uMost people who want to be perfect are actually defeating their efforts. Having high standards and working tirelessly to maintain them can hinder performance rather than enhance it. Working harder may not be working smarter; it could just be working harder.
We are often instilled from childhood with the idea that “if you are going to do a job, do it well.”
But we can make up some pretty silly rules. I was in a lift when a young female was worried (aloud) that her wallet didn’t match her handbag. I didn’t even give it a thought – I glanced up and thought she was dressed nicely. I was way too worried about my own problems. Her friend was busy looking at her phone.
When to be a perfectionist…
In a society where achievement and busyness are seen as badges of honor, perfectionism is often seen as a must-have attribute. If what you are doing is something important, like applying for a new job, impressing your partner, or organizing a public event, then aim for one hundred percent.
A common way to answer the “what is your weakness” interview question is to say you are a perfectionist because it is easy to turn it into a positive. But it can be a weakness if you are setting your goals too high and placing unrealistic pressure on yourself to perform.
There is nothing wrong with setting your goals high if they are realistic for you to achieve in your current life situation. Don’t aim to plan the perfect wedding, because Murphy’s Law says that something always goes wrong in event organization, so just do the best you can.
When is perfectionism harmful?
Perfectionism can be harmful when you are using it as an excuse to procrastinate. For example, if you are job seeking but you want to have the perfect LinkedIn account. You might have read an article recommending that you need to have an all-star profile with three testimonials. In this instance, ask yourself:
Is this really true?
There are many people who have no LinkedIn account and they receive job offers. If you are being honest with yourself, then you are just using the perfect profile as a reason to delay applying for jobs, which you might just get an interview for.
Perfectionism is not useful when you are making judgments about your life, based on someone else’s criteria and opinion. If you are trying too hard to impress your friends, parents, or partners, then you might end up resenting them. You might agree to Sunday lunch with your partner’s family every week because you want them to like you. However, this causes you to start turning down requests from your friends and they begin to drift away. You’ll end up resenting your partner and their family.
Always striving and over-achieving can lead to feelings of anxiety, restless sleep, and long-term health problems. Your body isn’t a machine. It needs regular exercise and breaks to recharge and relax. Sometimes it can swing the other way and we end up depressed because we are so scared of failure. Failure is an important step on the path to success if we can turn it around see what can be learned from the situation
Done is good enough.
Over the last couple of months, I have experimented with embracing the idea of “done is good enough.” There are lots of occasions in your life where near enough is good enough.
I started a new job and I was keen to make a good impression. I kept making careless mistakes and it was making me anxious. I was worried I was going to be sacked, so I said to myself:
What’s the worst that can happen?
When I allowed myself to not be perfect at my job, I started to relax. I slowed down. As a result, I started to perform better and slept better at night.
Sometimes when you hold on tightly to what you want you don’t allow your brain to have a break. The best problem solving often occurs when you are in the flow and doing something unrelated but often enjoyable.
How to loosen your grip!
Start lowering and changing your standards.
- Start a Passion project
- Write down your “shoulds” and see if you can change them into “maybes” or “coulds”
- Type your emails with friends and family all in lower case.
- Keep your daily to-do lists to no more than seven items
- Avoid holding birthday parties and events at your house and go out to a café or restaurant instead
- Start a regular exercise practice even if it’s walking
- Take up meditation and yoga
- Practice flexing your NO muscle
You might have heard that most people on their death bed never wished they spent more of their life at work. Well, I also bet they aren’t wishing they just wrote one more comment, got a thousand more followers, or liked one more photo.
There are a number of ways to develop a healthy relationship with perfectionism. You might like to take some time out of your week to write down in a journal or reflect in a quiet place. You can learn cognitive behavioral techniques (CBT) to question your current beliefs with a qualified psychologist. You might like to talk about your issues with someone you trust. Talking about your life might help you see an alternative that you hadn’t considered. We all have problems, that’s what makes us human.
When you become a 90% perfectionist, you might notice that nothing changes except… you feel 100% less stressed.