Perfectionism can create more problems than it solves.
Do you have any of these perfectionist traits – overthinking, overworking, criticizing, procrastinating, or being inflexible?
If you do (and many of us do!), you know that perfectionism can be more of a hindrance than a help.
On the surface, perfectionism seems like a good trait to have. And in moderation, some perfectionist traits (like being hardworking and attentive to details) can be positive.
But perfectionists don’t do things in moderation. We feel compelled to achieve, do more, do everything right, and avoid mistakes. Because we’re afraid of being inadequate, embarrassed, criticized, and inferior, we set impossibly high standards for ourselves. But we can never achieve perfection, so we continue to feel inadequate.
However, we don’t have to let perfectionism hold us back. See if you relate to these 5 perfectionist traits and find out what you can do to change them.
Perfectionist traits that are holding you back
- Overthinking. As perfectionists, we hate making mistakes. So, we put tremendous pressure on ourselves to always make the “right” decisions and do the “right’ things. As a result, we spend way too much time thinking about things that either can’t be changed or that aren’t that important (or both). You might rehash a mistake you made, letting it get bigger and bigger in your mind until you’ve concluded you’re the stupidest person in the world and no one will ever like/respect/hire you again. Or you might spend hours researching and agonizing over your options, only to regret or second-guess whatever decision you made. Overthinking generally wastes our time and energy, leaving us feeling lousy and incompetent. When you notice yourself overthinking, try some of these strategies to break the cycle.
- Overworking. Working hard is usually an asset, but it’s possible to overwork. As perfectionists, we become so focused on checking things off our to-do lists, being productive, and worrying about not letting others down, that we miss out on enjoying life. Overworking can lead to exhaustion, of course, and it also leads to missed opportunities to connect with others, to rest and rejuvenate ourselves, and to have fun – all of which would increase our health and happiness. And, of course, taking breaks helps us be more productive and efficient when we’re working. If it’s hard for you to relax and rest rather than work, start making this change slowly. Perhaps, start by scheduling 15 minutes for a relaxing activity or setting a hard stop for the end of your workday. You may feel anxious when you don’t have anything productive to do, but it will get easier with practice – and you eventually come to enjoy it!
- Criticizing. Again, because we have such impossibly high standards, perfectionists criticize themselves relentlessly. And if you hold others to the same unrealistic standards, you may be overly critical of others, as well. Contrary to popular belief, being hard on yourself isn’t going to motivate you or help you perform better. And criticizing your spouse, children, and coworkers, causes relationship problems. Criticism demotivates people, diminishes their self-esteem, and leads to resentment and hurt feelings. Instead, we need to set realistic expectations and give constructive, balanced feedback rather than attacking people’s character and being mean. And self-compassion– being kind to ourselves even when we screw up – is a proven way to increase our motivation and confidence.
- Procrastinating. Procrastination is a common form of self-sabotage. It makes sense that we put off doing things that are difficult or unpleasant, like our taxes. For perfectionists, procrastination is rooted in fear – fear of failure or inadequacy, fear of not doing a good job, or knowing how to do something. So, many perfectionists have a hard time starting or finishing tasks unless they’re confident in their ability to excel. To overcome procrastination, try to make room for imperfection; tell yourself that it’s okay to make mistakes and that you don’t have to excel at everything. A simple behavioral strategy is to commit to doing the activity you’ve been procrastinating for just five minutes. Usually, this feels doable, and often once you start, you find it’s not as bad as you imagined.
- Being Inflexible. As perfectionists, we also want to feel in control. We like things to be predictable and to go according to plan. And our impossibly high standards sometimes make us picky and inflexible. We tend to see things in black and white – there’s only one right way to do things and we don’t want anything else. Certainly, routines and structure do make things run more smoothly. However, we need to be adaptable because life doesn’t always go according to plan, and all-or-nothing thinking doesn’t serve us well. When we see ourselves as good or bad, smart or stupid, a success or a failure, we miss all the possibilities in between. And then we judge ourselves and others harshly (bad, stupid, failure) because we’re imperfect. To become more flexible and resilient, we need to change our rigid, perfectionist thinking patterns.
If perfectionism is holding you back and preventing you from having the life you want, you can start changing your perfectionist traits and perfectionist thoughts today. I hope this article was a helpful place to begin. There are additional resources below to help you, as well. Change does take a lot of sustained effort, but remember that every little bit helps. You don’t have to change everything about your perfectionism to notice improvement. Start with one small change and go from there.