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Perfectionism:
Sick and tired of trying to be perfect?
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Many myths exist about perfectionism, including the one that perfectionistic people are more successful than others.   However, it may be that perfectionists who are successful achieve this despite their perfectionism , not because of it.   Interestingly, there is some indication that given similar levels of talent and intelligence, perfectionists perform less well than others.   This may be due to the difficulties perfectionists may have with procrastination and lower output levels.   The latter may be due to the law of diminishing returns, that is the tendency for continuing application of effort towards a goal to decline in effectiveness after a certain level of result has been achieved.   If you think back to your school days, achieving a mark of 95 required more than double the effort to achieve a mark of 50.

Perfectionism has more costs in addition to the major one of decreased performance. These include relationship and emotional problems, such as anxiety and depression.  

So if perfectionism isn't helpful, why do people persist with it?   Fears may often play a role in its maintenance, such as the fear of failing, of making mistakes, and of disapproval from others. Perfectionists often engage in black-and-white thinking, believing that if a task is not completed perfectly then it is a failure.   They may not allow for shades of grey, for outcomes to be excellent, very good, or good, rather than just perfect or failure.

Perfectionism is not the same as trying to achieve the best one can realistically achieve, the latter of which involves having difficult but achievable goals. Rather it involves a belief that one must never make mistakes and the highest standards of performance must always be achieved.

What can you do if you are a perfectionist?  

Start by making a list of the advantages and disadvantages of trying to be perfect, in order to work out whether the benefits are worth the costs. Don't forget to include relationship and other costs.  

Next, increase your awareness of the critical nature of your thoughts and substitute more helpful thoughts for them.   When you find yourself criticising a less-than-perfect performance, try to look at and acknowledge the good parts of that performance. Then ask yourself questions such as: Is it really as bad as I think it is? How do other people see it? Is it a reasonably good performance given the circumstances involved?   Be fair to yourself, recognizing the factors that influenced your performance (such as minimal sleep the night before or other concerns on your mind).

Use feelings of anxiety and depression as opportunities to ask yourself, “Have I set up unrealistic expectations for myself?"   Set realistic and achievable goals based on what you want and what you have accomplished in the past.   Gradually increase your subsequent goals, such that each time they are only a smidgen higher than what you achieved the last time you attempted them.  

Set strict time limits on each of your projects. When the time is up, move on to another activity.   Learn to distinguish high priority tasks from those tasks that are less important to you. On less important tasks, choose to put in less effort.   Experiment with your standards for success.   Choose an activity and instead of aiming for 100 percent, try to achieve 90 percent, 80 percent, or even 60 percent success. This will help you to realize that disaster does not strike when you are not perfect.

Focus on the process of doing an activity not just on the end result.   Judge your success in terms of how much you enjoyed doing it, rather than solely what you accomplished.  

And remember, recognize that many positive things can only be learned by making mistakes.   When you make a mistake ask: “What can I learn from this experience?" Try practising this right now by thinking of a recent mistake you have made and listing all the things you can learn from it.

Decreasing procrastination may cause a short-term increase in your level of anxiety.   Continue to remind yourself of the benefits of decreasing procrastination and be patient with yourself – avoid being a perfectionist about decreasing perfectionism.    If you would like assistance to decrease your level of perfectionism, please do not hesitate to contact me on 1800 768 411.