Do you constantly worry about your work being criticised? Do you spend forever on everything you do because it’s not quite good enough yet? Does this hinder you both in life and at work?
You are not alone. Welcome to the perfectionist’s club!
In this post:
- What is perfectionism and is it always bad?
- How is perfectionism good?
- What do the experts say about perfectionism?
- My top tips for perfectionists.
What is perfectionism and is it always bad?
Perfectionism: “the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection”.
According to Psychology Today it is “a fast and enduring track to unhappiness” and is “often accompanied by depression and eating disorders.” Perfectionists tend to be strongly focused on avoiding failure at all cost which can drive them to avoid doing anything in case they don’t succeed. They may end up drifting between jobs, never completing tasks and generally feeling lost. Possibly even becoming suicidal!
But is this always the case? Is perfectionism always bad?
Well actually that depends.
How is perfectionism good?
Psychologists have studied perfectionism for decades and although its more destructive qualities are well outlined, perfectionism’s role in creativity and achievement is becoming much more firmly established. Here’s just one example.
Perfectionism can drive people to achieve what others can’t because they’re so afraid of failing; the time and energy invested in learning new things and improving themselves has led to many amazing feats from perfectionists. Leonardo Da Vinci was a creative genius across many disciplines and his extensive knowledge led to inventions like his famous flying machine. Steve Jobs was a master of innovation and caused a personal computer revolution. And Serena Williams did not get to be one of the most dominant tennis players in history by sitting on her backside all day!
But there’s a fine line between the drive that makes perfectionists want to quit and the drive that spurs them on to achieve great things.
The challenge is staying on the right side of that line.
What do the experts say about perfectionism?
Perfectionism can be divided into two categories: beneficial (or adaptive) and dysfunctional (or maladaptive) perfectionism.
According to Bobby Hoffman beneficial perfectionism occurs when individuals aspire to goals that are possible and realistic, and individuals measure their success based on improving their previous performance. In contrast, dysfunctional perfectionists are highly self-critical with an unjustified fear of mistakes and excessive preoccupation with negative evaluations from others. It seems this dysfunctional perfectionism is what has pervaded society and given us the impression that perfectionism is always bad.
But there is scientific evidence indicating that perfectionists actually perform better when they’re fixated on themselves, trying to beat their own personal bests, working to improve etc. This keeps them focused on the task, preventing social anxieties and other distractions from creeping in. Those who are more concerned about pleasing others, whose attention shifts away from the work at hand towards other people, commonly do worse.
So beneficial perfectionism tends to help you succeed while dysfunctional perfectionists are more likely to quit or fail (but I think you’d guessed that…).
Yet there’s also evidence that a perfectionist’s level of neuroticism (i.e. how much they’re plagued by stress and anxiety) affects how likely they are to succeed or not. Perhaps this is why dysfunctional perfectionism is unhelpful – the constant comparisons with others, always trying to better them, worries about what they think etc. is inherently stressful.
So where does that leave us?
Top tips for perfectionists
Although I’ve certainly not got it totally right yet (thus sayeth the perfectionist…) I have learned to make better use of my perfectionism.
It’s from this insider perspective that I give you my top tips:
1. To stop procrastination and worry…
See everything you’re asked to do as something positive. You’ve been asked so your employer/client must think you are good enough to complete the task. Believe it!
Also, quit comparing your work with other people’s all the time and thinking you’re only good enough if your’s is better than theirs. Not true. You are a unique individual with many good qualities (see point 4 below). And if you haven’t got a job at the moment, you’re still a unique individual with good qualities who is good enough. There are plenty of opportunities for everyone.
2. To deal with criticism/rejection…
Try not to think you’re a failure each time you are rejected. Instead of thinking “I will never be any good at this”, look for the positives and think “this is a chance to improve myself, get better at my job and ultimately have a fab career!” Always look for opportunities in the problem.
This does take practice as you probably automatically think negatively. But I promise you, with time your mind will adapt, you will start thinking more positively and you will become more resilient.
3. Reduce stress and anxiety in your life…
Sure, this is not easy, but the more you can do it the more likely you are to perform well. I meditate and go for countryside walks (sometimes including a bit of forest bathing, mountain walking or netwalking) to combat stress, and now find that I can laugh at things that previously worried me. Anxieties just slip away.
Here are loads of simple ideas for relieving stress and anxiety.
4. Make good use of the positive aspects of perfectionism…
As a perfectionist you have motivation, persistence and drive so you will get the job done. As it is difficult for you to submit anything other than your best, your work will always be excellent. And you will go the extra mile, even for things you find dull. All this is very impressive to employers/clients.
If you’d like to know more about how I can help you with your copywriting please get in touch.