Last week I wrote about some of the ways that perfectionism can actually hold you back and control your life. Despite our society attempting to cast perfectionism in a positive life, it can actually be quite damaging. Today I will discuss some of the signs of perfectionism and how you can begin to change the behaviors.
The best way to sum up perfectionism is not to say that it’s an attempt to get everything right, so much as it’s an attempt to avoid failure. It manifests in procrastination and other avoidance behaviors. Of course, just because you procrastinate or avoid doesn’t mean you’re a perfectionist. It’s the motivation behind those behaviors that matters. Below is a list of some the behaviors that may indicate that you’re dealing with perfectionism. If you identify with a lot of these behaviors, it might be time to examine them and consider how you might benefit from working through them – and their root cause.
THINKING AND ACTING IN EXTREMES
In viewing the world around them, a perfectionist sees things in terms of black and white. Things are good or bad, right or wrong, perfect or a total failure.
The same thing holds true with the behavior. If a mistake is made, it’s viewed as having destroyed the entire balance. If the perfectionist is on a diet and has a cookie, then the whole day is blown – might as well just keep on cheating.
This right/wrong black/white thinking is a sign of being trapped in the emotional brain. When we spend our time here we struggle with seeing possibilities. There’s little energy spent on looking into the possible future. It’s a matter of not being able to see past the end of our noses. So all that can be seen is the mistake. The mistake becomes the point of focus and then may even become an obsession.
WHAT CAN HELP
Taking a moment to separate yourself from the things you’re telling yourself about the mistake and getting some perspective on how this will affect your goals can help.
For example, if you are on a diet and you do eat the cookie – take a moment to stop beating yourself up for “screwing up” and realize that one cookie is not going to cause you to gain all the weight back. It also does not “ruin” the diet and everything you’ve worked so hard for up to this point. Attempt to visualize all the wonderfully healthy things that you have done up to (and will do after) the cookie and see the cookie for the tiny drop in the bucket that it is.
Perfectionism will cause a person to focus solely on the mistake. By pulling back and gaining perspective you can see how tiny the mistake is in the grand scheme of your life. Then you can reframe the mistake and in turn focus on the many successes you’ve had instead of the few mistakes.
Another sign of perfectionism is the quality of the standards. Having high standards or lofty goals doesn’t mean you’re a perfectionist, but if the standards become impossible – that’s when there’s a problem.
A perfectionist will set standards – both for themselves and for others – that can either barely be met or cannot be met. And then if the standards are somehow attained, they will raise them for the next effort.
This manifests in the perfectionist looking like a “control freak” or being a major micromanager. The perfectionist cannot stand to have someone else do the project because the other person couldn’t possibly “do it right”.
All of this focus on the standards is just an effort to avoid failure.
WHAT CAN HELP
Shifting focus away from the potential idea of failure here can help. Instead of viewing a project in terms what it takes to not fail, viewing it as a learning opportunity. Not all projects are a win/lose situation. A project might be seen as a failure on the surface, but really it’s the greatest win because you learned so much from the experience.
And if the project really doesn’t work out the way it’s intended granting ones self a lot of self compassion is also key. No matter how hard we try, we cannot win at everything. Accepting this is part of life is useful to keep a healthy perspective.
TROUBLE STARTING OR COMPLETING PROJECTS
The perfectionist struggles deeply with ever really being done working on something. They see places where it could always be better or they could do more. Fear of failure leads them to struggle with ever feeling like their efforts are enough. The internal pressure to always do more or be better stops them from completing things that would actually lead to them reaching the success they are craving so deeply.
This can also manifest in never starting the project to begin with. If the project or situation is as seen as something the individual couldn’t excel at, then there’s no point in even trying. Why bother doing something if you can’t do it perfectly?
WHAT CAN HELP
Getting clear on what the finished product should look and what the small, manageable steps are to get to the end product, can help. Avoiding overthinking and attempting to make this your finest project ever. There will always be ways to improve on the next project, and knowing this can release you from having to put all the perfect details into this one. Giving yourself a deadline that you must adhere to will also help. That way you will need to hand over the project whether it’s perfect or not. This can move you further along as you are accomplishing more goals instead of lingering on one because you want it to be perfect.
DEPENDING ON YOUR ACCOMPLISHMENTS TO CREATE CONFIDENCE
If you coach with me you may hear me talk a bit about how we can generate our own feelings. We don’t need to wait or be given permission to feel things like confidence, joy, or self love. But perfectionists hang their hat on their accomplishments AND often require that those things be validated by someone else before they can feel good about them. It’s not enough for the perfectionist to think the project is perfect, they must hear from others that it is as well.
But having that one project be revered for it’s perfection is often not enough. The perfectionist will often move on the next goal and, because the last one was a success, expect the next one to be even better.
WHAT CAN HELP
Letting go of the goal of perfection and instead finding some other more attainable goal can be useful. What other (actually attainable) things can you strive for here? Could you focus on improving your perseverance, flexibility, follow through? Seeking out goals that can be clearly and accurately measured will help with sense of accomplishment. If you can see a pattern of constant improvement, that can be much more rewarding, and build confidence, than constantly upping the bar of impossible to reach standards.
Perfectionism is something that comes up with the clients that I coach, over and over. It may not be ruling their life, but it does control some of the choices that they are making (or experiences they are avoiding). It can cripple you and prevent you from going for the things that you want most out of life. If you find that perfectionism is getting in the way of you reaching your goals, please fill out this form. I’m happy to talk with you about the ways that coaching can help you overcome your road blocks so you can achieve your dreams.