Is wanting to be perfect so bad? The short answer is yes. Self-motivation and working hard to achieve success are admirable traits. But, you don’t need to be a perfectionist to exhibit these traits. In fact, perfectionism reduces the likelihood of being self-motivated, adaptable, and resilient in the face of life’s ups and downs.
Perfectionism is defined as striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high standards. Combine this with overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations and you have a pretty toxic combination. Perfectionists strive for an ideal that’s based on their conception of “perfect,” but there’s no such thing as perfect. Striving to be something that doesn’t tangibly exist links to a whole host of problems including depression, anxiety, OCD, insomnia, or even eating disorders. These conditions are purely symptoms of a larger problem. When we focus on perfectionism and the causes, we can start to treat the root of the issues instead of simply the symptoms.
I see people struggling with the negative effects of perfectionism quite often. Understanding all the conditions it causes makes the increase we’re seeing in the number of people struggling with perfectionism that much more concerning. In fact, a study done at Trinity Western University has linked perfectionism, and key personality traits associated with it, to a higher mortality rate in adults.
Those struggling with perfectionism tend to fixate on failures to an unhealthy degree rather than learning from mistakes and practicing self-care. This fixation can lead to chronic anxiety and low self-esteem at any age. Overcoming perfectionism means looking directly at the perfectionism and where it comes from. Treatment is all about learning to accept that mistakes and failures are a part of life.
So how do you overcome perfectionism?
As with most conditions, it’s near-impossible to start treating something or making changes in your life if you’re unaware of the issue. The first step with any condition like perfectionism is to be aware that you’re struggling with it and to make the decision to make a positive change.
The best tool to fight against perfectionism is rational thinking. Talk to yourself like you would a friend, and re-evaluate your own standards and re-define what failure is. This will help retrain your brain to recognize when you’re being unnecessarily hard on yourself, other people, or your progress in life. Work towards replacing more critical and harsh thoughts with more compassionate, understanding statements.
The opposite of perfectionism is an openness to making mistakes, trying new things, and learning through trial and error. All this occurs when we adopt a “play mindset.” When we lead with curiosity and openness, we naturally make mistakes that we can learn from.
Test the waters by writing your emails in a different way, trying out a new hairstyle (without fussing), or handing in an assignment without triple-checking it. Learning to find humour in your own mistakes can be a helpful method for overcoming a perfectionist mindset.
A workplace culture that invites new ideas through brainstorming and recognizes that mistakes are integral to innovation will help combat perfectionism. Even arriving late for an appointment will, too. Learn to bring youthful curiosity and joy about discovery back into your life. As children, we don’t always see our actions as mistakes because we’re unaware of the “right” way of doing things. It’s through this playful discovery that we find our way.
If you’re a perfectionist, the first step to overcoming this affliction is recognizing that these unfair expectations are internally placed upon yourself. Another vital step to ridding perfectionism from your life is to create a clear plan where you can comfortably play with the idea of making a few mistakes in a safe environment. Mistakes are part of life and learning to be accepting and compassionate towards yourself can bring about positive changes to your life. By using a “play-mindset” and becoming more aware of the harmful and irrational thoughts created from perfectionism, you can break free from the idea of “perfect.” Striving to be your best allows you some space to discover new aspects of yourself and appreciate more of the little victories. Try approaching things in life as an opportunity to learn playfully and accept mistakes as life’s greatest educational tool.
Sometimes, we cannot start this work on our own and may need to speak to a friend, professional, or attend a lecture on the topic. I’m passionate about helping individuals and groups to better themselves and overcome obstacles that they see in their path to success. I mix science-based knowledge into my relatable subject matter to help individuals find balance and understanding in our modern world. If you’re looking for a speaker who can bring science to the stage in an exciting way, get in touch today.