Toxic Traits of Perfectionism

Being a perfectionist does not make you better at your job

For most of us, we are our own worst critics, harshest judges and self-inhibiters of creativity. When this is taken to an extreme, it’s known as perfectionism.

There are countless definitions of perfectionism. According to psychology, perfectionists are people who hold standards beyond reason, straining compulsively towards impossible goals, while measuring their own worth entirely on productivity and/or accomplishment.

Basically, to a perfectionist, anything short of perfection is unacceptable.

While perfectionism is often a hindrance to productivity, we must acknowledge that it does have some favourable points.

In the case of many great business leaders, including one of history’s most noteworthy, Steve Jobs, perfection can push an overachiever to continually outperform expectations that are thought of by many as too ambitious or unachievable.

Job’s perfectionism led to numerous damaged relationships and temporarily cost him his position at apple, but it also motivated him to be the greatest in his field, leading to the creation of world-changing technology that will be forever remembered in history.

For perfectionism to be harnessed in a way that stimulates productivity, such as in the case of Steve Jobs, a little training and great awareness of oneself is required. When understanding how to overcome a perfectionist mentality, it is important to understand what kind of perfectionist you are dealing with.

Perfectionists either apply perfection to others, such as in the case of a boss to employees or a parent to their child, or they will constantly feel like their work isn’t good enough. The traits of perfectionism can be divided into one of three distinct categories, listed below.

Self-oriented perfectionism comprises beliefs that striving for perfection and being perfect are important and is characterised by setting excessively high standards and having a perfectionist motivation for oneself.

Self-applied pressure to overachieve creates a fixation on unimportant aspects of tasks, which often go unnoticed when appreciating the final product.

Other-oriented perfectionism comprises beliefs that it is important for others to strive for perfection and be perfect. Other-oriented perfectionists expect others to be perfect, and are highly critical of others who fail to meet these expectations.

When reporting to a perfectionist in a professional environment, it may seem that nothing is ever good enough, which can be demoralising for employees.

Socially-prescribed perfectionism refers to the tendency for an individual to believe that others expect perfection from him, or her.

Fear of other’s expectations can lead to mental health issues like depression through fear of expression. Performance anxiety is a common symptom of both socially prescribed-perfectionism and self-orientated perfectionism.

Studies have concluded that all three categories of perfectionism can lead to stress, overworking, burnout, anxiety and depression. Researchers also reported that a large number of respondents within the studies classified the fear of making mistakes as paralysing, causing counter-productive behaviours.

Perfectionists are often unreceptive of the feedback critical to growth and some are even proud of their perfectionist traits, as if it makes them seem like harder workers. In both cases, removing traits of perfectionism requires awareness, consistency and effort.

So no one should aim for perfection, but what if perfectionism is already deeply rooted?

The first step to ditching the toxic traits of perfectionism is to be aware of which perfectionist behaviours one exhibits. Only once you are woke to something can you make conscious decisions to behave in a different manner.

In combination with awareness, you can employ the following strategies to harness perfectionism into a more productive energy:

Set more realistic expectations of yourself and others. Often easier said than done, but critical when trying to shift from a perfectionist mindset. Start with small changes, but the aim is to gradually show yourself that, most of the time, near enough is good enough.

Relax your beliefs. A belief is merely an opinion and should seldom be treated as a hard fact. Be open minded in all situations.

Be imperfect on purpose. Deliberately doing something imperfectly and then resisting the urge to fix it increases the tolerance of imperfections and ones ability to comfortably go without achieving perfection.

If you have to perfect something, make it time management. Think about the Pareto (80/20) principle, which states that for many outcomes, roughly 80% of consequences come from 20% of causes. In other words, 80% of results come from 20% of actions.

Whether used for a project, or in daily life, the 80/20 rule allows for effective prioritisation of time and the avoidance of fixation on minor details. Spending less time perfecting smaller aspects of projects or tasks allows more focus on areas of greater importance, or relaxation when it’s all done.

At the end of the day, perfectionism can be advantageous in a professional environment, but not without risking the health and wellbeing of yourself and those around you.

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.
If you want to unleash your creativity and realise your true potential, release the toxic fears associated with perfectionism.

Published by Harry Hansford

Australian in Spain with a passion for all things sport, health, fitnes & nature. Go deeper to find out more.

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