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How To Live As A Happy Perfectionist In 6 Steps

1024 576 Deborah Newton, life-coach for Clear Skies Coaching Limited


Perfectionism can lead us to achieve great things. A certain level can be healthy and can be motivating. But at its worst, it can be a contributor to anxiety, depression, eating disorders, relationship break-downs, obsessive compulsive disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome. It can mean we are caught in a cycle of self-blame and criticism if our ambitions are not met. We feel worthless because we are failing to reach (often unattainable) goals.

So how can we deal with the perfectionist self? Awareness of our perfectionism and accompanying self-criticism is the first step.

What Do We Mean By Perfectionism?
Perfectionism has been defined in psychology (Stoeber & Childs 2010) as “a personality disposition characterised by an individual striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.”


The Infectiousness of Perfectionism
Perfectionism may be present in many areas of your life: relationships, fitness and diet, hobbies and interests. Even personal development can turn into a self-flagellation exercise with a focus on attaining perfection or indeed ‘enlightenment’.

Being a perfectionist may have served you very well as a lawyer. Accuracy, a keen attention to detail, doing a ‘good job’, or simply striving for excellence, are all attributes which spring to mind. You may find that your clients are happy, as your work is of a high standard. Friends and acquaintances may well admire you for your perceived success. But how do you feel on the inside?

Beware The Uphill Battle
Perfectionism can feel like running on a treadmill. And it can come in any of the following guises:

• You generally think you could do better. Extreme perfectionism comes from a source of feeling deeply flawed; not being good enough.

• You often compare yourself to others.

• You believe you will feel happier or better about yourself when you’ve reached the bar you’ve set for yourself.
• You categorise things in a black or white fashion: good or bad, success or failure, right or wrong. There is no in-between.
• When things don’t go as you had hoped, you blame yourself. It’s your fault. You’re a failure.
• If you do achieve what you set out to achieve, you assume you got lucky; people felt sorry for you; the bar was too low.
• You focus on results, and dismiss effort and intention as irrelevant.
• Hobbies are less about enjoyment but more about achieving or reaching perfection.
• You focus on self-improvement. You rarely acknowledge your achievements. Any feelings of satisfaction at achieving certain things are only temporary.
• You take criticism as negative and personal.
• You spend a long time on tasks, pouring over details. Ultimately making you less efficient.
• You avoid certain situations for fear of not being good enough in front of people. The irony with being a perfectionist is that it can sometimes stop us from achieving what we are trying to do well!

How To Be A Happy Perfectionist
1. Be conscious of your perfectionist traits and the impact they may be having on your daily life.
2. Notice any thoughts you have of self-judgment. Recognise them for what they are – thoughts. See if you can catch your thoughts before you become embroiled in a destructive cycle of self-criticism.
3. Be mindful of high bars you’re setting for yourself. See if you can accept a lower, more attainable bar. Perhaps you could aim for 80% instead of 100%? A perfectionist’s ‘80%’ often equates to someone else’s 100%…
4. Accept your mistakes! OK, I know it’s easy for me to write that – none of us want to make mistakes. But mistakes in life are inevitable. It’s how we react to them that’s important. We can actively choose to learn from mistakes and move on from them.
5. Don’t define yourself by a list of achievements or external factors. Acknowledge your positive traits and qualities.
6. Treat yourself with the same loving kindness you would treat someone dear to you. You deserve it, even when you do make a mistake…

And remember, what we perceive as a ‘mistake’ may well turn out to be the best thing that could have happened to us.



Perfectionism Can Be Bad For Your Health

1024 682 iPerform


New research published at the end of last month by the Society for Personality and Social Psychology has discovered a strong link between Perfectionism and stress and burnout in the workplace.

In the past two decades, 43 separate studies have looked into how perfectionists cope both at home and at work, and the potential health impacts. This meta-analysis of all 43 shows there are different types of perfectionist behaviour that can have positive and negative effects.

Perfectionist Concerns
The study looked at what psychologists call “Perfectionist Concerns”. This is where people worry constantly about making mistakes, measuring up to very high standards and fearing that they will let others down if they don’t. What tends to happen is that these concerns make people hold on to negative attitudes, doubts and fears about their own performance, which can lead to stress and eventually burnout. This in turn leads to negative reinforcement every time a mistake is made, as it is viewed as a major setback leading to a loss of engagement, increased cynicism and a lack of effort and care. Studies have shown that this can lead to greater strain on personal relationships, increases fatigue, anxiety, depression and even early death in the long term.

The impact of Perfectionist Concerns is particularly acute in the workplace, according to the researchers. Burnout comes about more quickly due to perfectionism at work because, unlike education and sport, there are fewer support networks or clear goals that can be attained. At school, an A grade can delay Perfectionist concern, as can winning an important tournament in sport. At work, success is a lot less defined.

Perfectionist Strivings
Although Perfectionism definitely has a negative impact, there are also circumstances where it can be useful as in education and sport. This is called “Perfectionist Striving” where people set themselves high personal goals and proactively seek them out. When these aims are kept, the accomplishment in trying to attain them, delays negative health issues such as burnout, according to the researchers.