Overcoming The Flaws of Perfectionism

I came across an excellent article from the Harvard Business Review entitled How to Mentor a Perfectionist and it made me really think deeply about myself. In particular, I asked myself the question: do I exhibit any of the flaws that come from perfectionism?

Psychiatrist David Burns mentions that perfectionism is a “script for self-defeat,” and it made me think about what perfectionism really is and why it is so bad.

Perfectionism is not the desire to be the best you can be. It isn’t a positive trait, instead it should be looked at as a personality syndrome, something you should want to overcome. Perfectionism, as mentioned in the article, is rooted in two problems, one being that such a person sets impossibly high expectations for themselves (that cannot be attained), and secondly, that they criticize themselves (to the point of abuse) for not achieving these unreachable goals. Simply wanting to achieve, or having the desire to excel, is not what perfectionism is—and those are actually good traits to have!

The first steps to overcoming the flaws of perfectionism is first figuring out if you exhibit any of these negative behaviors. Ask yourself the following questions:

5 signs you may be a perfectionist

  1. Do I set goals or expectations for myself that are impossible to achieve?
  2. Am I overly harsh on myself when I don’t achieve these goals?
  3. Am I afraid of failure and worry about making even the simplest of mistakes?
  4. Is my only motivation a sense of duty and obligation? 
  5. Am I intensely afraid of the disapproval of others?

If you have a combination of all five of these traits then chances are you’ve fallen into the trap of perfectionism. If you have just a few of these, it’s still worthwhile to see if you may be mildly affected by some of these adverse traits.

Before getting into ways to fix these issues, I want to really emphasize why perfectionism is bad—in case you’re still skeptical! Because the goals set are so unattainable, and the self-criticism so high, the perfectionist can fall into states of “depression, anxiety, hopelessness, and even suicidal thinking,” as mentioned by Dr. Johnson & Dr. Smith in their article. This may happen slowly over time, but the effects could be career and life altering, and not in any good way.

6 ways to overcome the being a perfectionist

  1. Understand that this is a problem that is harming your career and life
  2. Find a mentor that you look up to and admire
  3. Gradually open up about your weaknesses until you’re more comfortable
  4. Purposely force yourself not to fix your trivial, minor mistakes
  5. Practice saying “I don’t know” and understand that it doesn’t hurt you
  6. Realize you are human and cannot be perfect

At the end of the day, practicing self-awareness will go a long way in understanding your strengths and weaknesses. Hopefully now, you understand that perfectionist behavior isn’t a strength, but instead inhibits your growth and development.

Almost every great human achievement has come from people making many mistakes, whether that be the invention of the airplane or the first man on the moon. Mistakes fuel our learning and research. Without a willingness and tolerance for them, our fear of failure will always prevent us from succeeding.

Credit: Feature image by Dooder / Freepik

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