the perils of perfectionism

simply stephen / October 25, 2011

Standards are great. We should all strive to create quality.

After all, who doesn’t want to be seen as an artisan. A craftsman, making the perfect dish. Whether it be in the office or on the ice are no matter. Building something great is important. Taking pride in your work is paramount to achieve.

But perfectionism and high standards are two different things.

Someone with high standards knows the law of diminishing returns states that as more investment (time or money) is made, the overall return is diminished. They also recognize other people may not hold the same belief, value or standard as them.

They know when to quit.

A high achiever will accept a mistake and learn from it. They will enjoy the process and outcome by living in the moment. Not for the result. They remain positive to critique and are not disabled by fear. It is all about the process and journey.

But a perfectionist will get stuck.

being picky has it’s side effects

There is a line that should be drawn to prevent taking things a little too far. The problem with being picky is that you pass up opportunities. Your answer is always negative. There is always a reason not to do something or not to try something. That creates stress, anxiety and pain.

For example, take food.

You refuse everything. Don’t try anything new. Only like it a certain way. Make excuses for why you don’t like it. Have the same old thing and wonder why life is not satisfying.

Mundane. Routine. Empty.

It’s black and white or yin and yang. There is no middle ground.

Like clockwork you get used to the same process. You levitate to the same things over and over. Eventually this leads to discontent. It really isn’t much fun.

And you know what?

Being friends or loving someone that is a perfectionist, really isn’t too much fun either!

And that means trouble is brewing on the road ahead.

It’s great if you live in a bubble and the rest of the world isn’t involved. Well, actually it’s not because you are missing out on so many things that you just aren’t willing to try.

And that’s not good.

If you spend time making excuses and blaming others there could be a problem. You will miss out on life. You will probably be lonely. Eventually, you will not be included in too many activities because it is just too much trouble to keep you happy.

That’s right.

Most people will stop asking you places. They will stop calling. They may even avoid you.

are you too picky

Feeling good about yourself and the achievements you have made is a healthy attitude.  Creating good quality work is something everyone should do. Making mistakes and learning from them is a part of growing. Knowing your strengths and weaknesses is a way to develop and soar.

That’s pretty normal.


Avoiding events.

Missing deadlines.

Refusing to ask for help.

Over reacting to everything.

Never being able to delegate.

Stick with tasks for too long.

Refusing to admit your mistakes.

Always needing to be in first place.

Having nothing to do “just for fun”.

Living in fear of criticism or failure.

Finding fault in everything and everyone.

Forcing people to prove everything to you.

Having to control everything and everyone.

Having to learn everything about everything.

Never being satisfied with anything or anyone.

No gratitude, thinking nothing is good in your life.

Never learning that mistakes help you learn and grow.

Never trying new things (or sticking to specific things).

Always setting a new standard, one that you can’t achieve.

Expecting everyone else to be perfect and to never let you down.

Being negative and always finding an excuse or reason to say no.

It’s your way or the highway, not accepting there is more than one way to skin a cat.

That’s neurotic. It’s a mental disorder. It’s obsessive. It’s compulsive. That makes sense – many perfectionists suffer from anxiety or Obsessive Compulsive disorder.

It’s a problem and needs some attention.

let’s sum up

the good – high quality, less work in the future, efficient systems and processes, great attention to detail

the bad – energy consumption, caught in the details, procrastination, excuses, unrealistic standards (for you and others), longer development time cycle, mus the moment, caught in the details, anticipate problems that don’t exist, avoid trying doing & seeing new things, do things that don’t need doing, apologize when nothing is wrong

the ugly – gloom, depression, stress from worry & physical energy spent (that leads to heart, hypertension and other health problems), guilt,  paralysis from fear of failure or lack of motivation (rigid and immobilized mannerism), obsessive, compulsive, pessimistic, negative. low esteem & confidence, possible disorders (anxiety, obsessive compulsive, eating disorders, etc.)

steps to correct your picky habits

Well, we spent enough time talking about the problems with perfectionism but didn’t really explore what to do about it. Just realizing that it is dangerous, to be perfect in everything we do, is a great first step. Awareness is the key to all healing and correction.

If you think imperfection is a sign of weakness…look at the big cascading list again and wonder how people might feel around you. Is that how you want to be remembered at your eulogy?

Probably not.

There are many things one can do to reduce or eliminate their finicky, persnickety, picky acts of perfectionism. (sorry for the judgemental descriptive words but hey, it’ s time to change and stop resisting it).

step 1 – awareness (we’ve checked that off)

step 2 – educate yourself (looks like you are starting to get there)

step 3 – identify issues and weaknesses (be sure to identify your strengths too)

step 4 – embrace your imperfection, accept and forgive yourself

step 5 – start practising new habits

types of habits to consider

So, you know it’s time to practice a few new habits.

Here’s 10 ways to get off the ground running:

  1. Pareto Principle – use the 80/20 rule and just get the bulk of the work done
  2. consequences – be aware and remind yourself to take corrective action
  3. cognisant – recognize mistakes and energy spent and embrace it (mistakes help you learn)
  4. eliminate doubt – forget about all the what ifs and possibilities (what if it doesn’t happen, you spent all that time and energy for nothing)
  5. timer – define the time and set the clock when getting jobs done – clients and bosses love this, time is money
  6. deadlines – set a time and when it’s done it’s done – you have to move on to the next job because time is up
  7. rest – take a break every hour or two to regain focus and energy
  8. accept – remember sometimes good enough is “good enough”
  9. keep trying – brace yourself and then get back up when you fall off the horse
  10. flexibility – with solutions & the way things can get done (especially when working with other people)

Having difficulty?

That’s when it’s time to join a group, find a therapist or get a doctor. You are not alone in this world and there is no need to be so perfect…didn’t we just talk about this?

Everything takes time. Remember, there are resources, tools and people to help.

There is nothing to fear. No shame necessary. It’s all just a bit of life.

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