Perfectionism is often viewed a worthwhile character trait. In fact, I often hear people talk about their own perfectionism as if it’s something to celebrate and be proud of. It’s associated with setting high personal standards, being a stickler for details, and consistently producing excellent results.
Unfortunately, there’s a big downside to perfectionism.
You see, healthy pursuit of goals is driven by a desire to be the best you can be. It involves doing the hard yards and then putting your best work out in the world whether in the arts, academia, sport or any other life domain. When you’ve done your best, you can let go of the outcome knowing you gave it all you had and feeling proud of your efforts.
Perfectionism, on the other hand, is underpinned by the belief that nothing you do will ever be good enough. It’s usually accompanied by relentless self-criticism and can result in not putting any work out into the world because of the crippling fear of judgement, rejection or failure. Unhealthy perfectionism can lead to anxiety and depression due to the constant trying and failing to meet your own unrealistic expectations.
Perfectionism can show up in any area of your life – at work, in your creative efforts, your body shape, home or your relationships.
The antidote to perfectionism is to wholeheartedly embrace the concept of ‘good enough’. And in order to be comfortable putting out ‘good enough’ work, you first have to start with the sure knowledge that YOU are good enough; with all your flaws and imperfections. You have to know with certainty that even if you screw something up, it doesn’t mean YOU are a screw-up.
Until you are able to know this for sure, you’re at risk of being stuck in the painful grip of ‘never good enough’ and that’s a horribly confined space in which to live. What’s more, the world may never know the beauty and value you have to offer if your unrelenting standards prevent you from sharing it with others.
If this sounds like you, I offer the following tips to help you overcome perfectionism:
- Focus on what you do well
Perfectionists are always on the lookout for flaws or mistakes. Because of this negative bias, they minimise, dismiss or completely fail to notice all the things they are doing really well. Take time each day to deliberately notice your positive achievements and successes.
- Remember that done is better than perfect.
As the saying goes, ‘Aim for progress, not perfection’. Press publish on that blog post. Submit the assignment. Go to bed even if the dishes aren’t done. The only people who will judge you for not being ‘perfect’ are other perfectionists projecting their own fears onto you, and while your ‘good enough’ work is making a difference in the world, their ‘not quite ready yet’ is helping no-one.
- Share your struggles
Being afraid to talk about mistakes or expose your vulnerability is common if you have a false belief that perfection is the only option. Talking about your personal struggles, whether privately or publicly, allows people to connect with the real you (not the fake, ‘polished’ you), and gives you valuable real-time feedback that you are appreciated and accepted just as you are.