The Paradox of Perfectionism

Ever been told that your standards are too high? Perfectionism is not the same as having high standards. Don’t be fooled.

Most people would consider high standards a good thing that push you to reach your peak level of performance. Perfectionism however, involves a tendency to set standards that are so high that they either cannot be met, or only met with great difficulty and in a way that is inflexible and unrelenting.

At the heart of perfectionism is an excessive fear of making mistakes. Driven by a nasty internal critic that has you believe making mistakes might make you less successful, likeable or even less worthy, it can lead to exhaustion.

Overcoming a “phobia of making mistakes” or being imperfect involves gradually and purposely making mistakes thus allowing yourself to be seen as imperfect. Remember lowering your standards does not mean having no standards. Realistic standards help you do your best without costing you things that may be important to you e.g. family life, physical and mental health, leisure and creative time.

Without imperfection, we cannot improve or learn. And without imperfection, there is no art.


Tips to Overcome Perfectionism

  • Experiment
    Experiment with being imperfect e.g. don’t cross-check everything; wear a piece of clothing with a stain on it; try something new.
  • Cut some slack for yourself and others
    We all make mistakes. Most of our valuable learning comes from taking a non-judgmental look at the mistakes we’ve made. Making a mistake and living with it is a sign of progress.
  • Remind yourself of the unhelpful consequences of your perfectionism
    Particularly helpful if you are struggling to stay motivated. What is this costing me?
  • Develop humour
    Happy people know how to laugh and don’t take life too seriously.
  • Don’t use perfectionism as a reason to procrastinate
    If a journey is worth making, then false starts and temporarily getting lost matter little if the final destination can still be achieved.
  • Learn to see in shades
    Over-simplified all-or-nothing thinking isn’t perceptive, sophisticated or an accurate way to evaluate much of life. Recognise what’s good enough and move on.
  • Celebrate progress
    Reward yourself when you’ve accomplished something outside of your comfort zone.

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