We receive mixed messages about perfectionism, society tells us it is something to strive for, workplace culture places value on it, and psychologists tell us it’s not healthy.
It seems depending on the point of view, perfectionism is good AND bad.
So what actually is perfectionism? Well for an unbiased description, we went to the Cambridge Dictionary to find out and it said the following;
“the wish for everything to be correct or perfect”
Reading it, it sounds quite a simple definition right? But perfectionism is far more complex.
Why? Well because perfectionism can show up in different areas of our life, like our relationships with ourselves, our partner, friends and family; our work or study; our dating lives and even our fitness and diet regimens.
To each of us “perfection” or “correctness” may mean something different, as well as our underlying reasons for “wishing” for perfection.
In this article we maintain that perfectionism is not necessarily a bad thing, if you identify the areas of your life it works best for you and others where it doesn’t, and develop a healthy relationship with it.
Here are our tips for doing just that.
Warning! It requires some self-reflection time and pure honesty with yourself!
Identify if there are any areas of your life that REQUIRE perfectionism, and reflect to what extent you require something to be perfect or correct in that area.
There are varying degrees we might require perfectionism in our lives.
Somethings may require close to 100% perfection. In this instance we are referring to a life or death scenario. For instance if you’re a Surgeon, you can’t afford to make a mistake, because then it is putting that person’s life at risk. Or you might be a doctor required to diagnose an illness, and you can’t afford to make a false diagnosis because again it’s putting another person’s life at risk.
There are other instances that may require about 80-95% perfection. For instance if you are writing a report that will be released in a newspaper or a presentation that will be presented to a wide audience, then you will need to make sure it has correct grammar, information is supportable and well presented.
Then we start going to the other end of the perfectionism scale. What in your life doesn’t actually require perfectionism or need to be perfect?
Do you need to have a perfect and clean house all the time? – Probably not
Do you need to make a perfect dinner every night? – Probably not
Do you need the “perfect skin”, “perfect body”, “perfect hair” every day? – (Unless you’re a super model that has a team of twenty plus people looking after you and you make a living from it) – Probably not
Do you need a perfect life, or to be a perfect mother, lover or wife? – Definitely not – what is that anyway?!
Identify what’s the REAL consequence if you don’t do something perfect or correct?
Right now we might be making you very anxious. You might be asking, “what do you mean we don’t need to be perfect in every aspect of our lives?” well, hear us out.
We want you to ask yourself, what is the actual REAL consequence of you not doing something perfect or correct?
To help put things in perspective, we find the most useful questions to ask yourself are; will anyone die? Will you die? What is the absolutely worst thing that could happen and how can you manage that?
For instance, if you get something wrong at work, did anyone die?! It sucks to be wrong, but the consequence is probably not as bad as you might think. Maybe your co-worker or boss will be a bit annoyed, so how could you make them feel better? Perhaps own the error, fix it, explain what happened and then talk about it and put actions in place to prevent the same thing from happening again.
Or you failed a course or exam. Getting bad results isn’t the best feeling, again, it sucks, but the worst case scenario is that you have to re-do the course or re-sit the exam. Perhaps it will cost more money than you initially planned, but that was always the risk. You weren’t promised to go through the course with ease or pass the exam. This gives you a chance to identify areas you didn’t fully understand and get extra help you didn’t think you needed.
If something is important to you and can’t be wrong, then put in place systems and controls to prevent mistakes from happening
Often times we can prevent certain mistakes by making sure that there is a process in place, with effective systems and controls to make sure that mistakes are identified before there is any consequence. A process or system doesn’t have to be complicated and it doesn't necessarily have to be work related.
It could simply be that you get someone to double check your work.
Or at home, if it is important to you to have a clean house because your child has allergies, and you and your partner can’t manage the household chores every day, get some help, like a house cleaner to come clean the house twice a week.
Putting in place systems and controls often helps prevent stress and anxiety over something going wrong. You just need to make sure they are working effectively to be any help.
Adjust your expectations of yourself and others
Putting extra pressure on yourself to achieve high standards and perfectionism is okay, given that you have gone through the above process and identified what areas of your life require perfectionism and which ones don’t. Some of you might not have any areas that require high levels of perfectionism, and that's okay!
So then you should be mindful to adjust your expectations accordingly, and take the pressure off yourself and others.
Expect that things won’t be perfect, expect that in any new situation you might not know the answers and things might go wrong, and expect that there will be unforeseen challenges to face. Expect that life is not perfect and a perfect life is not promised to you.
By adjusting our expectations we then know that it is OKAY not to be perfect and it’s OKAY for others not to be perfect.
Accept the idea of continuous learning and growth and keep it real!
Striving for perfectionism isn’t the same thing as striving for personal learning and growth.
We feel that perfectionism says that there is a defined “end goal” or an “ultimate you”, which is just not realistic or sustainable in most cases.
If we understand that we are continuously learning and growing until the day that we die, then we can accept that being perfect or correct all the time is impossible, and that if we do make mistakes it will lead us to new opportunities to hopefully learn from them, and grow better as a person for them.
If something goes wrong choose self-compassion over self-criticizing
Ultimately, if something does go wrong be nice to yourself. Talk nicely to yourself how you would want a friend to talk to you. Don’t bad mouth yourself or bring yourself down. It doesn’t help the situation or help find a solution. All it does is just make you feel worse.
Hope you find this useful - as always we would love to hear your feedback!
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Have a great week! x