Sounds surprising, doesn’t it? How is it possible that being driven to strive for perfection can hold you back? How can it be that desire and efforts toward a positive outcome can lead to negative results?
My work with clients has given me many opportunities to observe the impact of perfectionism on their professional and personal lives. Some of them just can’t get away from the perfectionist mindset. However, the good news is that most of them learned to understand the harmful side effects of perfectionism and move away from it for the sake of greater personal freedom, optimism and success.
What is perfectionism? Perfectionism, as psychologists define it, is “a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.”
According to Travis Bradberry, co-founder of TalentSmart, “Human beings, by our very nature, are fallible. When perfection is your goal, you’re always left with a nagging sense of failure, and end up spending your time lamenting what you failed to accomplish, instead of enjoying what you were able to achieve.”
However, recognizing that perfectionism can have deleterious side effects doesn’t mean you must give up your quest for accomplishment and success. Instead, you need to understand the difference between a high achiever and a perfectionist. They both aim for an excellent outcome. However, the perfectionist is absorbed with end results and doesn’t really enjoy the journey of getting there. They suffer when not achieving perfection and often have negative self-talk because of it. As a side effect, the perfectionist stops noticing his or her impact on others and become self-centered in achieving the perfect result. The high achiever, on the other hand, enjoys the journey of achievement, coupled with a healthy drive to achieve and concern for others affected by his or her actions.
Here is a simple summary of 10 potential negative impacts of perfectionism:
• It overwhelmingly contributes to an unbalanced well-being by causing you to worry about tiny mistakes and creating unnecessary stress.
• It adversely affects relationships by separating individual effort from a common goal effort.
• It negatively impacts behavior by creating defensiveness to suggestions from others.
• It leads you to unavoidably waste time striving for an absolutely perfect result.
• It regressively welcomes procrastination, as you wait for just the right moment and conditions to start a project.
• You maximally focus on an all-or-nothing mindset, sometimes paralyzing any progress or never completing the task.
• It slowly impedes personal development by preventing the application of learning.
• You increasingly develop self-loathing by reinforcing a limiting belief of “not being good enough.”
• It deeply instills a feeling of “not being perfect,” translating it into “a fear of failure.”
• You become overly judgmental and critical of others.
Based on those negative impacts, you can see that perfectionism impedes bold actions, healthy relationships and successful professional and personal evolution.
So what can you do about it?
Start with self-awareness. In order to do that:
A. Recall your latest example of striving for perfection.
B. Recognize one, or possibly a few, negative impacts from the above-listed items on the summary.
C. Accept that you are a recovering perfectionist.
D. Think about an alternative set of “ good-enough” actions can you take from A, B and C.
What else can you do to overcome the curse of perfectionism?
Metaphorically speaking, perfectionism acts as a negative spider that constantly expands its territory at the expense of your own and clogs your unique path with cobwebs. You need to clear those cobwebs so you can unleash your optimism and enjoy greater freedom and success.
Schedule a time to clean these cobwebs up and cultivate a new “being-good-enough “mindset. Such a mindset will take you to the pinnacle of excellence much quicker than you ever imagined. I guarantee your enjoyment on the journey will grow by leaps and bounds.
Make sure your efficacy beliefs are in line with your goals and not working against you.
This article was originally published in Forbes.
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