“I’m Just a Perfectionist!” What’s Wrong with That?

What’s wrong with being a perfectionist? I just like to push myself. I just have high expectations. Shouldn’t we all aim for perfection? These are some fairly rational thoughts and arguments in defence of perfectionism. The problem with perfection as the expectation is 1. that it is not attainable 2. it’s not sustainable.So even if you do something to the level of what you consider perfect it is not something you will be able to do again and again. If your expectations are consistently out of your reach, they will do a few things that aren’t helpful.

  1. Perfectionistic Expectations Cause Procrastination. By setting the bar too high (which is actually outside of reality) we put off doing the very thing we are wanting to accomplish. That is, perfectionism causes us to procrastinate because we put off things that we can’t achieve or be satisfied with.
  2. Perfectionistic Expectations are Shaming. When the expectation I place on myself is unrealistic, I tend to dump shame on myself. Self-talk becomes driven by ‘shoulds’, duty and obligation. Shame fuels things like addiction, eating disorders and depression. Shame breeds a m
    essage that says, “I’m just not good enough” or “There is just something innately wrong with me.”
  3. Perfectionistic Expectations are Demotivating. If I know that I can reach my goals about 80% of the time, I will find them motivating and challenging. If I feel like I can rarely meet my goals, I actually become unmotivated. “Why bother trying?” Apathy creeps in and before long, not much is actually getting completed. This often results in long to-do lists with very little checked off. Visually, seeing a completed list is more motivating than viewing a long to-do list with only a few things crossed off.

“But I like to do things well!” Getting rid of perfectionism doesn’t mean lowering your standards and not doing things well. It has to do with relieving unrealistic pressures that we put on ourselves. Here are five helpful steps:

  • Do Things With Excellence. Excellence is different from perfectionism in that it is doing things as best as we can while we function within the scope of reality. The realm of excellence is attainable and sustainable. It requires hard work and perseverance yet it is extremely rewarding and motivating.
  • Learn From Mistakes. If you make a mistake or run into a problem, learn from it. Make it a teachable moment rather than beating yourself up for ‘failing.’ This is a necessary concept because life dictates that we will run into problems and occasionally fail, the healthy person/family/system learns from that failure by applying grace.
  • Allow Grace. Dysfunctional and toxic systems teach misbeliefs like ‘there’s no such thing as an accident.’ Sometimes we have to do an inventory of our core beliefs to see what we are using as our ‘operating guidelines.’ When we discover a dysfunctional belief, get rid of it! Replace it with a positive belief that is helpful and effective for you. 
  • Set Realistic Expectations. Make some goals for yourself that are attainable, measurable and time-sensitive. For example, figure out something you’d like to do or accomplish that is realistic. I am not going to aim at becoming an astronaut. That is not realistic based on my age, lack of interest, motion sickness and lack of desire! Make it a specific goal for you. How can you measure and know how you are doing with it? Set a dead line. When does it need to be done by? Is that realistic? If you aren’t certain what a realistic expectation looks like, ask a good friend or mentor or even tend to this in a counselling relationship.
  • Remove Yourself From the Competition. Comparison is a death trap! Do something based on what you would like to achieve for yourself. If you are a competitive person, try something that has no ‘winner’ and just enjoy the process. Comparison leads to envy. Envy leads to death whether it’s physical, emotional, mental or spiritual death — there’s a reason it’s considered one of the Seven Deadly Sins!

The best part of dealing with perfectionism in your life is there is no right or wrong way to do it. Just work on it! Challenge the patterns that breed and support it. You’ll find that you actually feel better emotionally, have increased satisfaction and contentment and actually get more done. Remember — practice makes progress!

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