Is Perfectionism bogging you down?

High standards are great. Sometimes, however, we are so rigid in expectations for ourselves that we get bogged down. Needing to be perfect isn’t an asset. Perfectionism can:

  • Impede efficiency – we spend so much time doing and re-doing, seeking perfection, that we waste a lot of time and things don’t get done
  • Keep us stuck – sometimes we don’t do things at all if we fear we can’t do them well or become overwhelmed
  • Be stressful – in the pursuit of perfection, we add in ordinate amounts of stress to our lives
  • Erode joy – constant anxiety and self-criticism can zap the pleasure from our lives
  • Decrease self-esteem – since we can’t actually be perfect, we end up feeling worse about ourselves because we don’t live up to our own standards

Perfectionism can take many forms. Some examples include: spending lots of time perfecting appearance, home, or your work; pressuring kids and expecting excellence in all their endeavors; negative self-talk (critical, harsh thoughts about self) when you don’t live up to expectations; procrastination; worrying bout what others think and feelings judged; feeling not good enough; needing to prove your worth; guilt and shame; not being able to be your genuine (flawed) self.Is Perfectionism Bogging You Down? by Sharon Martin, LCSW I have struggled with many of these same feelings. Here are a few of my favorite strategies for dealing with perfectionism:

  • I ask myself – “How important is this?” and “What’s the worst that can happen if it’s not perfect?” These questions help me keep my priorities in line.
  • I set a time limit – I limit myself to a fixed amount of time to finish something so I can’t spend all of my time perfecting something that doesn’t need perfection.
  • I practice – The old saying may be that practice makes perfect, but we want to practice being imperfect. At first it will be very uncomfortable to leave things less-than-perfect, but it will become easier the more you do it.
  • I remember that mistakes are an essential part of learning.
  • I enjoy the process, not just the finished product.

While I wrote this (imperfect) article, I thought of these books that may resonate you:

The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work by Shawn Achor

The Happiness Project: Or, Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun by Gretchen Rubin

Sharon Martin, a licensed counselor and psychotherapist in the San Jose area, specializes in helping adult children of alcoholics and others who struggle with anxiety, perfectionism, and self-criticism. She has a private psychotherapy practice in CA where she is available for online counseling. Sharon is also the author of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism and write the blog Conquering Codependency for Psychology Today.