I’ve been known to tell my clients that perfectionism is a tool for procrastinators and I’d like to explain what I mean by that. Almost everyone pursues perfection — doing the best job you can, setting goals and working hard to reach them, maintaining high standards, and achieving excellence. But perfectionism isn’t about any of this. Perfectionism is a long, maddening drive down a never-ending road for flawlessness; it provides no rest stops for mistakes, personal limitations, or the changing of minds. Often, people driving for flawlessness believe that only in that end can they experience success. They become unwilling to achieve an outcome that might not be perfect, as they perceive it – so procrastination becomes a way to avoid a potentially imperfect result.
The reality is that procrastination is the least of the issues caused by an unwavering commitment to perfectionism and flawlessness. Perfectionism can cause feelings of anxiety, fear, and self-doubt; it can cripple self-esteem, stifle creativity, and put a stumbling block in the way of intimate friendships and love relationships. Ultimately, it can create or aggravate illnesses such as eating disorders, manic-depressive mood disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and substance abuse. Perfectionism can affect how we ‘show up’ in the world in other ways as well; if we impose perfectionism on ourselves, we are likely to judge other people based on our own expectations of flawlessness, which can further block our ability to move forward.
Everybody has some “built-in” perfectionism, especially if you live in an achievement-oriented, competitive culture. To discover how much perfectionism plays a role in your life, complete this quiz by reading through the bullet points and notating the statements that ring true for you.
- I never do anything halfway; it’s all or nothing for me – Every time.
- People who do things halfway make me angry or disgust me.
- I believe there’s a certain way to do things and they should always be done that way.
- I get angry or defensive when I make mistakes. I hate to make them.
- I often procrastinate on starting projects. I seldom meet deadlines. Or if I do, I kill myself meeting them.
- I feel humiliated when things aren’t perfect.
- I don’t like to admit not knowing how to do something or to being a beginner. If I can’t do something well, I won’t do it.
- People say I expect too much of myself. Or of them.
- In my family, I could never completely measure up to expectations.
- I’m hard on myself when I lose, even if it’s only a friendly game or contest.
- I often withdraw from others and from group activities.
- I don’t think work should be fun or pleasurable.Even when I accomplish something, I feel let down or empty.
- I criticize myself and others excessively.
- I like to be in control; if I can’t be in control then I won’t participate.
- No matter how much I have done, there’s always more I could do.
- I don’t delegate often and when I do, I always double-check to make sure the job is done right. It never is.
- I believe it is possible to do something perfectly and if I keep at it, I can do it perfectly.
- Forgetting and forgiving are two things I never do easily or well.
Did you see yourself in several of the bullet point statements? There is a difference between excellence and perfection. Striving to be really good is excellence; trying to be flawless is perfectionism. If you’re concerned about your perfectionist behavior, don’t hesitate to contact me at www.doreenpettycoaching.com/contact-us.
© Doreen Petty Coaching; this content used under license, © 2008 Claire Communications