Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.
You know we all have a touch of the perfectionist in us to varying degrees, and on the right scale it’s a good thing, but when we have the dial turned up to 10/10 then we’re a time bomb ticking away. We are set up for failure not just in work, but in relationships and ultimately in our health.
“Perfectionism seeps into the psyche and creates a pervasive personality style. It keeps people from engaging in challenging experiences; they don’t get to discover what they truly like or to create their own identities. Perfectionism reduces playfulness and the assimilation of knowledge; if you’re always focused on your own performance and on defending yourself, you can’t focus on learning a task. Here’s the cosmic thigh-slapper: Because it lowers the ability to take risks, perfectionism reduces creativity and innovation” Psychology Today
“If you want something done right around here, you’ve got to do it yourself. Stand back.”
But I’m focussed on excellence, and that’s perfect – isn’t it?
Sorry to burst your bubble, but perfectionism is not about excellence. The desire for excellence is the desire for the best outcome possible, and that means realistic outcomes. But perfectionism is about achieving the unobtainable. Excellence is perfect, but perfectionism isn’t.
Perfectionism finds its roots in fear, the fear of failure. Why do we fear failure? Well, only you and your therapist can answer that, particularly if it is linked to an incident or a pattern of behaviour or occurrences in your life. Most of us fear failure because it threatens our sense of self-worth. Our self-worth is the degree to which we have a favourable opinion of ourselves – it’s our self-respect and self-esteem.
Perfectionists are on a rollercoaster ride, blood pressure climbing in anticipated dread of the next failure then falling in the relief of success. However, they never really appreciate success as an achievement and use it to build their self-worth. These emotional ups and downs are projected on those with whom they work and live and this has a negative impact on the quality of their relationships.
“There’s a place for everything and I want everything in its place. Now. Stand back.”
Not only is perfectionism bad for work and relationships, but it seems my health won’t be perfect either if I don’t change my ways.
“Individuals caught up in perfectionistic thinking or behavior commonly experience significant personal distress as well as chronic health and emotional problems.” Psychcentral
“Like anger, perfectionism is one of the behavioral predictors of coronary heart disease and other physical problems. A high score on this scale is an important risk factor for such problems.” Psychcentral
Ok, ok, I am not a perfectionist, but imagine I was, just for a moment. How would I know?
Perfectionists are likely to:
- Put excessive pressure both on themselves and others with whom they work and have relationships
- Be really concerned about mistakes, or not following processes
- Do things the same way every time in order to get it right and do it a little better
- Feel good about themselves only when they complete tasks, and to their exacting standards
- Be buried in the detail and can be judgemental
- Avoid vulnerability and so struggle with dealing with and expressing emotions.
Just relax Max, chill out, it’ll be ok. Try these ideas and if you don’t get them EXACTLY right the first time, that’s ok – no really, it’s ok.
- This is tough, I know, but you’re going to have to lower your expectations. Right Write down one of your goals, or a task you have to complete. Think about what it will look like at 10/10, and then dial it back to 8/10 and describe what that looks like. Commit to taking it to 8/10 and walking away. And stay away until such time as you accept that 8/10 is ok. In fact it’s good and now you have time and energy to do more.
- Out with the perfectometers again. Make a list of the routine things you do during the week, from works tasks to personal tasks – like health and fitness, gardening, community activities and so on. First give them a rating out of 10 for how well you do them, and then another rating out of 10 for how satisfying they are. You may just come to the conclusion that some of the activities that are most satisfying and engaging are not the ones you do the best. Now that’s a revelation isn’t it (a kind of nice one actually)?
- You know, if you don’t turn your PC off regularly it never runs as well as it should. It needs a chance to cache, to put things away and tidy up, to process everything that’s sitting in its RAM (short term memory). Well you’re the same. You need time to turn off, cool right down and then reboot the next day at full speed. You don’t do that properly staring at a screen. Commit to turning off that technology, disconnecting and calling it a day. One more tweak/review won’t help tonight.
- You have to face your fear. Write down what failure looks like. If I fail at this task, what will be the consequences? So often we discover that they are not that significant. In fact we can live with them quite comfortably.
- Set yourself some bite-size goals. These are goals that are easily achievable and with low-risk outcomes. Hit your targets quickly and move on and enjoy the sense of achievement.
- Practice delegation. You need to hand over the reins then bite your tongue and walk away. Don’t interfere. Then you should make an effort to congratulate the delegatee on the outcome, however it looks to you.
- Practise receiving and welcoming constructive criticism. It’s an important way to chip away at this veneer of perfection and allows your real character to be visible both to you and those with whom you work. It will really improve your relationships.
- Build in an iterative process into your tasks. Within the bounds of what is commercially appropriate of course, take a task to 80%, deliberately stop and seek feedback before completing it. This helps you to appreciate that you’re not the only one who can do the job well and that you don’t have to work something within an inch of its life before letting go.
If you do all of this and make a few fundamental changes in your behaviour, your almost guaranteed to be more productive, more fulfilled and if it is important to you, you’ll also be more popular.
“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are
Did you enjoy this read? If so, please share on your favourite social media (buttons below), or retweet on the live tweet below. It’s a HUGE help for me and I am always really grateful. Thanks, Pete.
— Peter McKelvie (@PeterMcKelvie) June 9, 2014