How to fight against perfectionism ?

As everybody knows, “let well enough alone”. Nevertheless, perfectionism would concern not less than 30 % of the population ! So what is this illness that affects so many of us and where does it come from ? Why must we fight against it and how ? Answers.

1- Why you should know how to master it

It is not about getting rid of your perfectionist trait, it can be very beneficial in many ways. The objective is to keep control on it, to succeed in containing it not to suffer from it. Therein lies the difficulty : to know how to balance your own perfectionism. And why is it so important ? Because if you give it free rein, it will soon become harmful.

Perfectionism can indeed hurt you, as well as your loved ones. By never stopping tweaking the details of a project to get the best possible result (forgetting the main part…), you expend too much energy and you lose valuable time that you’ll never get back. In fact, by wanting to do too much, you end up doing a lot less ! And in a competitive world where everything goes faster and faster, such a loss of efficiency is likely to be detrimental…

Beyond your productivity, it is also your own mind that undergoes the consequences. As nothing is ever perfect, it is an endless quest that can only lead to stress and frustration. While it is fine to set ambitious goals, it becomes harmful if they are unreachable. Given that, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that perfectionism can prove to be a formidable obstacle to your happiness.

In the most severe cases, perfectionism can lead to inaction. Indeed, when you are so much attached to a glowing success, how to make sure not to fail to do something ? Simply by deciding not to do it ! The fear of failure can paralyze you somehow, or at least cause you to procrastinate.

As for your loved ones, your quest of excellence might also make you too demanding with them. So not only will you spend few time with them but your relationship might also be much more complicated…

2- Understand the causes

Perfectionism can result from many different sources. Nevertheless, it remains crucial to understand its origins in your personal case.

It may come from childhood, especially from a parental education convenient to its development. If parents are particularly demanding towards their child, if they inculcate him/her the culture of excellence, there is much to think that this pattern will continue into adulthood. Having learned to seek perfection to please his/her parents, he/she will naturally replicate the model later.

Perfectionism can also be due to psychological factors. Narcissism for example, this enhanced desire of valuation logically favors the quest for performance. Besides, the fear of displeasing or the lack of self-confidence can lead to polish up your realizations in greatest detail. Finally, the will to control everything, to be never taken by surprise, can also lead to reduce systematically all risks to the bare minimum.

Another possible explanation, which is external this time, is the influence of society, culture and environment. The cult of success and performance may encourage a perfectionist behavior, probably not create it but at least really contribute to strengthen it.

So, according to you, where does your perfectionist trait come from ?

3-Recognize the symptoms

To measure your level of perfectionism, it can be useful to observe the signs of its manifestation. Among the most symptomatic ones :

  • High requirements in everything undertaken and quest for perfect results
  • Rule of “all or nothing”
  • Fear of failure that leads to anxiety or even distress when mistakes made
  • Obsessional rumination of past errors
  • Tendency to procrastinate
  • Lack of confidence or inferiority complex
  • Tendency to be defensive and susceptible
  • Very critical to yourself and to the others
  • Tendency to do everything on your own and hyper-control
  • Perseverance that turns into obstinacy
  • Constant dissatisfaction because nothing is ever fully realized
  • Tendency to tidy up and cleanliness that can turn into fussiness
  • Search for perfection in terms of physical appearance and behavior
  • Often confused (lost in details)
  • Keep your distane from the others
  • Lack of authenticity (protection)

So, among these 16 symptoms, how many correspond to you ?

4- How to fix it

Now that you are convinced of the importance of mastering your perfectionist trait, that you understand its causes and that you recognize its main symptoms, let us tackle the issue ! As for any change, proceed methodically and use best practices.

In terms of method, start by considering the problem at its fair value. Identify in particular the most harmful consequences of your perfectionism, for you as well as for your loved ones. List these elements not to lose sight of them, they will act as motivators to support your efforts. Then, make a personal commitment on the improvement of the situation by setting clear and measurable goals. But beware, do not be too perfectionist by setting unrealistic goals 😉 Next, launch your action plan and regularly review its progress. Finally, do not forget to reward yourself each time a success is achieved, this will encourage you to continue your efforts !

In terms of best practices, you can choose among the following ones (additional) :

  1. Limit time for each thing. By setting in advance the maximum time to achieve a task, you will force yourself to stay focused only on the main part in order to meet deadlines. Simple but extremely effective !
  2. Distribute your time between your professional life, your personal life and time for yourself : by organizing your time this way, you will make sure not to neglect either your loved ones or your own well-being by automatically limiting your working time. Believe me, it is possible, you just have to decide it !
  3. Accept failure since it is part of success : we always learn more from mistakes than from victories, then look on the bright side 😉
  4. Give way to spontaneity and have fun : does hyper-control make you happier ? Instead, relax and enjoy the best of your life

Originally published at on October 20, 2015.

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