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I used to think perfectionism is a good thing. I mean, why shouldn’t you have high standards and aim for perfection, anyway? I used to be a really bad perfectionist. It consumed my life. I didn’t realize how bad it was until I started going to therapy and stopping the need for perfectionism in my daily life.
What is perfectionism?
Here are 2 definitions of perfectionism:
Refusal to accept any standard short of perfection (Google)
Perfectionism is often defined as the need to be or appear to be perfect, or even to believe that it’s possible to achieve perfection. It is typically viewed as a positive trait rather than a flaw. (Good Therapy)
So perfection is basically wanting (and often needing) to be perfect.
That doesn’t sound so bad, does it?
What do you think?
Perfectionism can swing either way. It can be good or bad.
Perfectionism is basically rooted in wanting to be perfect. So before you figure out if it’s good or bad, you need to ask yourself:
- What’s the opposite of perfect? Imperfect?
- Why do you feel the need to be perfect all the time?
- What’s so bad about being imperfect?
Perfectionism can be both good and bad. In your day-to-day life, you don’t really need perfectionism. Now, that doesn’t mean that you need to just halfway do everything, it just means that you don’t need to focus so much on perfectionism that it consumes you.
There is a time and place for perfectionism and high standards, like the operating room. You definitely want your child’s surgeon to be focused on perfecting the surgery, right?
But perfectionism isn’t needed on a daily basis to the average mom.
Signs of perfectionism
These are some common signs of perfectionism:
All or Nothing Mentality
Having the all or nothing mentality is one of the core signs of perfectionism. Having the all or nothing mentality means you want it perfect or you don’t want it. This is very black and white thinking. There isn’t any room for any grey area.
Either something’s good or bad. Either you did a good job or you didn’t. Either you like a person or you don’t. There’s no middle ground.
There’s nothing lower than A+. There’s just A+ and failing. You have to have an A+ on anything you do or you just won’t do it.
You don’t apply for the job because you only had 9 out of the 10 qualifications listed on the ad.
You don’t try new things because you’re worried you’ll look stupid because you won’t be perfect.
Highly Critical of Yourself and Others
You grade everything. You grade yourself and others like a teacher with her red ink pen.
You look at everything critically, often before you notice the good.
You beat yourself up for not being perfect. Other people get on your nerves when they’re not perfect.
If something isn’t cooked perfectly, you don’t want to eat it. If you don’t clean your house perfectly, you think it’s dirty.
You have unrealistic expectations.
- If your child plays basketball, you expect Michael Jordan.
- If your child is smart, you expect Doogie Houser.
- If your child is a pitcher, you expect Nolan Ryan.
- If your child has spina bifida, you expect Tatyana McFadden.
There is no room for anything other than perfection. If it’s not perfect, it’s not good enough for you. You won’t even consider it.
You have trained yourself to look at everything critically and judge everything.
Depressed by Missing the Mark
When you miss the mark (aka don’t get the A+), you beat yourself up. You talk down to yourself. You tell yourself you’re stupid, you just can’t get it right, etc.
You feel like if you beat yourself up enough that you’ll “act right” – get the A+. You make this mean you’re not worthy, smart, or anything else because you didn’t get it right. You discount the progress you made as a failure because it wasn’t “perfect”, it didn’t count.
Fear of failure
You are afraid of looking and/or feeling stupid so you don’t act. You don’t want to look like a beginner, so you make sure you’re never a beginner because you never start.
You let your fear of failure consume you. Your mind is filled with thousands of “what if” scenarios.
- What if it doesn’t work out?
- What if I look stupid?
- What if I don’t do it right?
Perfectionism leads to procrastination. If you can’t do it perfectly, you might as well not do anything, right?
You stay in inaction because you’re waiting for the perfect time, the stars to be in alignment, and all of your ducks to be in a row, etc.
You’ve thought of every excuse in the book to procrastinate.
You are full of excuses of why you can’t do it and now’s not the right time.
You are a control freak. You wouldn’t know how to delegate if your life depended on it. You never let anyone help you because you don’t think they’ll do it right and that would make you have to redo it to make sure it’s done right.
So it’s just easier for you to do it to start with, right?
Your inner critic is a loud mean girl. If she was a real live person, you would kick her to the curb cause you’d think she was a jerk.
Your inner critic is constantly playing in the background telling you EVERY SINGLE TIME you do anything remotely wrong.
This is part of the reason you don’t do anything, cause you don’t want your inner critic to be in your ear telling you that you’re doing it wrong.
You Fixate on Things You Think are Imperfect
You are constantly scanning for things that you think aren’t perfect. You can’t seem to turn it off. You are always looking at things and trying to fix them.
You Don’t Ever Stop (Success Isn’t Enough)
Success isn’t enough. You don’t stop and celebrate success because you’re not there yet. You never feel like you’re there yet. You are always trying to achieve perfection which is at the top.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly About Perfectionism
When Perfectionism is a Good Thing
Perfectionism can be a good thing in certain settings.
Certain jobs are good to be a perfectionist, like when you’re doing someone’s taxes, medical professional, banker or person in finance field, etc.
There is definitely a time and a place for perfectionism.
Even for these occupations, I would personally lean more towards a healthy perfection and not the type of perfection that consumes you and takes over.
Perfection is bad pretty much any point other than when you’re at a job that really requires perfection. I mean if you’re a server and you bring someone the wrong drink, it stinks, but it doesn’t cost someone their life.
There is also no place for perfectionism when you’re trying to accomplish your dreams.
Perfectionism will hold you back from accomplishing your dreams. It keeps you from moving forward. It paralyzes you and holds you back.
Perfectionism is bad pretty much all the time on a daily basis. Perfection has so many negative side effects and rarely any good side effects.
When Perfection is an Ugly Thing?
Perfectionism can become ugly. This is when it consumes you and takes over your life. You don’t live life as your true self because you’re afraid of getting it wrong.
When you get to this level of perfection, it’s best to seek out professional medical help.
It can cause a lot of medical conditions like obsessive compulsive disorder, eating disorders, anxiety disorders, depression, and headaches to name a few in servere cases.
How to Overcome Perfectionism
Here are some tips to help you overcome perfectionism:
Be Aware of It
The first step to overcoming or changing anything is awareness. You have to learn how to be aware of your perfectionism.
When you feel any of the signs of perfectionism coming up in your daily life, just stop and recognize them for what they are.
From the place of awareness, you can change. If you aren’t aware, you don’t know that you need to change.
Decide if that’s how you want to feel
After becoming aware of your thoughts and actions, you can decide if that’s what you want to choose to feel and do in the future.
Side note: Did you know your thoughts are choices?
Yep, they are. You can decide to think whatever you want. So why not think thoughts that serve you?
After you realize your thought that’s causing the perfectionism, just ask yourself…
“Do I want to continue to think this”?
If the answer’s no you can try to add “and that’s okay” to the end of your current thought. This will help you gradually change your thoughts.
Before: The bed’s not made like I like it.
After: The bed’s not made like I like it and that’s okay.
Slowly and surely you can change the perfectionistic thoughts to new thoughts. It will take time and that’s okay. Up until this point, you’ve had years of wiring to create the throughs you have now and they won’t change overnight.
That’s totally normal. Don’t think that after you do the new thought a few times that it’s not working. Just give it time.
Important Things to Remember When You’re on the Journey to Overcoming Perfectionism
You are 100% worthy right now.
You are 100% worthy right now. You just get to be worthy because you’re human.
- You don’t have to do anything to “earn” the worth.
- You don’t have to have a certain IQ.
- You don’t have to have a certain college degree.
- You don’t have to have a job.
You’re just worthy. There’s nothing you can do to change that.
You don’t have to earn your worth because you’re already worthy.
Know your triggers
Know what triggers you to have perfectionistic thoughts. Do you notice them at certain time of day or when you’re more stressed than normal?
You don’t want to do this so you can fight your thoughts. You just want to prepare yourself ahead of time that it’s coming. This helps you accept your thoughts and be prepared to say your new thoughts.
For example, when I’m stressed, my perfectionism comes out in full force. I just notice it and say…
“It’s okay. Nothing’s gone wrong. I’m just stressed.”
Break your bigger tasks into smaller more manageable pieces.
Break up large tasks into smaller bite-sized tasks. This will help you from getting overwhelmed by the bigger tasks and letting perfectionism take over.
Example: Instead of thinking about decluttering your whole house at one time, think about decluttering 1 closet.
Realize that no one’s perfect.
No one on the face of the planet in the history of time is perfect (outside of Jesus). When you try to be perfect, you’re fighting a losing battle.
Perfection doesn’t exist.
Stop identifying as a perfectionist.
Stop calling yourself a perfectionist. When you say “I’m a perfectionist”, over and over again, your brain starts to think it’s true. This will make you still have the actions of being a perfectionist.
If you want to replace the thought “I’m a perfectionist”, try saying “I’m a recovering perfectionist” or “I used to be a perfectionist”.
This too will take time. Any new thoughts take time and that’s totally normal. Nothing has gone wrong if you don’t automatically think the new thought after saying it a few times.
Challenge your inner critic.
When you hear your inner critic say something to challenge it. Say “Is that true?” and then answer it.
For example: if your inner critic tells you that you’re so stupid, just ask yourself “But is that true?”
No, you’re not stupid. Your inner critic is a mean girl and you don’t need to listen to her.
Focus on the process and not the outcome.
Focus on the process and the transformation. Stop focusing on the outcome. Just take it one baby step at a time.
Failure doesn’t mean you are a failure. It just means you missed the mark. You didn’t reach your goal and that’s okay.
But guess what did happen. You grew. You made the leap and took the first step. You are farther along than you would be if you didn’t do anything at all.
Perfectionism doesn’t have to define you and rule your life. You can change if you want to change. It’s totally possible for you to overcome perfectionism. It doesn’t have to take over your life. It doesn’t have to be the boss of you.
You can drop the perfectionism and live the life of your dreams. I believe in you.