“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.”
Do you like making every assignment flawless? Do the works you do take up a lot of time, and the excellent results get appreciated? Are you happy with the achievement, or do you want to do even better? Perfection is a driving force for most of us, as we all want to excel in particular fields that are close to our heart – being an asset at work, being the best player on the team, being a great mother, etc. This is obviously laudable. But, for some, it is important to be perfect in everything. They want to be perfect in general. Often, such perfectionists develop a fear for less-than-perfect outcome. It may make you too shy to proceed.
If failure to reach perfection makes you look into where you went wrong and plan your next move, you’re a positive perfectionist. This means that you enjoy what you do, and give it your best, only to reap the result in the end. But, if your head is about to burst with the constant nagging inside it and your standards come in the way of your work, then you are a negative perfectionist. As you strive for perfection, it might turn out to be counterproductive.
So, what is it that drives you to achieve flawlessness, even at the cost of your sanity? There can be several reasons. Not all of them apply for a single person. A study by Danielle Molnar, of Brock University in Canada reveals that perfectionists can be divided into three kinds: the self-oriented perfectionists who set high standards for themselves, the socially prescribed perfectionists who feel expectations of others imposed upon them, and the other-oriented perfectionists who impose huge expectations on others.
You could also develop the desire to become crème de la crème in every aspect of life because being average makes you nervous. There is no perfection in the world, and you want to do all you can because it makes you feel that making things perfect will help you find peace. There is no place for grey for you. If you fail to achieve the level you have set for yourself, you have not achieved anything.
This might have its roots in your childhood. Parents often push their children to become great achievers, and children, on receiving a sticker, a trophy, the position of class monitor, etc. find it easier to please parents. When they see the pride and appreciation, they want to do it again as they want the great feeling that entails a perfect work. They want to meet the expectations of others and themselves.
It could be your desire to prove yourself to the others that’s making you a perfectionist. You not only get to show everyone that you are incredible at something, but you also seek adulation and approval of others. You love the spotlight, and you perform to feel proud when you hear the cheers and claps. Such people often have their self-esteem directly tied to the approval of others, or even themselves. Perfectionism comes from the compulsion to prove to the world and to yourself that you are the best. Naturally, you end up placing relentless expectations upon yourself.
You do not even realize that this kind of goal might be unreasonable. You compare yourself with others and, if they do better, you lose your mind because you are extremely competitive. If they don’t do better than you, then you become too critical of their efforts and skills. You start judging people for their flaws. You might be creating a competitive environment, so that you do not ease up on yourself. So, you’re not only self-critical, but also pedantic about others. This makes it difficult for others to be close to you. People don’t like to be judged, and they certainly don’t want to be with someone who is never happy.
It can be quite difficult to maintain a healthy relationship with a fault-finder. When you keep on criticizing yourself and the others, people get stressed, and bring up a wall, so that you don’t notice their vulnerabilities. Every person has his or her own set of flaws. How is it possible to open up with you if you fixate on changing someone with the excuse of encouraging them to achieve perfection? When you do that, you not only make them nervous, but also condemn and patronize them, making them think that you don’t like them for who they are. And when you impose this upon yourself, you wear yourself out, too. Perfection often ends up causing a delay in your work, as you waste time in small details.
The whole process can become tiring, and gradually, you may start procrastinating. You seek the right moment to do a job, when you have all the energy and your creative juices are flowing. In the meanwhile you keep yourself under pressure and become anxious. This pressure and anxiety are your driving forces, and then you spend a lot of time to finish the job at hand. It is appreciable that you give your heart and soul to something, just to make it the best. But since you invest your time, energy, passion and all your resources, and make sacrifices, you take it personally. You might become defensive when you hear criticism.
Perfectionists can become sore losers. For them, anything less than perfect is failure. There is no place for almost perfect. And when they don’t achieve it, they feel like a loser. Once your focus shifts from your gains to your losses, you tend to have meltdowns, temper tantrums and even existential crisis. The constant feeling that nothing is good enough may make you resort to malpractices. It can make you so competitive that you start to revel in other’s failure. Deep inside, you will soon develop guilt. If perfection claims your every thought and action, you start to lose control, especially under severe stress.
Recent studies have shown that new mothers who want to be perfect parents may be at a higher risk of getting postpartum depression. Perfectionism also affects the physical health, causing migraines, chronic pain, IBS, heart disease, insomnia and asthma. Trinity Western University in Canada’s psychology professor Prem Fry conducted a study which showed that perfectionists have shown health problems like diabetes. Other scientists suspect that the constant anxiety in perfectionists could be the reason behind this.
A perfectionist is afraid to make mistakes, and this fear can soon become so crippling that you start to lose confidence in yourself and your work. You begin to be scared even to start. Even if you do start, the fear drives you insane and makes you nervous. It harms your performance as it clouds your mind. It also harms your learning ability. This kind of bad perfectionism does nothing but makes you a procrastinator, and leaves your tasks incomplete, while you become critical.
You cannot waste time in perfecting short-term projects that require immediate attention, when the majority of it is still undone. You have to remember that perfectionism cannot be achieved in a day. You have to build your way up to it through practice. Hence, it is a long-term achievement. While it is not a good idea to grow into the habit of being satisfied with ‘good enough’; it is also to be remembered that one can strive to attain perfection over the long term, but not in a short while.
To stop perfectionism from causing hindrance, learn to identify which is more important – to present something great, or to get the job completed. Make a proper plan to check how much time you have and how much work you can do without stressing and wearing yourself. Allotting certain time for particular works may also help. Think if it is possible to do something that will wow people within that time.
Don’t try to achieve perfection from day one. Let things evolve naturally; see if your method is taking up all your time, whether you’re being productive enough, whether your attention is shifting from the actual work to minor details, whether you’re slaving away in free time. Focus on the big picture and realize that your concerns may amount to nothing. Be careful about whether the time and energy you’re spending is worth it at all.
Eliminate your desire to compete with others, and consider yourself a competitor. Hone yourself and do better than your previous performance, but not in every little thing you do. Free yourself from the constant want for credit. Learn to be proud of yourself. Replace toxic competitive thoughts with positive goals like learning something new, and wanting to do your personal best
Accept the occasional failure and move on, because it’s not the end. Learning to let go of the obsessive compulsion to achieve perfection is not settling for less or lowering your standard. It is about learning to identify excellence and to accept it for what it is, even though it might not be the level you had set out to reach. Once you do that, you will have greater faith in yourself. You’ll know you’re capable of great things. Before long, you’ll be part of a virtuous circle or happiness, confidence and excellence.
Source: Life hack, Psychology Today, Psych Central, Educational Advancement, Daily Mail, Live Science, Huffington Post, The Work as Meditation, Scott H. Young
Image: Uncyclopedia, Lawyers with Depression, CNN, Huffington Post