The Trouble with Perfectionism And How to Overcome It

By Brian Bagnall | Blog

May 05

The Trouble with Perfectionism and How to Overcome It

by Brian Bagnall

      All of us have heard our parents or a teacher tell us to, “Do our best”. Throughout our lives, we are constantly challenged to provide our best work and efforts. It then becomes second-nature to strive for perfection in almost every aspect of life. We become our own worst critics, for we can always find areas of improvement. Therefore, work never truly is finished and does not meet perfection. When this takes place, we may feel inferior to other people, worthless, and may be less willing to take on projects in the future because we fear failure. The problem is we have not really failed; we just did not meet our own standard of perfection.

Perfection is a state of mind and something we should never try to achieve. Instead, we should focus on providing our best in the present and move forward. There is always time to change things after the work is finished. There is a big difference between accomplishing a project from hard efforts and being proud of a job being perfect. As long as we move forward and improve in what we offer, we are achieving growth and are succeeding in providing our best work. Through the efforts of perfecting work, we sometimes can get caught up in minute details, which derail or sabotage us from the quality of the work as a whole.

For instance, when I was in high school, I had a final term paper due for school. I had about two months to complete the work and for over a month, I solely focused on my introduction. Then, about a week prior to the term paper being due, I rewrote my introduction again and again, leaving just two days to write a ten page paper on a topic I had not even researched. My parents were mad, because in their eyes, I procrastinated writing the paper. I was upset at myself for having spent so much time on the introduction. The finished product resulted in a powerful wonderful introduction I was very proud of and a body I wasn’t proud of that won me a grade of a “C”. Perfectionism worked against me in this case, because I couldn’t move forward until the introduction was perfect. Instead of focusing on perfection or our best work, we can amend our thinking to: “I will provide my best efforts in the time allotted,” granting ourselves the flexibility to arrange our projects within a given time frame in order to offer a finished product.

Sometimes, perfectionism can cause fear of failure. If we aren’t happy with our work, it becomes very easy for us to believe others won’t be happy with our efforts either. When we start to think in this direction, it can become very destructive to our productivity because we quickly become unmotivated and don’t even try. By not taking action, we are not providing our best work due to our misguided beliefs of perfectionism.

We must allow ourselves to make mistakes. Not every mistake will be catastrophic in nature. Mistakes enable us to grow, learn, and become well-rounded people. One way to overcome perfectionism is to question ourselves on the actual importance of those tiny details to which we give so much credit. For example, most women dream of their wedding way before they are engaged to be married. Many know where they will marry, what their dress will look like, and the kind of flowers that will decorate the hall or church. But, if for months ahead of time, the women focus solely on the invites to the wedding, making sure the writing is just perfect and no one was forgotten on the guest list, the time has now run out to send the invites, so now more work has to be done to reach all of the guests.

Maybe a mistake was found in the invitation where there is a period or coma where there shouldn’t be one. Does it change the sentence structure? Was the sentence still coherent? Will people kill you due to one tiny mistake, or will it be something you can laugh about in the future? Making mistakes is a part of life, and if someone chose to have all the invites redone, it would be costly and possibly may not reach people in time to plan for the wedding.

It is, therefore, the thought of one being imperfect that is the problem with perfectionism. Striving to offer our best is not a problem in-of-itself. The problem arises when we believe we are not capable of providing quality work or we get hung up on small details. We begin to sabotage the quality of our work and the things we want in our life when we strive for perfectionism. In short, I am granting you the opportunity to be human and make mistakes, for none of us are perfect, and that is perfectly alright.

3 Ways Perfectionism Sabotages us from achieving our goals and ways to overcome them:

1. The idea of perfectionism is flawlessness, which no human can achieve. This results in feelings of anxiety, inferiority to others, and failure itself.

One way to remove ourselves from perfectionism is to not strive for perfection, but instead offer our best effort in a limited amount of time. When we are finished, then we can go and tweak our work to create a better product and meet our deadlines, so we receive what we desire.

2. Perfectionism does not allow room for mistakes. Mistakes are the building blocks of individual growth and understanding. As children, we learn from our mistakes and become better people. If we always strive for perfectionism and stop ourselves from submitting work because it isn’t perfect in our eyes, we are removing ourselves from the possibility of learning from our work and the feedback we would receive from others.

During standardized tests, we are told that if we don’t know an answer move ahead, finish and then come back to questions unanswered. The same is true in all our endeavors. If we move forward, we can usually come back to certain sections and provide an answer.  If we will don’t know the answer, we should make our best guess and move on. Give yourself permission to make mistakes, and don’t beat yourself up over them.

3. The third, and possibly the worst, outcome of perfectionism is a belief that our work is not good enough and believing other people will think the same. When we start to think this way, other people will begin to question projects, not because of the work, but the lack of confidence we have in ourselves and the work we provide. If we start to hear negative feedback, we could quickly become unmotivated, stop progress altogether, or reinforce our fear of failure.

One of the best ways to overcome this outcome of perfectionism is to have more confidence in ourselves and the work we provide. When we are confident and proud of our work, other people will be as well. The positive feedback we receive can motivate us to further provide quality work. We should utilize positive affirmations to uplift our spirits and help achieve our goals.

 

Brian is a serial entrepreneur who never “fit” into society and went on a never-ending quest to find happiness. He discovered that the conventional formula is actually backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. Brian has recently taken his discoveries about happiness and used them as the basis for a book, “The Happiness Bible.”

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