Perfectionism might look good on the outside…
But that is often about it. It looks good, but it rarely feels good and it’s seldom a positive trait. It’ll often drain you of far more resources than it’s worth.
Wikipedia tells us defines it like this:
Perfectionism, in psychology, is a broad personality style characterized by a person’s concern with striving for flawlessness and perfection and is accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations. It is best conceptualized as a multidimensional and multilayered personality characteristic, and initially some psychologists thought that there are many positive and negative aspects. Perfectionism drives people to be concerned with achieving unattainable ideals or unrealistic goals, often leading to many forms of adjustment problems such as depression, anxiety, OCD, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts and tendencies and a host of other psychological, physical, relationship, and achievement problems in children, adolescents, and adults.
I think that covers it well enough. That’s why I’d prefer if we avoid it. But just avoiding it is tricky. I’ll quote again, “a broad personality style”. That’s not something you change in a heartbeat… Is it?
Do you strive for perfection? Do I…?
I’m on thin ice here since one might say I strive for perfection on some level in what I do for a living. Trying to know enough to do plenty of people’s jobs, as I try to do, might count as high demands. I’d prefer if I can do a decent job in the role of manual therapist, physio, personal trainer, dietician, [practically a] physician [?!], psychologist, writer, and coach to sew it all together and likely other closely related things as well, since I tend to such broad areas and discuss everything from raising children, economy and anxiety, to depression, food, pain, and relationships. There are sprained ankles and tension headaches, and I need to help people plan the day and do scary things to tend to personal development. There’s CBT for driving to help people keep away from panicking when doing something that could actually be dangerous, for real – and there’s talking to authorities and assisting people in negotiating things and communicating. Not to mention the small details of keeping the company – and MY life – running while doing what I can for others.
But… is perfect the right word?
Do I have a hunch about the fact that it’s completely impossible to know everything about all those areas – or even to know everything about just ONE of them? I sure hope I do. But I do my best and spend plenty of time trying to improve since other people’s lives depend on it. It feels… important. It’s motivating when I see the astonishing results.
I have a decent hunch about my values as well, where perfection in everything I do isn’t among them. When tending plenty to one thing – other things suffer. That’s obvious, isn’t it? I sure know that. Do you?
There’s just as much time in my day as in yours. And I sure do try to make progress in decent amounts, though it might seem ambitious and even manic to some. “What reasonable grown-up tries to read dozens of books a year to just get better at their job?”.
Sometimes there are entire Saturdays where I tend to work. Read, write, take care of people – and then back at it. Again and again.
But I like it. Is there any problem in doing so?
Is it perfect… or good enough?
I sure hope it’s the latter.
I might be able to say “know”.
So no worries!
It’s not perfect.
But it sure does seem to be… Good enough.
And that’s what I’d want you to go for.
I don’t mind if you try to do things well.
I mind if you do so when the price is too high.
I discussed role models with a client a few days before writing this. He got stuck in the thought pattern of “who the heck could be perfect enough so I could look up to every aspect of him or her?” Probably very few would be my response. But that’s not necessary either, is it? Most people are people. People are flawed, even if they do their best.
“I like and admire x for his…”
“I look up to y for…”
“I’m astonished by z for…”
You’re not living someone else’s life anyway, but to be as good as possible in whatever you’re trying to achieve, you could look up to people. People, as in several. Because… why not? When you had teachers earlier on, you probably had more or less one for every subject. It’s really hard to master everything. For some, it’s possible to almost and practically master one thing. If you then look up to a few who master their one thing, you just might excel further in those areas than if you didn’t look up to anyone. You get a leader and an example to learn from, someone – and something – to aim for on the horizon.
Mastering one thing often results in less progress in other areas. If you dedicate all your time to something, say yes to that thing at all times – you’ll say no to and give no time to the other stuff. It’s, as always, a question of prioritization. What looks perfect might be really flawed in other areas. Is it worth it?
One of my role models would be Tim Ferriss, who seems to do just that in turn. Listen, learn, implement and try things from a BUNCH of great people. People who happen to focus on one thing and touch on being the best at what they do. If you don’t have any role models, try mine! He’s flawed and far from perfect in every way, but I like him plenty despite that. If you don’t, that’s fine. Find someone else!
If you want to check him out, I recommend finding the Tim Ferriss show in your preferred podcast player. Or you could try the blog or his 5-Bullet Friday, a short mail every Friday.
Look up to someone!
It’ll be someone FLAWED.
Learn and evolve!
How much time and resources do you waste?
Another great example could be another client I had a while back. We poked and prodded perfectionism together. Honestly, we mostly managed other things, but we definitely touched this subject enough to get an awesome change. We, or rather SHE, got into a way of thinking that was more prone to acting and doing – rather than just thinking and planning endlessly. There was plenty of change, and we got rid of a lot of anxiety. Quality of life increased tremendously, and life itself and how it looked changed. She went through a divorce, she got quite some self-respect and started to tend to herself and what she thought of as important once she got clear on what she valued. We got enough into the acting for her to realize that doing is a process, resources are finite, and if I value X – I won’t be able to do Y to this degree.
And imagine, it was actually possible to do something about the tremendous perfection despite a long history of it all and culture trying to get her to do the opposite.
Getting “better” from her perfectionism, if we’d like to look at it more or less as an illness or syndrome, didn’t take a tremendous amount of reasoning. Sure, she did have to practice for a while, but doing something about it mainly came down to realizing that it was there, honestly thinking about what she truly wanted. Thinking – and values, actually knowing herself and what she wanted – and then prioritize that.
Knowing what she wanted and acting towards that made her strong and confident. She no longer had to fear things that didn’t result in something flawless. Flawless, perfect, ideal, or any other synonym… might definitely have its charm once in a while. It can’t possibly get any better than that, can it? But… to what cost?
She soon noticed that she had paid a hefty price earlier. Being afraid that things are never good enough will make you check and double-check, perhaps not just twice or four times. Once she got rid of that trait, she significantly impacted the time spent doing things. She worked as a teacher and had done so for quite some time – so she knew her craft well enough. Once she got rid of this, she could save 10 hours a week at work. That’s a workweek a month. She suddenly noticed that she didn’t have to plan the lectures repeatedly and go through them all ten extra hours every week. The classes worked out fine anyway, the students were happy as ever, and the only difference was less anxiety and less wasted time. 10 hours a week of planning didn’t lead to anything different. That’s a waste. Good riddance!
This is, of course, since she had been doing it for a while, so she knew what she was doing. But suddenly, she doesn’t fear “failure” anymore. She doesn’t have to control everything because she learned that she doesn’t anyway. She can’t possibly, so there’s no use in trying to control every aspect of life. I don’t say you shouldn’t try doing things or acting. You should. Definitely, but you have to get a clear picture of what you want in life and where you want to put your resources.
Get rid of perfection.
Get parts of your life back.
How much is that worth?
Then act accordingly.
Give things the resources they are worth.
Never, ever more.
For some more about perfectionism, the will and drive to perform because of performance-based self-esteem, which is often the reason why you’re bothered by perfectionism, and some more thoughts on how to do something about it, get the book at www.mbdolor.com/book.