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Perfectionism: The Ultimate Guide

If you are going to do something, do it right. This is a quote we have all heard before. It hints at the fact that when you pursue a goal, it is the end result that matters. Hence perfectionism is often seen a positive personality trait, as it helps us stive for that perfect results.

Despite its focus on perfecting your results, perfectionism actually decreases your chances of success. It leads to greater chances of burning out due to stress, you lose self-esteem due to harsh self criticism, and overall it is really demotivating when you don’t meet your high expectations.

There are lessons to be learned from a perfectionist, both to avoid and to absorb into your own personality. But what exactly doesn perfectionism entail?

Perfectionism Definition

Perfectionism is a personality trait that causes you to refuse any result shy of perfection. A perfectionist will work tirelessly to ensure they produce a perfect product. It can be a powerful motivator when used within limits, but can become a quick way to dissatisfaction and failure if used to the extreme.

Like any personality trait, perfectionism has a spectrum. This means different people can have it in varying amounts. Some exhibit it in extreme amounts, where anything they do in life must be perfect. Others can exhibit just a small amount of perfectionism when they are at work for example.

It is also characteristic of perfectionists to aim for unattainable goals. While I suggest you set big goals for yourself, you have to be aware that you might not reach them. This is also not the goal of aiming high. If you want more information about the positives of setting large goals, check out my dedicated article here!

As I mentioned before, perfectionism can be found in many areas of life, lets discover some of the most common ways perfectionism manifests in daily life.

Perfectionism In Areas Of Life

When we hear the word perfectionist, we imagine someone who aims to be perfect in their work. We imagine someone who will stop at nothing to get the best results that they can get. It is not abnormal to see perfectionism take place in any area of life outside of the work place.

Some people are perfectionists in all areas of life, while others might only exhibit those traits in one. Do you strive for perfection in one of the following areas of life?

Friendships and Relationships

While perfectionism is typically seen as setting extreme standards for yourself, it is possible for a perfectionist to project those expectations onto someone else.

This of course has many adverse effects, as the other person might be incapable of meeting those expectations, or even be oblivious to them. This bring unnecessary problems into friendships and relationships.

disappointed woman looking at sorrowful man

The Workplace

When we hear the word perfectionist, we instantly imagine a person who strives to be perfect in their work. We see someone who will slave over a single power point slide for hours, just to make sure it is flawless.

This also carries over to students, where a perfectionist will spend days on end working on a project to try and bring it up to their absurdly high standards.

It is no secret that a perfectionist will take vastly more time to complete a task than it would for another person, whether it be at work or university. They are also less likely to start new tasks, in fear that they will let themselves down if they cannot get it 100% right, but more on that in a while.

Your Looks

Being a perfectionist about your looks entails that you will spend hours deciding what to wear, how to style your hair, what products to use and what kind of pictures you want to post to Instagram. While most of us are concerned with how we look, a perfectionist will excessively worry about it.

This can often lead to exercise addiction and eating disorders.

The competitive and comparative nature of social media only worsens the symptoms. As frequent use of photoshop and perfect angles alter perceptions of the human body that simply cannot be mimicked in real life. Often this exacerbates the symptoms of not being able to reach your own expectations, which can become harmful for perfectionists.

6 Signs You Might Be A Perfectionist

The main issue with perfectionists is that they focus so much on achieving their goals, that they actually underperfom compared to regular high achievers. Perfectionistic tendencies are such that they often work against the person.

It is not uncommen for perfectionists to not reach their goals due to their character traits, since these traits actually make it more difficult to achieve “perfection”.

If you show many of the signs of a perfectionist, working on unlearning them (see below) should be in your main interest if you are serious about achieving your lifetime goals!

1. Fear Of Failure

As discussed before, it is imperative that the work of a perfectionist be perfect. The fear of failure is generally linked to them not meeting their own high expectations. They place such a large emphasis on the result of their work, that if it is any less than perfect, they are dissapointed.

One of the biggest issues is that almost nothing will ever be truly perfect, even in the eyes of a perfectionist. Therefore they have let themselves down on many occasions before, and this only fuels the fear to fail again. This often makes it difficult to start new endeavours and to make timely progress on current projects.

2. Procrastination

While it might seem counterintuitive for someone who strives for perfection to be a procrastinator, it is a common sign of perfectionism! As explained in the previous point, a fear of failure can make it hard to start new projects or continue to make progress on exisiting ones, simply due to bad past experiences.

When you have not met your expectations, which is extremely hard for a perfectionist to do, it can become incredibly demotivating to continue to work. This leads to procrastination of work, since subconsciously a perfectionist is trying to protect themselves from failing again.

woman in red long sleeve shirt sitting on gray chair

3. All Or Nothing Mindset

Perfectionists set big goals and will work hard to complete them. While regular people will be happy when they reach those goals, or at least get close to them, a perfectionist will not be satisfied unless it is 100% perfect.

Take the example of a university graduate. Most of us will be happy once we get our degree, as it means all of our hard work has paid off. Most will not put a large emphasis on the grade achieved, as long as they get their degree. We will be happy we achieved this goal!

A perfectionist on the other hand won’t be satisfied with just the diploma. They need perfect scores in everything to be truly satisfied. This results often in goals being achieved, but deemed as another failure. The graduated as an aerospace engineer, but didn’t get top scores, hence they failed!

4. High Levels Of Self Criticism

We are all critics of our lives to some extend, but perfectionists take this to the extreme. As I mentioned in the previous example, while regular people will be happy and content with their accomplisments, a perfectionist will spot all of the tiny mistakes and flaws in their results. They have trouble seeing the big picture and the monumental achievement they have just undergone.

While self-criticism is definitly healthy, there are limits. When you have pessimistic viewpoints of your greatest achievements you are downplaying all the victories you have had. Always make sure you recognize the progress you have made as a person!

5. Low Self-Confidence

The combination of high levels of self criticism and a fear of failure cause a lot of perfectionists to suffer from low self-esteem. Since they are generally unhappy with the result of their time and effort, they tend to have associated low self-confidence as well.

As I mentioned before, when you only look at the mistakes you have made, and ignore the achievements and victories in your life, you will not feel worthy as a person. When you see people around you be happy with their achievements, it makes you feel as if you are lacking something. This can lower your self esteem drastically.

6. Defensive Personality

A defensive person is typically someone who wants to protect and justify their actions. They often times have a hard time accepting the opinions of others regarding something they did in their life.

When a perfectionist believes their work to be perfect, it can be hard for them to accept criticism. While constructive criticism allows you to improve your work, a perfectionist will generally behave very defensively when others critique their work.

Types Of Perfectionism

1. Self-Oriented Perfectionism

Self-oriented perfectionism is what we all think of when we hear the word perfectionism. People who have this type of perfectionism are motivated by the need to be perfect in what they do. As discussed in a previous section, this can be in one or many areas of life.

They are characterized by setting large goals, and stopping at nothing to reach them!

pen calendar to do checklist

2. Other-Oriented Perfectionism

When a perfectionsit expects unachievable standards from another person, they have what is called other-oriented perfectionism. They tend to be very critical and judgemental about the performance of others in life.

Other-oriented perfectionism is often referred to as the most detrimental form of perfectionism, as it can severly inhibt the formation of meaningful relationships.

3. Socially Prescribed Perfectionism

A socially prescribed perfectionist experiences the need to be perfect due to external influences. They worry about whether others will accept them, and in order to ensure that they are accepted they strive to be the best.

This causes them to be very self-critical and feel immense pressure from their surroundings. The result is often anxiety, low self-confidence, and a reduced feeling of self-worth.

How To Deal With Perfectionism

There is a clear difference between being a high achiever and a perfectionist. While a high achiever will be very successful in life, a perfectionist has certain behavioural traits that diminish their chances of finding success.

If in the section “6 signs you might be a perfectionist” you recognized most traits in your own personality, then you will want to know how you can minimize the negative effects perfectionism brings to your life. Luckily there are a wide variety of methods to unlearning perfectionist personality traits!

Use a journal to become aware of your perfectionistic tendencies. The first step in solving any behavioural problem is to understand how and why it manifests itself. There is no better method for self discovery of such problems than writing. The good thing about perfectionists is that they are often aware of their tendencies, but not on a deep enough level.

Every evening you should write about your day in a journal. Focus on the moments where you think your perfectionism manifested itself. Explore how it affected you, and try to reason with yourself. Was it justified? Are you really helping yourself succeed, or is it actually holding you back? There are many ways you can use to gain more awareness about your tendencies!

Be kind to yourself and lower expectations.

While it is important to set big goals for your life, you need to keep your expectations realistic. When setting large goals, you cannot expect you will reach them. This is also not the point, as we aim to get close to them!

When we continually fall short of our own expectations, we lose our self-confidence and our feeling of worth. We are less likely to start new projects, and it derails us from our path to success. Learn to be proud of your results, and give yourself a break once in a while. Nothing is perfect, and neither does anything have to be.

Learn to embrace failure and mistakes.

A perfectionist hates failure and mistakes in their work like nothing else in life. If it strays from this idea of perfection, then it must be eliminated at all costs. When we try to prevent starting work that will lead to faliures, or if we avoid the mistakes we have made, then we are inhibiting ourselves from learning and acquiring more knowledge.

Failure is the steps on the ladder to success. Without failing hard in life, we will never be able to truly appreciate success.

worried black worker on street

Avoid procrastination and just get started!

Perfectionists have a large tendency to procrastinate if they are under the impression that they cannot complete their work in a flawless manner. This leads to a ton of missed oppertunities.

The hardest part about any project is getting started, but once you have jumped over that hurdle the going gets a lot easier! Remember from the point above that failure should be embraced and not frowned upon! You either win or you learn!

Learn to focus on the positives of your work, instead of the negatives.

A perfectionist will spend a lot of the time critically analyzing their work. However, instead of focusing on what they have achieved, a perfectionist will typically spend most of their time looking at the negatives.

While it is great to look at the reasons why something didn’t go the way you thought it was going to go, you should also focus on the achievements you have made!

Practicing gratitude is a great way to focus on the positives in life and all your achievements!

I have been mainly going over self-help strategies, but I realize that therapy is a definite option if none of the above methods work! If you want more information regarding different therapies catered to perfectionism, then please check out this article here.

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