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Perfectionism kills progress

The first task that my clients complete when we start working together is my CleverInsights Diagnostic which I developed to understand the subconscious habits of thought that hold people back from goal pursuit and achievement. Over 140 clients have completed this assessment and what I see is that perfectionism is by far the most common barrier to making progress and achieving potential.

We think of perfectionism as being not such a bad quality to have, and we often wear it like a badge of honour, but perfectionism is an insidious character that chips away at our productivity and our self esteem. Perfectionism pretends to be our ally by telling us that if we spend more time, if we check and double check, if we painstakingly review every detail of a task, that we will get a good result and will be looked upon favourably by others. What perfectionism doesn’t reveal to you is that perfection is subjective, and completely unattainable.

Why do we feel the need to be perfect?

Perfectionism is all about fear of judgement and maintaining a positive self-concept. The desire to be accepted by our peers, our tribe, is ingrained into our DNA. The reason that human beings have been so successful as a species is because we realised the value of socialisation and being accepted as part of a group. This basic instinct is then reinforced throughout our life by our parents, teachers and coaches who innocently judge and evaluate us, encouraging us to do things a certain way in order to be rewarded. From a very young age this creates a core belief in many of us that we must do things accurately in order to please others. That reward can come in many different forms, but mostly it comes as a sense of acceptance and admiration. Who doesn’t want that right?

When does perfectionism become problematic?

The simple answer is that perfectionism is a problem when it stops you from progressing in the direction of your goals in a satisfactory time frame and causes anxiety in the process. The difficulty with perfectionism is that we often don’t recognise it because we have been doing it so long we have normalised the behaviour.

Common signs that your perfectionism is causing you strife

1. You hold on to projects for too long. You check and triple check, you wait until the next day to read it over one more time, and often work right up until deadlines and may even ask for extensions.

2. Once you have submitted a project you immediately start thinking about all of the ways that you can have done it better or worry about how many mistakes you may have made.

3. When you do make a mistake or receive critical feedback, you experience intense anxiety and worry about what others will think.

3 ways that you can beat perfectionism and be kinder to yourself

1. Focus on the process instead of the outcome. Perfectionists set incredibly high expectations then punish themselves when they are not met. If you focus on the process of getting to the outcome rather than the outcome itself you will be less affected by it and what others think as a result. Sometimes it is about enjoying the race rather than being concerned about where you finished.

2. See mistakes as opportunities for growth. I am afraid that perfection doesn’t exist in the messy and unpredictable world we live in. If you make peace with the fact that you will make mistakes, but reframe those mistakes as opportunities to grow and learn and be better than you were yesterday you will start feeling differently when mistakes are made.

3. Take risks doing things imperfectly. The best way to be ok with imperfection is to be imperfect. Some things don’t need to be done perfectly. Start by experimenting with tasks that don’t matter so much. Vacuuming the kitchen, folding clothes, singing karaoke don’t require perfection. If you start to sit in that tension caused by imperfection it will become less intense and your anxiety will decrease over time.

There are many more strategies where these came from. If you would like to know more about the subconscious habits of thought that might be getting in your way, get in touch on to talk about my CleverInsights Diagnostic and Debrief.

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