the opportunity and the dilemma

Robert A. Henru May 5, 2008 at 11:30 pm

And btw, I got another piece of article here, that I think will be great to be shared with your readers…
How to avoid busyness caused by perfectionism

Robert A. Henru’s last blog post..Money and blogging, the opportunity and the dilemma

Nick Grimshawe May 6, 2008 at 3:46 am

Perfectionism can cause procrastination when you are so focused on perfect you never complete the cycle. My experience with aspiring writers just confirms this. I won’t publish till I’m perfect, which then, unfortunately, results in the author never submitting his or her work.

I like the idea of affirmations allowing for mistakes. We stumble and fall to succeed.

Great article as usual.


Nick Grimshawe’s last blog post..Bruce Lee Quote: Meaning of Defeat

NJ Website Designer May 7, 2008 at 3:12 pm

I used to try to make everything perfect, it ended up that nothing ever got finished.

I am getting better with it now.

Internet Marketing May 9, 2008 at 6:13 pm

I’ve learned that perfect isn’t realistic.. Everyone has problems, everyone makes mistakes, and that’s just the way it is.

Great post — I enjoyed reading it! : ]

Internet Marketing’s last blog post..10 Tips for Writing Better

brainmenu May 11, 2008 at 9:27 am

I got to page 3 of the test and felt that the test couldn’t accurately reflect who I am and therefore I stopped and came here to comment on it. However, I realized that this was probably my perfectionism kicking in and so went back to complete it. After all I mustn’t let perfectionism spoil my life and I’m not doing the test to find out if I’m a perfectionist I’m just doing it for some fun.

Of course when I saw my score of 73 I felt a bit disappointed. The score was better than it might have been but I felt the test wasn’t actually very good – in the end although I done the test for some fun I didn’t actually seem to get any benefit 🙁

It’s hard work trying not to be a perfectionist!

David May 11, 2008 at 9:42 am

I agree with the sentiments we all seem to be expressing, seeking perfectionism drags out what you’re doing to no great benefit. It can lead to putting things off, or procrastination and never finishing stuff.

David’s last blog post..Cyclone Nargis – what can be done to help?

David Leonhardt - The Happy Guy May 15, 2008 at 1:45 pm

There is an approach that can reconcile the pros and cons of perfectionism:

Hope the the best, so you will be prepared to move toward the sky.

Expect the worst, so you will be prepared to manage on the ground.

David Leonhardt – The Happy Guy’s last blog post..New Brunswick still happiest province

mary December 10, 2008 at 11:13 pm

I live with a perfectionist, who as adorable and kind and loveable as he is, he is also a complete bully because I do not meet the standards he lives by. I accept myself and think what I do is good, commendable some would say but not him. I am currently on a path to stop seeking approval, something I probably would never have done if I’d not lived with a perfectionist.
If you’re a perfectionist try to see the good in people, see what they do not what they don’t. Who are you to criticise?

JP January 14, 2009 at 5:59 pm

I started doing research for a psych paper. I thought it was going to be on generally poor self esteem, but the more I look into perfectionism, the more I see where the root of my problems lie. One thing I’ve been noticing, though, is a focus on productivity and procrastination involving work. The very first thing you mentioned, holding myself to standards I don’t even hold others to, is more directed toward personality. Sure, I also exhibit the perfectionist tendencies when working on projects and papers, but I also apply it to body image and personality. This is hardly addressed. I know it can be worked on with the same techniques, but it’s always nice to see your difficulties reflected in articles considering perfectionism.

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