Perfectionism, worn by some as a badge of honour or signal of virtue for others.  But for many it’s a crippling habit that makes us second guess everything we do and doubt our abilities.  Perfectionism is like driving with the handbrake on and prevents us from taking action.  It can lead to a loss of confidence, self esteem and never feeling good enough.  

Is the voice of your inner perfectionist thriving during these unprecedented times? 

In the current climate, the pressure in the system has increased as has our desire to remain visible and relevant. Our ability to demonstrate our contribution and value has become increasingly difficult especially for those who rely on physical presence to do this. 

This has pushed some to their personal limits and despite the reduction in travel and running around, it has driven traits such as perfectionism to another level. 

The side effects of Perfectionism 

When you notice this in members of your team (or indeed within yourself) it’s important to meet it with a balance of compassion and challenge. 

The last thing a high performer wants to hear is things like “you need to lower your standards” or “just slow down” or “your good enough is someone else’s perfection”. This might be your attempt to empathise and give them permission to ease up a little but the last thing they want to feel is pity which can often increase their feelings of shame and inadequacy. 
Perfectionism has parallels with the “busy badge” mentality. Culturally we tend to see perfectionism as a positive but if you “suffer” with this trait, when it gets out of hand it can have a serious impact on mental well being. 
Side effects of perfectionism include; 

  • Depression and anxiety. 
  • Burnout 
  • Poor work life balance, inability to switch off  
  • Lack of self compassion (low self-kindness & mindfulness and social isolation)

The difference between conscientious and perfectionism
Perfectionism isn’t about working hard or setting high goals. It’s a critical inner voice that is never appeased. It’s not about being diligent, focussed or conscientious. Perfectionism is a never ending cycle of shame, judgement and blame. 
Perfectionism also isn’t about striving for excellence or healthy achievement and growth. 
Perfectionism is a form of self preservation but instead of being the self-protection we hope for it becomes a heavy weight.  
Perfectionism is about seeking approval. Research has shown that perfectionism hinders achievement. It causes perfection paralysis leading to missed opportunities due to the fear of failing, making mistakes, not meeting people’s expectations, or being criticised. 

 Recognising a perfectionist belief system

  • As a person you are not okay as you are. You don’t feel “good enough”
  • No matter what you achieve, the feelings of satisfaction are temporary. There is always more to do, be, or accomplish.
  • Things are either black or white – no vaguely defined area of in between or close enough. Things in your life are either right or wrong, good or bad success or failure
  • If you continually achieve, acquire and look good doing it, you will be successful and happy.
  • When things go wrong or you do not achieve at a certain level, you have failed.
  • Effort and intention are not enough. Results must be productive and successful. Focus is on product, not process.
  • You feel secretly judgmental of people who fall short of perfection.
  • You imagine others admire and value you only for your high level of achievement and production. 

Prefectionists fall into the trap of thinking that perfectionism will lead to perfection, but more often it’s the opposite that is true. Rather than success and peace of mind, a perfectionist will experience a catalogue of difficulties and discomforts. 
Here are just a few of the difficulties that plague the perfectionist;

 Always Anxious and Exhausted

A perfectionist lives with continuous anxiety about what needs to be done. A perfectionist’s response to anxiety is to work harder and accomplish more. This leaves them exhausted and miserable.

Self Destructive & Addictive 
“Perfectionism isn’t a behaviour. It’s a way of thinking about yourself.” Andrew Hill
Perfectionism is a self-destructive pattern of behaviour based on the belief that if the person looks and behaves in a perfect way they can spare themselves the painful feelings of blame, judgement, and shame. It is addictive, because when they experience shame, judgement and blame, they often believe it’s because they weren’t “perfect enough”. Rather than recognising the faulty logic of perfectionism, they work even harder to look and do everything just right. They are locked in a never ending shame cycle. 

Unattainable goals 
Perfectionism is anunattainable goal. It’s more about controlling how they are perceived by others rather than internal motivations. There is no way to control perception, no matter how much time and energy is spent trying. You can’t control what others think of you. 
“Working hard, being committed, diligent, and so on – these are all desirable features. Perfectionism isn’t about high standards, it’s about unrealistic standards.
As a society we often see perfectionism as a positive. Saying “I’m a perfectionist” is not a compliment to yourself. Making and owning mistakes is a necessary part of growing and learning. It also makes you better at your career, relationships and life in general. By avoiding mistakes a perfectionist can make it harder to reach their own lofty goals. 

So, what’s the answer? 
If you’ve read this and it resonated, whether in yourself or in others, what do you do now? 
How do you get over it?

Practice self kindness  – Noticing is the first step, being kind to yourself is the second. Being kind to yourself is the key to developing resilience and improving well being.  

Reframe mistakes as opportunities to learn and grow – Practice forgiveness and stop punishing yourself for your mistakes. Self care is critical for long term well being and professional effectiveness.

Be a compassionate leader – If you or people in your team are struggling with intensified perfectionism, compassion can be a way through.
Do you want to work on breaking these negative cycles of behaviour? Do you want to explore a healthier approach to your work and life?

Are pressure levels bringing some perfectionist behaviours bubbling to the surface within your team? I can help.  Send me a message and let’s have a conversation.  

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