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A Perfectionism Guide: Living with ‘Not Good Enough’

Being a perfectionist ain’t all bad. But, there are known problems with having such a trait. This article covers ways to deal with perfectionism when it undermines fulfillment. There is also a list of helpful resources at the end.

perfectionism

To be honest, I don’t like labels, including those ending in -ists, as it does little to acknowledge the breadth and depth of a person’s being. So, let’s go with the concepts of perfection and perfectionism.



The Strive For Perfection

Let’s face it…We are all drawn to perfection. For example, most people give greater value to:

  • The flawless skin and trim figure
  • The perfect wedding
  • Perfectly accessorized outfits
  • Perfect images for more Instagram likes
  • The perfect post on FB to attract the most likes
  • The ‘wow!’ house on the block
  • The flashiest vehicle
  • The best of …!

Who are we kidding?! Perfectionism is omnipresent and we all enjoy its fruits.

Seeking perfection can end in excellence and outstanding results.

So it’s a good thing.

But… is perfection the enemy of progress? Let’s look at some famous perfectionists.

Famous Perfectionists

Think of all the outstanding progress due to people we refer to as ‘perfectionists’.

Steve Jobs, Barbra Streisand, and Michelangelo, for example. They are renown for giving the world extraordinary things!

So, allow yourself applause if you have been labeled a perfectionist because you are part of a group of people who have special qualities.

Michelangelo was considered a perfectionist

The Problem with Perfection

So, what’s the problem!?

People who strive for perfectionism tend to have high expectations and when these are not met, they can:

  • Feel let down,
  • Can binge on stuff to make them feel better,
  • Can be disturbingly critical of themselves and others, and
  • Suffer from depression and anxiety (momentarily or for long periods).

The problem is the downsides, the tendencies when something is just not ‘right’, not good enough.

When perfection gets in the way

Perfectionism And Anxiety

In psychology, perfectionism is mostly described as one of two types, adaptive (healthy) or maladaptive (unhealthy), according to the mainstream theory on the subject. 1

With regard to this dual model, the maladaptive type is associated with anxiety.

Recent research, however, shows that the adaptive types are also affected by anxiety in one form or the other. In this premise, rather than the dual concept, the researchers class perfectionists as either socially prescribed, other-oriented, or self-oriented. 2

Where Does Perfectionism Come From?

It was once thought nurture rather than nature was the source of perfectionism as a trait.

Yes, parents were blamed for producing offspring who were perfectionists by how they raised their child in that they overemphasized achievement or made their love conditional.

Well of late that’s been shown to be hooey phooey. Based on a study of twins, research shows that hereditary is likely the reason.3 From my own experience, that makes perfect sense.

Overcoming Perfectionism Anxiety

So, it seems perfectionism and anxiety go hand in hand.

We see this in a wanting only for the ‘perfect’ where a mindset of being less than perfect equates to failure, rejection, or having lost opportunities, a loss of status, or worst. You can imagine the anxiety that would accompany this.

The mentality overlooks the plethora of opportunities and beauty in the ‘not-so-perfect’ not to mention the hurtful implications.

Rather than wondering how to get rid of perfectionism, maybe there’s a way to manage the downsides so that the upsides shine. There is such a thing as healthy perfectionism.

5 Rules To Healthy Perfectionism

My five rules that involve questioning and switching your mindset.

Anxiety RootRealityFix
Burning the ‘midnight oil’ on a project?Your productivity is probably decliningWeight up quality vs time/effort
Mistakes?Worrying about mistakes undermines success. Go with the flow. Repurpose. Identify ways to improve. Find the positive.
Being the best at everything?Spreading yourself thin overrides strengths. Outsource or delegate.
Seek input from others.
Can’t trust others to do a good job?Watch for burnoutImpart knowledge. Hire professionals.
Need to be 100% done?Stressing kills innovation by blocking intuitionAccept the day’s achievements. Refresh and then return.

On Dealing With Perfectionism

This is about managing the downsides of perfectionism, for mental health, rather than overcoming perfectionism. Since, as it seems, perfectionism is a driver of immense success and fulfillment.

The things I found that help with perfectionism and anxiety…

1. Diversify

As a perfectionist, you are good at analyzing. But, check your focus. Check you are not missing out in the big picture because you are obsessing about the one thing.

This is about diversifying your spectrum of focus. It helps to look beyond your ‘pet’ project at times to gain an objective perspective, to socialize, and to stay balanced.

2. Break The Pattern

I found taking time away from a project allows space for new insights and those ah-ha moments to arrive. I wrote about this in my article on Using Intuitive Thinking in Decision Making.

Take the time-out from doing and just be, to recharge.

If you don’t take time out, you may be dealing with feeling overwhelmed, which ultimately interferes with reaching goals.

3. Celebrate / Reward

Make a conscious effort to celebrate wins, no matter how small. Plan rewards. Commit to experiencing them.

4. Get Outdoors

Outdoors is where nature helps with de-stressing. Go barefoot. Get grounded with the Earth. Try marveling at the stars in the night sky, to put things into perspective.

Soak up a little sunshine (avoid sunburn) for vitamin D to keep mentally and physically at your best.

Remember, everything in nature is perfect in its design. What better place to be inspired?

5. Meditate

Meditation helps with reducing anxiety.

Learn to meditate for a few minutes daily to help de-stress and to invite intuition and creativity. See my article on developing the art of intuition through meditation.

6. Chill

Play uplifting or calming music, whatever works.

Learn to laugh at yourself and with (not at) others. Fake laughter is perfectly fine. But, be wary of cynicism, sarcasm, and teasing – not the perfect humor in this case.

7. Put Your Inner Critic On Hold

Is that inner voice supportive and guiding you in fulfillment; or is it critical, anxious, deflating, obsessive, and tugging at urgency?

Never bash yourself up over mistakes. Reflect on the evidence of your past achievements and look ahead at how you can learn from the mistake or repurpose it.

You inner speak can be a tell-tale sign of unhelpful perfectionism traits. Subdue that inner negative critic.  

Here are some tips to help:

  • Accept you are human. Mistakes are necessary for learning.
  • Make a mental note of what you would do differently next time.
  • Celebrate your strengths, rather than your shortcomings.
  • Don’t compare yourself to others? They have their own journey and own mistakes.
  • Focus on the progress rather than the ‘not yet done’ or ‘not good enough’.
  • Adjust your plan accordingly.

8. Be Flexible and Willing

Apart from being aware of your self-talk, be open and tolerant. 

Here are some thoughts on that:

  • Aim for a win-win situation.
  • Know, it’s impossible to make everyone happy.
  • Give credit where credit is due.
  • Be humble and accept help and insights from others.

Realize when you need to expect less of yourself (and others), and let up every now and then.

9. Trust

Don’t sweat the small stuff.

Trust others to take over the reins. Free yourself of unnecessary detail. Delegate, organize and let go.

Show that you care by transferring your skills and knowledge. In this way, you can delegate with confidence and relieve some of the pressure on solely you.

10. Accept Variation

Don’t obsess with the one perfect solution or way of doing things. Consider that no one single outcome is the perfect solution.

Use your ideals as guides, not absolutes.

Accept there can be multiple ways of achieving the one thing.

Your solution may be perfect for a time, place or situation, for a short while, long while, evermore, or not at all.

Accept that you might need to change your attitude or behavior.

Shift your mindset of ‘all or nothing’ to it’s good enough. You could try the 80/20 rule.

11. About Time

Learn to be patient

Everything is important and everything must be done, eventually …perhaps.

Decide on a period for a project and move on after the time has expired.

Cut yourself some slack and rejig the deadline – in our competitive society proposals tend to underestimate the time to win approval.

Watch for burnout, with which perfectionists at especially prone to.

Check out The 80/20 Principle: The Secret to Achieving More with Less, for further insight.

Bottom Line on How to Deal with Perfectionism…

  • Being a perfectionist has its ups and downs.
  • Remember, everything is perfect in its own way.
  • Furthermore, not all areas are equal.

Look…

Work, relationships, and social and study components of your life require different approaches. I can’t emphasize this enough…watch for burnout.

A certain level of perfectionism is needed for that outstanding work in your project.

But…You’ll need to cut some slack at home with the family. They are probably wondering how to live with a perfectionist.

See my article on daily habits to help you win at life.

Remember…a perfectionist out-of-hand (verging on Neurotic Perfectionism)4 looks like this:

  • Demands an oft unattainable level of performance in themselves (and often others).
  • Feels their efforts or that of others who work for them are substandard.
  • Is unable to let go, and has difficulty in sleeping or relaxing.
  • Obsessively compares their efforts and attributes with others.
  • Is highly critically.
  • Bases their self-worth entirely on achieving perfect end results.

One being true to Self (capable of the outstanding) or overcoming neuroticism, is:

  • Setting realistic standards,
  • Deriving pleasure from painstaking labors, but choosing a less precise course when the situation calls for it.
  • Incorporating practices to fortify self-esteem.

How to stop being neurotic? Do you need help with perfectionism? There are lots of resources available, including numerous books on the subject. Consider also the lists below.

Resources for Perfectionists…

Perfectionism Tools

Tools that help with how to get over perfectionism:

  • Calm. Calm your senses to help you overcome the anxious, stressed-out feelings that can go with perfectionism. As soon as you feel a pit in your stomach, a lump in your throat or tightness in your shoulders, neck, or jaw it’s time to loosen up with some Calm.
  • Gratitude Journal. Keep a gratitude journal and write three things each day that you are grateful for. Reflect on this when needed. This will switch your mindset from one of ‘not good enough’ to a focus of enough – the definition of gratitude. 
  • Music. Music will help you boost your concentration, get you into the flow and drown out that critical inner voice.

Movies about perfectionism

You might find some examples of how to cope with perfectionism (or not) in these:

Books on perfectionism

These include books on perfectionism treatment.

See my list of books on perfectionism.

Affirmations for Perfectionists

How to avoid perfectionism? These affirmations and coaching audios may help.

  • Think Perfect! Overcoming Perfectionism Affirmations: The best affirmations for perfectionists who’d like to be a little less perfectionist! by Kim Fleckenstein 
  • The Perfectionism Project – podcast by Sam Laura Brown

Songs about Being Perfect

  • Pink: Perfect.
  • Kate Perry: Firework.
  • Leonard Cohen: Anthem.
  • Ed Sheeran: Perfect.
  • Kenny Rogers: The Gambler.
    • “You’ve got to know when to hold ’em / Know when to fold ’em / Know when to walk away / And know when to run”
  • 14 free playlists for Perfectionism (via 8tracks)
  • YouTube free playlist: Songs to heal perfectionism

Podcasts for perfectionists

  • Michael Hyatt: Win at Work, Succeed at Life – listen in for help with beating perfectionism.
  • Alen Standish: Progress not Perfection. Alen connects his binge eating to perfectionism. Though his talks relate to how to combat perfectionism in general.
  • Perfectionism – Unfolded Hearts Talk. 

Being Perfect Quotes

Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes. ~
Oscar Wilde

Mistakes are the portals of discovery. ~ James Joyce

I am unique. I am important. I will
survive.

Ted Talks

What’s Your Best Perfectionism Advice?

Happy to hear your thoughts…

References:

  1. Biding, P. J., Israeli, A., & Antony, M. M. (2004). Is perfectionism good, bad, or both? Examining models of the perfectionism construct. Personality and Individual Differences. 36 (6), 1373-1385.
  2. The many faces of perfectionism
  3. Iranzo-Tatay, Carmen & Gimeno-Clemente, Natalia & Barberá, María & Ángeles Rodriguez-Campayo, Mª & Rojo-Bofill, Luis & Livianos, Lorenzo & Beato Fernandez, Luis & Vaz-Leal, Francisco & Moreno, Luis. (2015). Genetic and environmental contributions to perfectionism and its common factors. Psychiatry Research. 230. 10.1016/j.psychres.2015.11.020.
  4. Hamachek, D.E. (1978). Psychodynamics of normal and neurotic perfectionism. Journal of Human Behavior, 15(1), 27–33.

Further Resources:

Silverman, L.K. (n.d.). The many faces of perfectionism. Retrieved from https://giftedhomeschoolers.org/resources/parent-and-professional-resources/articles/issues-in-gifted-education/the-many-faces-of-perfectionism/

Stoeber, J., & Otto, K. (2006). Positive conceptions of perfectionism: Approaches, evidence, challenges. Personality and Social Psychology Review, 10, 295–319.

Szymanski, J. (2012). The perfectionism paradox. Retrieved from https://drjeffszymanski.com/blog/the-perfectionism-paradox