Are you a perfectionist? Do people callout your perfectionism as a negative trait?
Often when I am striving to excel, persisting with the nitty-gritty to get something “just right,” and suddenly a roadblock or catastrophe occurs sending me off course, the advice I typically get is to:
- “Lower the bar”
- “Don’t try so hard”
- “Go for 80/20”
- “Relax, don’t get stressed out”
Ironically, this is the same advice I would give to anyone struggling to achieve a goal of excellence but falling short and experiencing increased disappointment and lots of self-criticism.
But what is wrong with this advice?
After reading Jeff Szymanski’s book, The Perfectionist’s Handbook: Take Risks, Invite Criticism, and Make the Most of Your Mistakesperfectionism lies on a continuum from being a healthy characteristic to one that can become unhealthy and backfire on any attempt to achieve a positive outcome.
Research has identified three types of perfectionism: 1) personal standards – where you are internally motivated by high standards and strive for perfection; 2) self-criticism – where you set standards that are unattainable and unrealistic causing you to continually fall short; 3) socially prescribed – where the demand for excellence is externally placed by the profession you hold, such as a lawyer or doctor.
While perfectionism often gets a bad rap, it is a characteristic that drives many people to excel, to produce their best work, to be detail-oriented and meticulous, and to even inspire higher standards from those around them.
Aren’t these are worthy aspirations? Don’t you need perfectionistic tendencies to uplevel your capabilities? Think of a time when your perfectionism was working for you, when it is serving as a motivator to drive you to reach ambitious goals and raising the standards on both yourself and those around you. How did you feel?
When our perfectionist attributes are working positively for us, most people feel highly satisfied, energized, accomplished, successful, creative, and fulfilled because they are achieving their ideals and goals.
But perfectionism can be self-defeating. Many perfectionist leaders, an extreme example would be Steve Jobs, are hard to work for and are exhausting because they are unreasonably demanding, hypercritical, judgmental, intolerant, controlling, and rigid.
Perfectionism often backfires when the outcome is not realistically attainable and when there is intense pressure that everything must be done extremely well. When self-criticism mounts and there is a lack of flexibility or adaptability in terms of tactics, this is a warning sign that your perfectionism is no longer serving you and you may be entering into an unhealthy, self-defeating zone.
If your sense of self-worth is solely based on whether or not you are perfect, if you find yourself procrastinating extensively, if you are stuck on tasks because they all have to be done perfectly, and if you are becoming stressed-out, self-critical, and terrorized by the possibility of failure which in turn saps all the joy from your work, then your perfectionism is sabotaging your success and working against you.
When you find yourself getting off-course and your negativity is rising, pause and reflect on your strategy. What habits, processes or strategies could you change to achieve a different and more effective outcome?
What can you do when your perfectionism has gone astray and is no longer serving you?
4 Steps to Get Your Perfectionist Traits Back on Track:
1. Evaluate your goal in the context of providing you with a positive quality of life experience.
- What is the end result you are trying to achieve?
- Why is this goal important to you?
- What values does this support?
- Are you experiencing fulfillment, satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment?
- If no, what are you making more important than your own joy?
2. Identify your top A-game skills and talents and put the rest on your B – game list.
Let’s face it, as much as we may hope, none of us can do everything well and any attempt will lead to extreme exhaustion.
- Make a list out the top 10 tasks or skills that are important to you. Where do you want to shine?
- From that list, pick the top 2 – 3 that you really want to be part of your “A” game. This is where your energy should focus.
- Next, from that list of 10, identify 2-3 skills that you know you won’t be able to give 80%. This will be your “B” game list.
- What is remaining on your list will be those skills and talents that will demand the least amount of your energy.
3. Incorporate “Deliberate Practice” into your goal attainment strategy.
Deliberate practice is a technique used by elite athletes to identify their weak spots and adapt new and different approaches to improve their skills.
- Where are you stuck in your tasks?
- What new strategies can you try?
- What might be a different approach you could take to achieve your desired result?
- How could you ask for support and guidance?
- What strategies are no longer paying off that you need to stop doing or using?
4. Determine when to persist and when you need to stop or modify your goal.
Remember that the intention of excelling and achieving high goals is noble but when the strategy becomes self-sabotaging, self-critical, rigid and unadaptable, your perfectionism has becomes a source of self-destruction and undermines what really is important to you and your quality of life. Know what is important to you and place those values in a hierarchy to help you move forward.
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