High achievers work to perform to the best of their ability. They strive to achieve excellence. Perfectionists, however, must achieve excellence and cannot accept failure along the way. While high achievers understand the journey to excellence will be filled with setbacks that must be overcome, the perfectionist views each setback as a failure.
Perfectionism breeds anxiety. The need to have everything go well, without mistakes, leads to an unhealthy sense that others will ridicule each error. Perfectionists constantly worry about how others will view them if they make a mistake. Criticism, even helpful suggestions, are taken as personal affronts. Even when other people do not seem to care about mistakes, the perfectionist will blame themselves and use the setback as evidence of their unworthiness.
Setting standards high helps us to achieve our goals. Setting impossible standards (never making a mistake is an impossible standard) only creates frustration and low self-worth.
There are a few things people can do to reduce perfectionism:
Be realistic when setting goals. Goals should be set high enough for you to work hard but not so high they are unattainable.
Allow for mistakes. View mistakes as learning experiences rather than as failures. It is with setbacks that we can continue to learn and grow. Mistakes can teach you more than your successes can. In most cases, mistakes do not have long-term consequences. If you receive criticism from someone, acknowledge your error and remind yourself that mistakes are allowed.
Listen to how you talk to yourself. Make a note of how often you criticize yourself when completing a project. Work to change your self-talk to positive statements, rather than negative.
Accept that the pursuit of perfection can cost you. Relationships and work, as well as self-esteem, all suffer when you will accept only perfection. Lowering your standards is not accepting the substandard, it is accepting that nothing is perfect.
Limit the time you spend on projects. Perfectionists often spend way too much time on one project, vowing not to stop until everything is perfect, taking time away from other areas in their life. Instead, give yourself a time limit and accept the project at the end of that time so that you can move on to another task. Perfectionism can drive away those people in your life you care about. By not allowing you, or anyone else, to make a mistake, you are showing you cannot accept them for who they are. Changing habits is hard work, allow yourself time to change and be patient with yourself and those around you. In the end, if you free yourself from the demands of perfection, you open yourself up to more happiness and contentment.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.