Perfectionism is fairly common. In fact, it quite natural for us to strive to be perfect. I don’t know anyone who enjoys making mistakes and exposing their weaknesses. Haven’t we always been told to do whatever it takes to improve ourselves? Remember the old saying “anything worth doing is worth doing well” and society has constantly reinforced this idea.
Perfectionism causes a great deal of unhappiness. It creates a life of fear at every turn because of the high standards believed to be important. This causes discouragement and the feeling of never quite making it, because of a preoccupation with what other people think. They fear they won’t be able to complete the job up to their own sometimes unrealistic expectations. They focus on details rather than the overall objectives, and they fear making mistakes.
It destroys relationships as people tend to pick, pick, pick at each other whether it’s in a marriage or between parent and child or business relationship. There is a perverse need to be right. Here are some other common effects of perfectionism:
• Trouble setting realistic goals and taking steps toward them
• Unable to relax and enjoy an ordinary life
• Extremely sensitive to criticism (and much of the criticism is self-induced)
• Tendency to look at problems rather than solutions
• Strained relationships
For some this tendency makes it nearly impossible to even think about trying something new.
Perfectionism can be toxic. On its extreme edge it can cause paralyzing inaction. There is such a high degree of fear of failure it becomes impossible to do anything because maybe you might be wrong. If not handled effectively this paralysis may lead to depression. You just have to look at all the reality TV shows, Dancing with the stars, American Idol, The Bachelor (just to name a few), to see how being perfect is worshiped in our current culture.
It has been said that a person who isn’t making at least some mistakes isn’t make much of a life. Life is about constant trial and error, a series of discoveries about what works and what doesn’t. Mistakes are a natural part of the learning process.
Now let’s take a look at a few things that you can do starting right now to end toxic perfectionism.
Choose to be in the now. Perfectionist tend to ruminate unnecessarily over details, thinking about what went wrong yesterday and planning everything that has to be done tomorrow, next wee, and next month. Although there is no harm in being on top of things and accountable, however the only thing that is truly available is the present moment. Next time you’re rushing from here to there, pause and notice exact details in your environment. What types of clouds are in the sky? What sounds are evident in the moment, traffic, neighbors, music, air conditioning?
Anticipate positive consequences. Instead of worrying about what could go wrong, with practice learn to look at the options and move toward results that seems best at the moment. Gradually, anticipations become positive instead of negative. This is quite liberating. Confidence grows when you sense positive outcomes.
Prioritize. Perfections have difficulty relegating and as a result waste a significant amount of time doing things that could give to someone else. And when necessary learn how to leave some things undone. There is never enough time to get everything done, so allow impossible expectations to shrink to manageable realities.