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Paralyzing Perfectionism

Do you believe that only perfection is good enough and anything less doesn’t measure up?  Being a perfectionist has its advantages and disadvantages depending upon your career. While we probably all prefer our surgeons, pilots, accountants, and air traffic controllers to be perfectionists, this trait can have negative consequences and detrimental effects.  A recent article by Professor Gordon Flett at York University concluded that perfectionism is a big risk factor in suicide.  Flett and colleagues summarized data that showed consistent links between perfectionism and hopelessness, psychological pain, life stress, and overgeneralization.  The article, published in the American Psychological Association journal Review of General Psychology, linked professionals in high leadership roles in certain occupations at heightened risk for suicide based on their external pressure to be perfect.

Trying to achieve and maintain perfection can be draining, time-consuming, and counterproductive.  Decision making becomes extremely difficult which can lead to “paralysis through analysis.”  Being so preoccupied with order and details can obscure the major point of activities and limit the joy.  Perfectionism can also have a negative impact on relationships since cooperation and compromise are often not part of the perfectionist’s repertoire.  Some believe that “I am unworthy unless I am perfect,” and operate from a “never good enough” mindset.  Many of us focus on the 10% negative feedback even when 90% was positive and have a difficult time receiving compliments. We erroneously believe that perfection will protect us from rejection, blame, and shame.

Part of changing this trait requires a new mindset which includes adjusting expectations, setting realistic goals, and appreciating good, not just perfect.  As part of my work with clients, I have them practice imperfection so they can desensitize themselves to a less than perfect outcome.  Also believing that we are loved for who we are and not for being perfect will give a sense of worthiness which can overcome the fear of ridicule.  Have the courage to not focus on what others think, but acknowledge that you are loved by God, family, and friends for who you are.  Cut yourself some slack, delegate tasks, learn to say no, laugh more, avoid using perfection for procrastination, and stop overgeneralizing mistakes to mean total failure.  Decide on a time frame for a project and move on after the time has expired, even if it is not perfect in your eyes. Don’t focus on the end goal, focus on the interaction and relationship building that takes place during the process. Lastly, accept your humanness and fallibility.

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