My coaching experience has taught me that perfectionism is one of the main reasons why people get stressed. We want to do everything 1000% correct – but what good does it do us? Not much. It can even be harmful to us: We take far too much time to complete one thing and have insufficient time for other tasks. Perfectionists also have trouble actually getting started with work and reaching decisions. After all, there is a risk that it may not be perfect…
In a survey of the most common stress triggers, Human Capital Care Magazine reached the same conclusions as I did in my coaching: 23% of the individuals surveyed said that the demands they place on themselves are their most frequent cause of stress. Clearly, our bosses have expectations and define objectives that we need to achieve. However, we set ourselves even bigger targets – and logically, we then fall short of them time and again. The hunt for perfection is never-ending, as www.karrierebibel.de observes. After all, no one will always be perfect in every area!!!
Why is it that we sabotage ourselves? Why is good never good enough? To help you understand this better, I would first like to explain the distinctive characteristics of a perfectionist:
- Perfectionists always find a reason why something is not yet good enough to finish it. So they need an above-average amount of time to complete a task.
- They also find it difficult to set priorities. For them, everything is a top priority. And they plan intensively and draw up countless to-do lists – meaning they actually have less time to work through their tasks…
- Perfectionists find it difficult to reach decisions because they believe the outcome cannot be perfect.
- They don’t just make extreme efforts to do everything very well. They also need recognition at all costs. What other people think of them is extremely important to them.
- Since they rarely achieve their VERY high goals, perfectionists put themselves under enormous pressure to succeed and therefore experience the feeling of having failed more often than the average person.
- Perfectionists don’t handle criticism well. After they have tried everything to avoid making any mistakes, someone comes along and points out an error to them. This causes them to reproach themselves and to try to do things even better next time. This is why perfectionists take everything personally. They don’t respond well to constructive criticisms or understand jokes.
- It is no wonder perfectionists struggle with teamwork. And they don’t understand why others aren’t as fond of looking at the details as they are. They also try to control their colleagues excessively – meaning they are really not popular.
- Perfectionists suffer from ‘black-and-white thinking’, as the self-proclaimed expert in self-confidence Stephan Wiessler says. They think in extremes: If something is not perfect, it is sloppy or catastrophic. As far as they are concerned, there is nothing in between.
- They don’t like spontaneity, incidents or any change of plan – because this means they could lose control.
- Perfectionists focus on negative aspects, mistakes and weaknesses – rather than on what they are good at and what already works. This is why they don’t manage to give themselves any real praise.
- They judge themselves primarily on the basis of their performance and assume that other people do the same. They have the impression that others do not like them if they don’t achieve extraordinary results.
- Perfectionists have a tendency towards self-exploitation. They know no boundaries and therefore damage their health. Various studies have shown that perfectionists have an increased risk of becoming depressed or of developing anxiety disorders.
You may rightly say that I am drawing an extreme picture here. However, many of us have a slight tendency towards perfectionism (if that is even possible in the case of perfectionists…).
Good is better than perfect
Admittedly, there are professions in which “one can achieve something if one is absolutely fanatical about quality”, as the psychotherapist Rolf Merkle correctly notes. When we get on a plane or have an operation, we are dependent on there ideally being no mistakes. But this does not apply to all professions and certainly not to our private lives.
Here are some specific steps you can take to combat this self-exploitation:
- Ask yourself: Is it worth the effort? Perfectionism costs you a great deal of time. Consider the Pareto principle: 20% of your time is needed to achieve 80% of the result. Is it worth 80% effort to achieve the remaining 20%? A perfect result (if it even exists) is hardly ever worth the additional effort that it costs.
- Make sure you complete your work, according to the motto: It is better to complete a piece of work than to leave a perfect piece of work uncompleted. The theologian John Henry Newman said back in the 19th century that a person would never manage to do something if he always waited until he could do it so well that nobody could discover a mistake.
- Accept your weaknesses – everyone has them. And learn that anyone can make mistakes. You can learn from your errors. And the worst-case scenarios that perfectionists always think of (imagining what bad things could happen if they make an error) don’t usually materialize at all.
- Consciously lower the demands you place on yourself. There is no need for you to clean your entire house before you have guests. Leave the office in the evening without always finishing everything on your desk. And also do things that are not always about being efficient and effective – but that are simply fun.
- Set yourself a specific amount of time to reach a decision about something that isn’t overly important. And then increase the speed at which you reach decisions and the importance of each decision.
- Ask yourself which philosophy you would need to adopt in order to take a more relaxed view of what you have to achieve – e.g. think of the saying: “To err is human” or “The biggest mistake is to not want to make any mistakes.” Or consider James Joyce’s statement: “Mistakes are the gateway to new discoveries.”
- Be aware that most people have other things to worry about than contemplating your mistakes.
- Being perfect is actually boring since it means you don’t have any flaws at all.
- Think of the wise words of the philosopher Denis Diderot: “If everything in the world were excellent, then nothing would be excellent at all”.
- Give yourself recognition and celebrate your successes. For example, write a list every evening of the things you have done well during that day. This may be difficult at first because you will probably think you have not done anything really well – but if you persevere, your daily list will get longer over time.
It is a matter of learning that in every situation, you can consciously decide for yourself how much effort you want to invest and when it is time to say to yourself that you have done enough. Of course, you can’t learn that overnight. This is a difficult process but it is well worth it. You will become more relaxed and confident. I wish you every success on your journey towards discovering that “good is good enough”!
© Claudia Kraaz