Are You a Perfectionist?
We all know that nobody is perfect. But many of us still expect perfection from ourselves and others, and the tendency can have unhealthy effects. Perfectionism can keep you from forming strong personal relationships if you ask more of people than they can give. It can have long-term effects on your health. It has been linked to stress and depression. Studies show that perfectionists often use food to ease the pressure they put on themselves and that a high correlation exists between perfectionism and eating disorders. It can also lead to procrastination at work if you believe you can’t meet your standards for a task.
Questions to ask yourself
Here are some questions to help you determine if you’re a perfectionist. Do you:
- tend to be very critical of your own mistakes, even trivial ones?
- find it hard to form strong relationships because so few people meet your expectations for them?
- prefer to avoid activities you think you can’t do perfectly, even if you enjoy them?
- think in all-or-nothing terms about many issues?
- reject praise for your work if you feel it wasn’t as good as it could have been?
- believe that you are under a lot of stress because of your high standards?
- often seem to work later than others without achieving better results?
The more “yes” answers you gave, the more you likely it is that perfectionism is affecting your work, relationships, or ability to enjoy life.
Tips on overcoming perfectionism
Moving beyond perfectionism takes time. Instead of looking for quick fixes, focus on changing your thoughts and behaviors one at a time.
- Be honest about your perfectionism. Perfectionists often deny that their behavior can be harmful, experts say. Do a reality check by making a list of situations where unreasonably high standards may have hurt you. For instance, have you missed work deadlines because you spent too much time on details that were unimportant or were someone else’s responsibility? Have you argued frequently with a partner because your home wasn’t spotless? Work first on the area where you could most easily let go and move beyond perfection, so you can build on your successes.
- Adjust the messages you send yourself. Try to avoid all-or-nothing thinking. Remind yourself that you have don’t have to prepare a flawless meal or do a perfect project for a volunteer group -- you just have to do your best in the time available. An effort may succeed overall even if it part of it wasn’t perfect.
- Get feedback on what’s expected. A tendency toward perfectionism will be harder to manage if you aren’t sure what’s expected of you. If you seem to be staying later at work than others or worrying about issues that don’t concern co-workers, get feedback from your manager on what’s required. Ask questions like, “How much time should I be spending on this project?” and “How detailed should this report be?”
- Give yourself credit for what you do right. Perfectionists tend to be self-critical and exaggerate the effects of their small flaws or mistakes. To balance this, make a mental note of several things you did right when something you did seems to have gone wrong. Give yourself permission to make mistakes.
- Seek help if perfectionism feels unmanageable. If perfectionism is interfering with your work, relationships, or ability to enjoy life, talk with your doctor about whether you might benefit from cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is a form of short-term therapy that teaches new ways of thinking about and responding to challenges. Some people see results in as little as six weeks.
Learning to manage unrealistic expectations takes time, but it can make your life less stressful and more rewarding.