Happy Sunday everyone 🙂 How has your week been so far? My week felt pretty slow with nothing happening exciting at work, apart from Wednesday morning, Dr Eziefula presented an introduction to perfectionism which I have leveraged for today’s long Sunday read on the Pineapple Chicken Blog 🙂 I do not know much about perfectionism from a clinical psychological perspective and the potential impact it can have on our mental health; so I thought why not do a little more research and share what I have learnt too? You might want to grab your tea/coffee before we begin…
What is perfectionism?
A simple dictionary definition for perfectionism is the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection. This is pretty simple to understand and probably what most of think perfectionism is. We all have our own standards on what we do or expect and a perfectionism likes it to be “perfect”.
In clinical psychology, however, it differs and perfectionism is defined as a personality trait characterised by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting high-performance standards, accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.
Two sides of perfectionism
Perfectionism is a personality trait that is multidimensional, where it can be positive and negative. Personally, I think everyone can be a bit of a perfectionist. The concept of “perfect” would differ for everyone but wanting things to be of a certain “standard” is something we can all relate to. For example, you want a piece of work to be “perfect” before presenting it to your peers. However, using this simple example, perfectionism can easily become a negative trait if “perfect” is an unrealistic goal or unattainable meaning you are spending hours and hours making the presentation beautiful and stressing out over minute details; possibly even missing the deadline because one couldn’t “let go”.
From my research, I get the sense that perfectionism is not a positive trait to have should not be confused with the desire to obtain excellence. Obtaining excellence is a positive trait to have, as it helps to motivate people to reach their goals and when they reach that goal, then there is a feeling of satisfaction. Unlike perfectionism, the desire for excellence is the desire to do the very best possible, not the quest for the unobtainable.
Following from above, it means that perfectionism is a negative trait to have. Individuals caught up in perfectionistic thinking or behaviour commonly experience significant personal distress as well as chronic health and emotional problems. Such individuals can also provoke extremely negative reactions from others due to their unrealistically high standards and quest to avoid failure and rejection.
Perfectionism is the belief that unless I am perfect, then I am not okay. This belief is driven by fear, mainly the fear of failure. To me, the pursuit of perfection seems extremely stressful and it is not surprising that it can be a cause of depression. It can also cause anger as well because you are always frustrated at yourself, as you are never good enough.
Dr Eziefula mentioned that it is possible for perfectionists to be extreme procrastinators, because they are too worried about being perfect – or planning to be perfect that they don’t want to tackle the issue at hand; or if they know they won’t be the best or perfect at the task, they rather not do the task at all.
In its most extreme form, perfectionism can become like an obsession and manifest into Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (“OCD”), where everything has to be completely organised, idea that “a place for everything and everything in its place” rings true to these individuals. Prior to the presentation at work, I was reading a heart-wrenching account of how beauty became a perfectionist’s obsession. It was a great insight into how perfectionism can manifest itself and negatively impact an individual’s wellbeing; I highly recommend the post.
Are you a perfectionist?
From the presentation and my readings, the one question that I always had at the back of my mind was whether I was a perfectionist? I found a few quizzes and but, as always you should take the below with a pinch of salt. Regardless, I used the quizzes and the other websites as a guide for personal reflection.
- Perfectionism test
- A quite detailed questionnaire and analysis with a breakdown of potential strengths and limitations. Took me about 5 minutes to complete and you can pay for a full report (but I didn’t)
- I found this to be a good guide to perfectionism if you wanted more detail that is not covered in this post.
- 11 Signs of a Perfectionist
- Rather simplistic but a good starting point.
There is a myriad of posts that provide tips to help with perfectionism. However, from my research and understanding the potential detrimental impact on mental health, if you think you perfectionism is impacting you, I would encourage you to see a specialist first. In spite of this, below are a few tips that I have chosen are good to follow, and not just to tackle perfectionism.
- Set realistic expectations – The focus should be on one thing at a time and setting goals that may be “stretching” but attainable. When they are unrealistic, it is demotivating, or worse – self-destructive. I have learnt that goals/objectives should follow the SMART model. Try it out for yourself!
- Take time for yourself – I have always preached this. Turn off that computer/put that pen down and listen to your true needs and how to meet those needs. Take time for self-care and be kind to yourself because you are important and worthy!
- Take a step back – Consider the tradeoffs between making something “perfect” and using that time and energy for something else. Take a step back and ask yourself: what is more important in the grand scheme of things?
- Perspective – Once you have taken a step back, take a step forward. There are plenty of small steps that, were you to take them, would help move your life forward. Don’t excuse yourself from doing them because the conditions aren’t right or because a better opportunity might come along soon. Do what you can, now. And when you’ve done it, keep it in perspective and be pleased with the result because by looking back you will see how far you have come.
- Ask yourselves these questions:
- What am I spending most of my time and energy on right now?
- Am I doing this because I want to, or because I’m trying to compete with or please someone else?
- Is what I’m doing making me feel worthy and valuable? If not, how can I stop doing it?
- Am I doing what I said I would do to reach my goals? If not, is my goal too big or perfectionistic? How can I make it more reasonable?
- Are my actions more in line with who I want to be today than they were yesterday?
The Pursuit of Good Enough
If perfection an illusion, if this is the case then why do we continue to pursue it? It is okay to be good enough? Haversat discusses this in her TED talk and uses some key examples we see today in politics. She focuses on compromise and refers to Voltaire’s statement – “Perfect is the enemy of the good”. Worth a watch!
On your 80th Birthday
Dr Eziefula’s presentation ended with an open question and I will pose this to you to end this blog post.
On your 80th birthday, what would you want people to describe you as?
- The person that answered all emails on time?
- Amazingly beautiful presentations?
- Beautiful/Perfect – not a hair out of place?
- Someone who lived by their values?
- Someone who built a legacy
I don’t have an answer to the question, just yet, but I know which direction I want to go.
With Sweet & Sour Love,
P.S. I hope you found this post helpful, as always, I would love to hear from you!