Perfectionism: Its Joys and Perils

Perfectionism Can Be A Double-Edged Sword

It has the capacity to provide either great joy and personal growth … or misery. A key to perfectionism is not to eliminate this gift, but to harness its energy as a positive force.

Why Perfectionism is Great

Perfectionism can be a positive force that can provide the driving energy which leads to great achievement. It’s part of the compelling spirit behind an athlete who devotes hours each day to train to compete in the Olympics. It supports the commitment a great singer or composer requires to release the purity of sound playing in their imagination. Or the persistence of an artist to replicate an image from the mind’s eye to the canvas.

Why Perfectionism is Not-So-Great

Perfectionism combined with a self-condemning attitude can deaden the spirit, destroy the imagination, and paralyze performance. This type of perfectionism can backfire and prevent any sense of personal satisfaction.

When it comes to weight management, perfectionism often refers to a set of self-defeating thoughts and behaviors aimed at reaching excessively high and unrealistic goals. This perfectionism is not the search for excellence — it is the search for the unattainable.

The perfectionist often becomes so afraid of failing, being less than perfect, afraid of making mistakes that they literally become unable to move forward. Perfectionists tend to engage in “all or nothing” thinking. This can mean that if they trip up even once, they will feel a sense of being not good enough – in a way that is out of proportion to the event.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Do you feel like what you accomplish is never quite good enough?
  • Do you often put off handing in papers or projects, waiting to get them just right?
  • Do you feel you must give more than 100% on everything you do or else you will be mediocre or even a failure?

5 Characteristics of Perfectionism

One problem with being a perfectionist occurs when you measure your self-worth by your performance. Instead of knowing that you are intrinsically valuable as a human being regardless of your performance, you believe that your actions determine your worth as a human being.

Review the following characteristics to learn more about perfectionistic tendencies.

1. Procrastination

Inactivity can result from perfectionism when a person knows he or she will never measure up 100%. It may seem better to delay taking action, or take none at all, rather than risk failure. Perfect people don’t make mistakes — ever. That’s because they also don’t take risks.The sad part of striving for perfection is that often perfection-oriented people will be fearful of trying new things or taking chances because they might not do it perfectly. It is a vicious circle, as whenever we start something new, we have to do it poorly first. In the end, many people become stuck in a cycle of fear and perfection and fear of not having perfection, which is impossible anyway.

2. Fear of Failure

Did you know that the scientist who invented “Post It” notes was really trying to invent a type of glue that had incredible staying power? Or that Columbus discovered America while searching for the West Indies; he simply got lost! In orienting their lives around avoiding mistakes, perfectionists miss opportunities to learn and grow. Experiencing failure — and learning to judge your own capabilities — demonstrates that you have the strength to accept life’s challenges. Never condemn yourself for not succeeding. Instead, learn to see failure for what it really is: an opportunity to discover that future success lies in another strategy or direction. Learning from your past mistakes is how you will eventually achieve your goal.

3. All or Nothing Mindset

Perfectionists frequently believe that they are worthless if their accomplishments are not perfect. Perfectionists have difficulty seeing situations in perspective. For example, overeating one meal might lead a person to believe, “I am a total failure.”

4. Fear of Disapproval

Perfectionism has its roots in the desire and need to be accepted. A perfectionist wears a mask to appear nice, polite, likable, friendly, perfect. Often emotions are hidden inside. If others saw their flaws, perfectionists often fear that they will no longer be accepted. Trying to be perfect is a way of trying to protect from criticism, rejection, and disapproval.

5. Rigid Self Imposed Rules

A perfectionist often feels a constant pressure to do things exactly as they “should” be done every single time. There is an overemphasis on “should’s.” There are often many food rules that “should” be followed every day. If these rules are not obeyed, then all or nothing thinking comes into play. Once you’ve blown it, there is a perception that failure has already occurred, so why continue to bother?

Easing Up on Yourself

Perfectionists often do not know their needs or how to meet them. When you stop and take time for yourself, your deeper needs will begin to rise into your awareness. To carry out those deeper needs, you must fight the learned mental tape recordings that you unconsciously repeat, such as “Do more, be better, work harder, never stop, and be perfect.” Take time to feel good about what you have accomplished instead of what still needs to be done.

  • Appreciate Your Gift
    There are both useful parts and less helpful parts to perfectionism. Understand that you have choices about how you use it. Perfectionism can serve a useful purpose. It carries with it a power that can be the driving force to achieving your dreams. Or it can paralyze you with fear. Recognize your ideals, your dreams, and your desires. Believe in your ability to achieve them. Failing to achieve your ideals and high standards are good, even if it hurts a bit when you can’t always reach them.
  • Work with a Therapist
    Work with a professional who can help you find your inherent self-worth. Self-worth based solely on external achievements feels hollow, empty, and filled with despair.
  • Set Priorities
    Decide where in life your perfectionistic tendencies will enrich your life. Discover what is really important to you. Perhaps you can funnel your gift into a successful business, organization skills, cultivating a passion, being the kind of person you always wanted to be. Realize no one can have it all or be good at everything. Allow yourself to be perfectionistic in activities that really matter to you.
  • Challenge Your Concepts of Failure
    Remind yourself of a quote by Charles Kettering, “One fails forward towards success.” Accept failure as a part of the learning process. Keep striving to achieve your goals even when your initial attempts are unsuccessful. Perfectionists typically view success as an “avoidance of failure.” This thought process will keep you from gaining satisfaction in your achievements.
  • Don’t Punish Yourself For Failing
    Learn to cultivate the feeling of satisfaction. It will take some doing, but it can be learned. Generously incorporate the use of self-rewards, positive language, praise, daily success logs, self-appreciation journals to begin retraining your thinking. Focus your energies on the courage you have for trying something new. Take time for reflection, including time to reflect on your accomplishments, and view mistakes as a necessary part of the learning experience. Set g
    oals that are obtainable, measurable, realistic.
  • Life is a Journey
    Accept your life as a journey, and find ways to enjoy the journey. Focus on the journey not the outcome. Life is too short not to work though your fear. Learn to enjoy the ride!

I am letting go of perfection and striving for excellence instead!

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