Perfectionism is about avoiding feelings of shame and inadequacy. By being perfect, you have permission to not feel bad about yourself.
As a recovering perfectionist who has had many perfectionist friends and clients, I can tell you that, in the end, perfectionists never quite feel good about themselves.
Perfectionists aren’t trying to achieve something great. They’re just working hard to avoid something negative – feeling bad about themselves based on unrealistic expectations.
A perfectionist can enjoy a few perks. Many people admire perfectionists. Still, the disadvantages usually aren’t worth it.
Being a perfectionist has several disadvantages
1. You waste a lot of time.
Some things don’t require a high level of attention. To spend more time than necessary is a waste of a valuable resource: your time.
If success and happiness is important to you, allocating your time wisely is an important consideration.
2. Perfectionism creates a lot of unnecessary stress.
When there’s only one way to be successful at something, there’s no room for error.
Often the most perfectionist people are not happy people. There’s a constant anxiety that cannot be completely satisfied.
3. You lose sight of the big picture
Bogging yourself down with trivial details can limit your awareness of the bigger objective, whether it’s getting the job done or simply enjoying a healthy life.
4. You often focus mostly on how it could have been better
Perfectionists are rarely happy with the results. You might be satisfied, but still put too much emphasis on how something could or should have been better.
5. You’re not available to friends and family
Perfectionists can be so busy getting things done they are not emotionally available in their relationships.
Yes, you might be in the room and talking with someone. But, the quality of your interaction suffers if you’re distracted by worries about things that need to be done, should have been done better or are too tired to be fully present with them.
Being a perfectionist limits your efficiency, effectiveness, and happiness.
Signs of perfectionism to be aware of
Here are some clues that will reveal if you’re trying to be too perfect:
1. You take things too far
No matter what you do, you take it to the limit. Everything must be done as well as possible, whether it’s folding the laundry, parking the car, or doing something truly meaningful.
2. You long for your school days
School is often great for perfectionists. For the most part, competition isn’t too keen, and your achievements are witnessed by all.
Your work is also clearly assessed quantitatively.
It’s true that some people learn to be perfectionists in school or from their family.
Still, in school you get clear feedback. You know very clearly where you stand and how to improve.
For most of the rest of our lives – working a job, being a parent or maintaining our health and a home – things are not as clear cut.
3. You’re judgmental of others
The perfectionist’s standards of quality are so high that no one can consistently achieve them. If you find yourself with fewer friends than you’d like, your commitment to be perfect might be an important cause.
4. You’re too hard on yourself.
By the same token, you can’t live up to your expectations either. This leads to feelings of disappointment and shame, or feeling flawed.
You might be more successful than most of the people you know, but less pleased with yourself than they are with themselves. Perhaps you find it hard to be proud of yourself?
Do you feel happy and proud when you’re successful, or do you merely feel a sense of relief?
5. You might procrastinate a lot
The need to be perfect creates anxiety and makes it hard to get started. You know you’re in for a lot of work and self-induced drama.
Under those circumstances, anyone would be hesitant to get started!
What Can You Do if You’re a Perfectionist?
If you are a perfectionist, try these helpful steps
1. Determine how much time is reasonable for completing a task
Ask a successful friend how long she would spend, and limit yourself to that amount of time. You’ll soon learn what’s reasonable.
2. Stay focused on the most important activities
Perfectionists spend too much time on minor details. Ask yourself which activities will yield the most results for the time spent.
3. Learn to accept being less than perfect.
Notice that no one else cares if something is less than perfect.
Of course, if you’re doing brain surgery or flying a plane, you do need to get it right. But dusting bookshelves, chopping vegetables or cleaning your car requires much less quality. Even at work, some tasks need to be done quickly and don’t require high quality.
You don’t need to beat everyone. Strive to attain a level of quality appropriate to the task at hand that can be accomplished with a reasonable amount of effort and time.
Perfectionism encourages feelings of inadequacy
Perfectionists believe they’re committed to excellence, but often what’s really
happening under the surface is that they’re avoiding feelings of inadequacy.
If you’re a perfectionist, ask yourself why. What do you gain? What does it cost you?
Do you truly take pleasure from being perfect? How do you feel when you’re less than perfect?
How does being a perfectionist affect your relationships? Your health and stress levels?
It’s possible to stop being a perfectionist
If you discover that you’re a perfectionist, each day practice doing something less than perfectly. It may take a while, but soon enough, you’ll be enjoying the benefits of excellence rather than the disadvantages of perfectionism.