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Perfectionism: Successful Trait or Destructive Weapon?

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Perfectionism

In today’s world, perfectionism is seen by many as an admirable trait. People that want everything to be perfect and cannot accept even the slightest flaws are what we call “perfectionists”. The thing is, there is no such thing as perfection. There is only the illusion of perfection, and anyone that chases it is tilting at windmills.

What’s worse is that perfectionism can also negatively affect your health. Gordon Flett, a psychology teacher of York University from Canada has been researching this phenomenon for more than 20 years. He explains that it’s normal to want to be perfect in one aspect of life, such as your job. However, when the need to be perfect encompasses the entirety of your life, it becomes extremely stressful, which will strain relationships and cause health problems.

Are you a perfectionist? Professor Flett and his colleagues studied the phenomenon and identified three types of perfectionists.

  • Those that are self-oriented. People that fall into this category concentrate to reach the high standards that they have set for themselves.
  • Others that direct their perfectionist obsessions on other people. Imposing standards that are difficult to rise up to.
  • Then there the so-called socially prescribed perfectionists. They consider that other people in their lives, like parents, professors or bosses want them to be perfect. In their struggle to conform to the high standards set upon them, people can greatly suffer due to high stress.

The third type of perfectionism is most often found in people suffering from work-related anxiety. What makes matters worse is that this type of perfectionism can lead to emotional loneliness. Perfectionists may not have control over their feelings, which can lead to denial and an unwillingness to seek out help.

“Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” – Aristotle

Psychologists all over the world are very interested in the cause and effects of perfectionism because of its link to a significant amount of psychological problems. The main points that most psychologists can agree on are:

  • Perfectionists tend to act according to high standards and expectations that are very hard or even impossible to rise up to.
  • Perfectionism interferes with performance when standards are too high.
  • Perfectionism is associated with psychological problems such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, general anxiety, social anxiety, depression, excessive fury or anorexia.

Asserting whether or not a standard in your life is unrealistic can be done by asking yourself these questions:

  1. Can this thing be achieved or not?
  2. How useful is it to have these expectations?
  3. What are the costs and benefits of having this high standard?
  4. Is it useful in the long run?
  5. Am I capable of adapting my standards and changing my opinions when needed?

All these questions can be very helpful when you have doubts regarding expectations that you have of yourself or others. If you start losing yourself in endless justifications, then something’s not right. You’ve built protective walls and your mind is looking for justifications. Stop and ask yourself what does being perfect protect you from. What’s lying underneath your perfectionism?

The many faces of perfectionism

Perfectionism comes in many forms and can manifest itself in a lot of areas of life. Here are some areas where unrealistic standards can create problems: work or school performance, cleanliness, organizing and planning activities, writing, speaking, physical appearance, health and personal hygiene.

You might have experienced perfectionist attitudes from a boss, a parent or a partner. It’s not easy to live or work with people like this. The relationship will constantly be affected by high and rigid standards paired with frequent outbursts of anger.

Most perfectionists aren’t even aware of their condition. They hang on to the fact that this continuous search for perfection is merely the definition of a properly executed activity. Ironically, oftentimes this perfectionist attitude is an obstacle to success.

Better finished than perfect

A perfecționist would say: “My blog isn’t ready because it’s not perfect. I’m not sure of how my perfect client would look like. I can’t launch it without knowing exactly who I’m selling to.” Perfectionists build half-finished bridges that lead to nowhere because it’s difficult for them to finish what they have begun.

Finish what you’ve started. Don’t let this kind of attitude stop you from starting or finishing a project. You can always improve what you’ve already done (except when it comes to art, but that doesn’t have to be perfect either).

“The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.” – Michelangelo

Use minor failures to your advantage

Rather than focus on how difficult it is, simply do it, hit the obstacle and analyze the result. You will have lots to learn from your minor failures.

Delegate

That old saying: “If you want something done right, you have to do it yourself” can be a somewhat of a double-edged blade. While it is indeed important to take action, doing everything by yourself will lead to slow progress and eventual burnout.

Be realistic regarding how much time it takes to get a specific action done and assess whether or not you need an extra person or a team to get it done. Odds are that you can’t do it all by yourself. Delegating will leave you space to work ON your business while others are working IN it.

Perfectionism is indeed a toxic trait and many ambitious people fall in this trap. The same as many other aspects of life, balance is key. There are some ways to combat the toxic patterns of perfectionism. Being more tolerant to mistakes, more confident in the face of failure and more patient when it comes to getting things done are just a few ways to pave the road to success by eliminating perfectionism from your life.

Can you think of a situation where perfectionism held you back and how you managed to overcome it? Comment below!

Adrian Szasz is a writer, musician and editor-in-chief at Groovehunt and contributing editor at Nootrodelic. His passion for creating music lead him to constantly improve himself by fighting procrastination and maximizing his productivity.

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