Perfectionism and Tasks – Are you a perfectionist?
What is perfectionism?
Are you constantly tweaking, is it never quite good enough, never quite finished?
Perhaps you often find yourself angry at the perceived level of incompetence around you?
Or maybe you find that if you make a mistake, it you feel destabilised you or causes you to go into a bit of a spin quite quickly?
Well yes, that can be perfectionism showing up.
And whilst people often associate perfectionism with high levels of professionalism and quality, the latter is associated healthily with a healthy striving for excellence at your chosen level. The opposite is often true with perfectionism.
Many perfectionists don’t start projects or don’t finish them. Indeed, they often abandon projects before they reach being close to completion.
Tell me. Do you have a diy, or work project that hasn’t been started? Or has been waiting to be completed, for a very very long time? What happens if I suggest the idea that you hire someone else to do the work? Whilst there are other factors, it could also be perfectionism.
Perfectionism can cause high levels of stress and impact negatively on mental wellbeing.
But perfectionism does still motivate and ensure good work doesn’t it?
Like any other factor, the driver to produce high quality work, or to strive for excellence, can come from motivating behaviours that can be positive, negative, healthy, or unhealthy.
Perfectionists act through fear, a fear of failure, or not being good enough, and as such are extremely critical of themselves, and measure themselves on the potential negative consequences from others. This constant demand and undercurrent has a negative impact. On the other hand, someone with a healthier pursuit of excellence is motivated by enthusiasm, generally feels better about themselves, and can deal with failure in a healthier way.
How does perfectionism show up?
Well, here are eight ways that perfectionism can present:
- Perfectionists set a standard that is unachievable.
You already know this. 100%, isn’t achievable but it is hard to let go of that measurement. Even if you know that the extra work brings only the smallest of gains, marginal at best, moving on to use your time and focus elsewhere is hard.
- You think most (if not all) people around you are a tad incompetent.
Okay I was being generous with the above ‘tad’ part of the statement. Your expectation that others will meet a certain (perfect) standard means you will often find yourself feeling stressed, frustrated, or angry with others. Patience with perceived incompetence is hard. And yes, you judge yourself just as harshly.
- Mistakes can trigger a strong emotional reaction.
The fact that most people make mistakes doesn’t apply to you. You certainly aren’t comfortable with it, even if intellectually you understand this to be true. Instead you take mistakes to heart. They only confirm your thoughts, and prove a point. You aren’t good enough. You also have all or nothing thinking, and criticise yourself harshly and quickly.
- Completing work on time can be tricky.
Whilst achievement is important. With certain tasks or projects, it’s easier to simply never start it. Yes, you are stressed about the fact you want to do it, but if you don’t start it then it can’t get close to completion, which as we know can never be as perfect as you want it to be. That is also the reason you have several projects left incomplete. As for those day to day tasks. How many tweaks and rewrite were there? How long did it take you to write that last report? Or send that email? Chances are getting home on time isn’t easy.
- You hold back or get overlooked.
If you aren’t completing work on time, then it can be difficult to get ahead. This isn’t always the case, but sometimes it shows up as not being someone that can be relied upon. Likewise, perhaps you have ideas or proposals, or even have written a plan or a book, but it will never go anywhere because what if it isn’t good enough? Done is better than perfect, comes not from low standards but from the perspective where there are only marginal gains by doing more, and if it is never used, then what is the point in it existing? Greater financial success, fulfilment, and emotional wellbeing comes from letting go (more on this below).
- You stay in your comfort zone
Since fear of failure is the big driver behind perfectionism you stick to what you do best, you can’t fail then right? Best to stay where you are comfortable. Sadly, this could mean missing out on fun, or growing as a person. If you look back, the challenges that involved the hard work as you went along, are often the ones where you feel the most happiness on achieving the outcome. And, if you are willing to try new things this can include gaining new skills at work or for at home.
- Relationships can be tricky
Are you holding your emotions tightly under control? Are you unwilling to show any imperfection or vulnerability? This is pretty exhausting (and probably leaks out in other ways). Trying to relax and be genuine can be hard for the best of us; this is even harder for a perfectionist. Enjoying the company of others, with the high expectations, and accompanying judgments and frustrations is difficult. Likewise any perceived or real criticism, can trigger strong emotions. As such, they may not be dealt with in a positive way useful for good relationships. Despite what might be thought, people like to be around people who are flawed, and vulnerable, it means its okay for them to be too. Plus being around genuine people is much more relaxing right?
- Achievements aren’t happy occasions
Reached a goal? Achieved something? The chances are you aren’t celebrating. Putting aside your argument that it was just lucky. I suspect you will quickly counter any thought that you were successful with other arguments. After all there was more that you could have done. It could have been done better, quicker, easier, sooner. And the chances are that you are right. For two reasons. One, is that hindsight is a wonderful thing. And two, depending on the task or goal at hand, even when we think we have given something our all, we then realise that having become familiar with it, we could/can actually give more. That is called being human, and growing.
9.Failure is destructive
Despite the above, as a perfectionist, you do measure yourself against your accomplishments and achievements. Much of your self-worth comes from it. For that same reason, failing (however you perceive that) can cause you to go into a negative place quite quickly. Instantly undoing any feel good factors, that you might have been experiencing, about how well you were doing.
10.Your day to day wellbeing is impacted.
Perfectionists not only struggle with a sense of fulfilment and happiness, but often carry an undercurrent of stress, anxiety and worry, from their fears and judgment. Or trying to keep everything (including their emotions) under control. And like all such behaviours, these be detrimental to your mental wellbeing. Perhaps even seriously impacting your mental health.
(okay so there were 10!)
So how can changes be made?
Five Tools & Tips for Change
- Be curious.
Start by noticing your language. How many ‘shoulds’ do you use. Now go ahead and make a list of all the advantages and disadvantages of perfectionism. What do you notice? Self awareness is the starting point for all personal development.
- Review the standards.
Can you articulate the standard, and the perceived gap between where you (or the other person) is against ‘the standard’? Is it measurable or is it full of those ‘shoulds’ mentioned above? Sometimes realising how hard it is to even identify the standard can give greater clarity. Likewise understanding how hard it is to be reached, or measure against it.
- Check the evidence.
What will continuing to work on the task at hand actually gain? Is it marginal? What can you focus on instead, that would give you better gains? Made a mistake? Or worried about one? What is the worst case scenario of that happening? Write it all out. And then check the evidence. What is the likelihood of that happening? What is the most realistic outcome? And if necessary, how can you plan to deal that outcome?
- Start small.
Start by completing small tasks to a lesser standard. Pick a task and set a time limit, one that you know means you cannot do the job perfectly. For example send an email in five minutes, or deal with an organisational task in 10 minutes (sorting/cleaning). Pick another (small) task and attempt to complete it at 80% of your normal level. Even thinking about doing this is probably creating a lot of discomfort in you. This is why we start small. So to build up our comfort and acceptance around this. Finally, spend a few moments enjoying a task each day, the process of doing it, rather than focusing on the accomplishment of completing it.
- Find support.
Depending on the situation, it can be useful, once you have identified what is happening, to share an area you are working on, with someone else. Or to share a small weakness. Both allow you to start to show some vulnerability, build confidence and if needed in a work situation, you can put it in the context of an area of development. Sharing can also give you some additional support and accountability. You may also decide that you want some further personal development help through external means, such as coaches or those involved in psychology, depending on the impact it is having on your well being.
Fear of failure is a big part of most of our lives and shows up in different ways, perfectionism is one of them. The impact it can have at work, at home, and our mental and emotional wellbeing varies. We want to move it to a healthier place as we want to live our lives in a more positive and focused way. Creating achievements along the way, and measuring our successes from a good place.
If perfectionism is showing up, and it may not be in all areas, noticing is usually the first step to making the first changes quite quickly.
Often it leads to letting go of the outcome, and how it is going to play out. If you are holding on too tightly to the script of exactly how it will be, the steps, what it will look like. Then perfectionism is often around.
Enjoy the new awareness, the opportunity for change, and try the tasks. As we are aware, knowing and doing are two very different things when it comes to making a difference. Depending on the depth and impact on you, will dictate next steps.
I hope you have found this article useful and that it leads to your feeling calmer, more positive, more successful, good about yourself, and a greater sense of fulfilment. As always, if you would like further support to dig a little deeper, or create a positive change, then please get in touch.
(article tweaked slightly in May 19)