Perfectionists need to be the best at everything they do, and this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many perfectionists excel in their fields.
But that doesn’t mean that this personality trait isn’t without its downsides. When a minor setback feels like a major personal failure, that’s when perfectionism becomes a burden.
“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.” ― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
Perfectionists may hold themselves or others to standards they know are unrealistic. If your perfectionism interferes with your ability to form or maintain relationships, there are steps you can take to break free.
Perfectionism vs. Aspiring to Greatness
There is no work of art in any museum that’s perfect. Every famous painting has plenty of blemishes that only a trained eye can spot.
The Mona Lisa is a great work of art, but if you look at it with X-ray fluorescence spectroscopy, you’ll find that the painting is made up of over 40 layers of paint.
Had Da Vinci gone much further beyond the 40th coat, he could have lost the subtlety of human expression his paintings are known for.
“Healthy striving is self-focused: “How can I improve?” Perfectionism is other-focused: “What will they think?” ― Brené Brown
Perfectionists tend to hyper-focus on even the tiniest flaws. If you focus on the things you’re unable to do perfectly, you may end up doing nothing at all. You’ll procrastinate so much that the final product will be sub-par.
Do you see how perfectionism can become a self-fulfilling prophecy? Acknowledge that perfection is unattainable. Instead, aspire to greatness.
Implement these strategies and overcome your obsession with being perfect:
1. Break it Down. Instead of envisioning your project as a perfect whole, try viewing it as a series of well-designed, interlocking pieces.
• If you put your focus into completing each step, you’ll find that the entire process goes smoother. Stop worrying about the outcome. Instead, focus on one task after another.
• You climb a flight of stairs by putting one foot in front of the other. Avoid expecting an immediate victory. By keeping your mind focused on the task at hand, you can create forward momentum. You’ll have less time to scrutinize the overall project because you’ll be immersed in the present moment.
• If you find yourself stressing over individual steps, break your task down into smaller chunks. Complete the next action without rushing. If you take it step-by-step, you’ll chip away at a large project without agonizing over whether it’s perfect.
2. Give Others a Break. If you find yourself imposing your perfectionism on others, stop and ask why. It’s helpful to realize that others aren’t required to live by your standards.
• The more slack you give others, the easier you can be on yourself. Everyone has unique skills and talents. Keep in mind that your friends, family, and loved ones can do many things better than you. However, it’s also likely that you excel in areas your peers struggle with.
• When you ask your friends to perform at your level in a skill where they lack confidence, they may feel controlled. Remember that our imperfections are what make us human.
3. Think in Gradations. One powerful technique that you can use to claim the life you deserve is to learn to think in gradients.
• Grey is not black, and one point below 100% is not zero. At the end of the day, only you know how much work you put into a project. Be your own authority, and congratulate yourself on your effort.
• All-or-nothing thinking is unproductive because it only allows for two possibilities. But reality isn’t binary. Computers rely on binary reasoning, but that’s because computers lack the ability to feel.
• You learn and grow the most as a result of your missteps. Reality isn’t an all-or nothing proposition.
4. Embrace your Sense of Humor. Nothing defuses perfectionism like a healthy sense of humor.
• Cultivate the ability to laugh at yourself, and start to see beyond a single viewpoint.
• If you can find the humor in your failure, you can analyze it objectively and learn from it.
Life isn’t perfect and neither are you. Give yourself permission to let go of your perfectionist ways.
“Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.” ― Brené Brown
Take action today by using these tips to create measurable changes in your life. You’ll be happy you did.