Hung Up On Perfectionism? It's Easy If You Do It Smart

As a long term perfectionist in this post I am going to look at the different types of perfectionism and what you can do to respond to them.

I don’t know if you have ever thought about this but there are different types of perfectionism.

One is neurotic perfectionism, which is the extreme form: a neurotic perfectionist allows their achievements to define them while setting unrealistically high standards for themselves at the expense of everyone and everything else in their life.

The other is healthy perfectionism. This person is positively motivated to succeed but prioritises and does not let failures and setbacks define them and their ability.

For me this means that whilst many people see perfectionism as something that is incorrect, I see it as something to be managed and something to aspire towards. I know that it is not possible to be perfect, flawless, etc… but it is possible to strive to be the best that you can be, right?

Healthy perfectionism is achieved by:

  • Focussing on taking action and improving as you go along
  • Celebrating every small victory and milestone
  • Recognise the bigger picture, not getting caught up in small details that have no effect on the big picture
  • Healthy focus on health, relationships and a work life balance.
  • Learning from failure and recognise that it is part of success. This is followed by using failure and mistakes to learn how to be better.

So how do you move from the neurotic perfection to a healthy one? (Personally I find it a sliding scale and one day (even one hour!) I may be better at healthy perfection, and another I may be a good practitioner of neurotic perfectionism!).

Remove the all or nothing mindset. Perfectionists tend to have the all or nothing mentality with success and failure, i.e. one failure means the endeavour is unsuccessful. It is important to recognise that failure is often hand in hand with success. For example, no athlete will win an Olympic medal without failure, making mistakes, sacrifice and struggle. Experimentation, failure, and learning from it is the surest way to be successful.

Value your relationships. It is important to maintain a healthy work life balance; for many, a motivator for success is one’s loved ones. This can be achieved by actively allocating time for one’s relationships, be this 30 minutes or 4 hours.

Avoid procrastination. This stems from a perfectionist’s “ability to trap themselves with an endless focus on unimportant information and requisites.” A perfectionist is detail orientated, providing equally high importance to every aspect of a task, which is counter-productive as this means that a simple task could often take an excessive amount of time. Therefore, it is important to prioritise tasks and thus the amount of time spent on them. Questions are suggested to overcome procrastination stemming from excessively high standards:

    • What are you trying to achieve?
    • Who are the people who have achieved this goal and how did they do so?
    • Considering the first two questions, assess whether or not the details you have been obsessing over are, in fact, worth your time. Should you spend the same amount of time on it, or reduce it?

Use your ideals as guides, rather than absolutes. Remember that goals are not a representation of your worth. Goals are made to guide in the path of success, rather than being an unbendable target. They may not be reached for many reasons, such as an incorrect approach, unrealistic time frame, unexpected situations etc. Realise that goals are not concrete, it is more important that you are progressing towards it.

Delegate and let go. Perfectionists may find it hard to work with people, as working alone means you can do every part of the project as you envision rather than having to take into consideration the opinions and work rate of others. Yet, it is essential to work with others in order to “scale up your level of production and maintain the same high quality of work” without neglecting health and relationships. To do this, you can find people who “get you”, understand your vision and whom you have a good rapport with.

A post by Personal Excellence discusses five ways of doing so.

  1. Identify areas you need assistance in
  2. Get people to help you in those areas, be it a hired staff member, co-worker or a coach.
  3. Share expectations and “build a common understanding.”
  4. Do not be wary of “gaps” as they are normal, simply continue to communicate clearly and effectively to close them.
  5. “Let go” of specific expectations. By allowing people to work, without specific expectations, particularly in high level creative work, it allows them to build their confidence, skills and ability to increase the quality of work subsequently delivered to you.

Accept your authentic self and let go of what others think

Perfectionists heavily rely on what others think about them, therefore they must be able to let go of this to begin to learn how to accept who they are, regardless of the beliefs of others. They are often encouraged by the idea that other people’s thoughts are simply projections of their own self-worth and self-esteem. Therefore, the key is to understand it is within our power to accept and reject what others think about us, as it is to make decisions that support their own life and happiness. Once we care less about the opinions of others, we are able to accept our true self and therefore work on strengthening it.

Accept the reality of perfectionism and dare to be good enough;

The reality being that one is capable of choosing what they believe about perfectionism, and how it is simply an impossible goal. Thus, they can choose whether to view perfectionism as the only medium to success, or to view imperfection, “a gift”, as the only realistic method.

This can be emphasised through activities, such as completing different tasks at different performance standards i.e., high performance, medium and low. This reportedly allows clients to have a good perspective on imperfection and “feel better about their accomplishments.” Such an exercise can be important in lowering standards to realistic levels, particularly when followed by a review of the client’s own life and applying the new realistic standards to methods of tackling different issues.

Build your self-esteem by through courage

Perfectionists have often a fear of failure, mistakes, and negative judgement from others. Yet, first it is important to make it clear that fear is natural and experienced by everyone. This attitude can help turn fear into an unavoidable fact of life rather than “a barrier of success.”

Practicing courage can only truly be done by facing one’s fear. You should do so, which will allow you to build confidence and self-esteem as you realise they are capable of handling whatever happens.

Practice gratitude

Perfectionists are said to never be happy in the present as they are constantly relying on a future accomplishment for happiness, thus as a coach I would encourage you to be more grateful for the present, rather than having a glass half empty perspective. This can be done by keeping a gratitude journal, in which the you write down things you are grateful for each day, volunteer for a worthy cause in order to see the lives of the less fortunate and thus gain a new perspective on you own life, or simply committing to not complaining. By cultivating gratitude, one learns to find joy in the present and be pleased with one’s current achievements, despite any imperfection or incompletion. The Personal Excellence blog claims that it is important to celebrate every failure, as well as every progress and victory. Failures can be celebrated as their existence means the discovery of a blind spot, allowing you to learn and improve. This celebration of every milestone, good or bad, allows one to strive for better as it acknowledges your strength and abilities in a healthy way. I agree this wholeheartedly.

Celebrate that you have got to the end of this article… and… .pick one and start, don’t wait until time is perfect, because as you know chances of that happening are limited. So pick one and plough through the resistance.


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