There’s nothing wrong with wanting to perform well, and shooting for perfection is a good way to stay motivated and achieve well in study, work and life. That being said, perfectionism can be a dangerous thing that actually works against your self-care practices.
Aiming for the best can be a good thing. However, if your mind has a propensity to transform ‘wanting to do well’ to into ‘fear of doing badly’, then you can end up placing unrealistic expectations on yourself, which can be extremely damaging to your both mental wellbeing and productivity.
How To Know If You’re A Perfectionist
Perfectionism becomes unhealthy when your desire to achieve the best transforms into something unhelpful and possibly a hinderance. In these situations, it’s a case of looking at your motivations and what drives you to succeed. As a starting point, ask yourself these questions:
- Do you strive for top marks because you enjoy a challenge and want to do well, or is it because you feel awful when you miss the mark?
- Does your self-worth come from your ability to reach incredibly high standards?
- Are you never satisfied and always pushing yourself harder?
- Do you spend way too much time getting every last detail right?
- Is the end result all that matters, no matter how long it takes or how costly it becomes?
- If you’re honest with yourself, do you feel unfulfilled and unhappy even when you do well?
Answering these tough questions is the key to finding out if your perfectionism has become a problem. Be honest with yourself and try to see that aiming for the best is only good when it doesn’t come at the expense of your own happiness.
Where Does Perfectionism Come From?
An unhealthy or neurotic desire to be constantly perfect is often rooted in in security or feeling inadequate. Again this requires total honesty and self awareness. Does your desire to be perfect outwardly come from feeling like you aren’t worth anything on the inside?
Perfectionism can often be traced to feelings of inadequacy early in life. Perhaps a parent pushed you too hard to succeed, or as a child you felt like you only received praise and attention when you did well at school. Whatever the root cause, it is insecurity and feeling like everyone else is better than you, that often produces a compulsion to make everything appear perfect. Accepting this truth and forgiving those responsible for your feelings of low worth (whether that’s yourself, your parents, a teacher or anyone else) is critical in overcoming neurotic perfectionism and embracing your own strengths and limitations.
So once you’ve identified a need to reign in your perfectionist behaviours and have an idea about what causes perfectionism, what can you do about it?
How to Overcome Perfectionism
1. Embrace Failure
The world is full of successful business women and men who dropped out of school, incredible athletes who were told they would never make it big, and amazing innovators whose first ideas failed miserably. Failure is a vital part of growth as a human being. Making mistakes teaches you new things and provides valuable lessons for the future. If you never fail you’ll always sit within the boundaries of what you already know without ever expanding your horizons. To get out of the box of perfectionism you need to be prepared to make a real mess of things!
There’s immense courage in saying “you know what, that didn’t work” and just leaving things unfinished, but it’s also incredibly freeing. The power to acknowledge that you’ve really screwed something up, pick yourself up and move on is a valuable life lesson that a lot of people would do well to learn.
2. Develop Self Respect
Uncovering the underlying causes of perfectionism and finding ways to accept yourself as a fallible, imperfect human being is a big step towards breaking free of unhealthy expectations and low-self worth. Work towards changing your attitude and the way you talk to yourself, and develop a sense of self respect.
When you do something well, say “well done” and treat yourself to something you enjoy. Build up a list of things you like about yourself. Move your motivation away from fear of being defeated and try to take some pride in the things you achieve. Part of this might be learning to value effort over end results – if you gave your all to something, you can take pride in it no matter how well it turned out.
Most importantly, practice accepting the fact that you are a unique, wonderful and deeply flawed human being, just like everyone else (this words may become a mantra that you repeat to yourself when you look in the mirror each morning). Machines perform functions perfectly. Humans do not. We were never meant to. Stop comparing yourself to other people, forget about your unattainably high standards and practice learning to live with a “growth” mindset rather than a “perfectionist” mindset. And start looking after yourself! Eat well, sleep enough, do fun things and enjoy life! Start treating yourself like you are worthy of respect, and before you know it you’ll actually believe it to be true. Perhaps subscribe to Mastering The Art Of Self-Love – a free mini eCourse to help you get started on this path of being more gentle and kind to yourself.
Aiming for perfection in itself isn’t a bad thing. But you also do need to be ok with things not always turning out that way. If you can find a balance between aiming high and still accepting and loving yourself when you miss the mark, you might just be able to achieve all the things you were hoping for in the first place. And who knows? You might even be happy.
Have you struggled with perfectionism in the past and found ways to overcome it? Or is perfectionism something you’re facing at the moment? Share your stories and questions in the comment section below. Remember thousands of women come here to be inspired, so you’ll be helping a sister out!
P.S. Do you have a friend that might like to know how to get rid of perfectionism? Share this read with them now, they’ll thank you for it late.