Don’t Let Perfectionism Affect Your Life – PART 1
Perfectionism becomes a problem when it leads to unhappiness or interferes with your day-to-day functioning. While trying to do things well is all good, setting excessively high standards can affect almost any area of life, including health, your diet, work, relationships, and interests.
Some of the main areas that often get impaired by perfectionism are work, home and school, relationships, and leisure.
Answer the following questions (Y/N) and find out if you are afflicted with excessive levels of perfectionism.
- I often end up feeling, I could have done better
- I fear failing when working on some major assignment
- I strive to maintain control of my emotions at all times
- I get upset when things don’t go as planned
- I am often disappointed at the quality of other people’s work
- I firmly believe that there is a time and place for everything
- I don’t start anything unless I am sure I have all the resources needed to do the task
- I am unhappy if anything I do is considered to be average
- I am afraid of what others will think of me if I fail
- I need absolute clarity before undertaking anything in life
If you have answered ‘Yes’ to 5 or more to the above questions, then it indicates a potential problem with perfectionism.
Most people define themselves, at least in part, by the work they do. Therefore, it generally becomes important for them to do a good job.
As a salesperson, I used to experience a high and sense of satisfaction after securing a large contract. Similarly, a student feels good after receiving an outstanding grade in an exam or assignment. However, perfectionism may get in the way of your performance at School, Home, or Work. Perfectionism potentially may reduce your ability to enjoy your work or may influence the ways in which you treat others at work.
Let me give a few examples to put this in context.
When I started my career as a corporate trainer, I was overly concerned about doing a perfect job and expected to bring about change or impact everyone in the class. Even if one participant said that he somehow is not able to relate to what I was teaching, I used to get extremely stressed. If that happened sometime during the course of the program, I used to put so much effort to satisfy that one person that I used to neglect the others present in the class. While my ratings were good and always 4.7 and above out of 5, I used to leave the class with a sense of dissatisfaction. This eventually led to anxiety and panic attacks before and after every session.
I had a friend of mine who was so concerned about doing well at his job that he felt very uncomfortable doing just about anything else other than work. Although his workload was not especially heavy, he tended to avoid co-workers who wanted to engage in small talk during work hours, and he avoided taking breaks (including lunch with colleagues, mostly having a quick bite at his desk). He was also the first person to arrive at work and put a high price on reaching on time every day 365 days a year. Although his intention was to make a good impression at work, his obsessive behavior had the effect of alienating his co-workers, including at times his supervisor. In his case, excessively high standards for himself affected the impression that he made on others at work.
I worked with a manager in a large corporation who had similar very high standards for his staff. He was completely intolerant of anyone arriving late for work, making small mistakes, or completing their work after a deadline—with no exceptions. He tended to respond to these behaviors with anger and had a reputation for being overly critical when completing performance reviews of his team members. As a result, team members stayed away from him as much as possible and tried their best to avoid engaging in any conversation with him. They were apprehensive, tentative, and afraid of interactions with him. People who worked with him were unmotivated in their work because they knew that he could never be satisfied, no matter how well they performed.
Another example was of a student I was counseling who was terrified of getting anything less than a ‘A’ in any of his exams. Months before the exams he would start studying putting else aside, including friends, family, sleep, and even food. He ate irregularly and stayed up all night before the exams. On the days of his exam, he was too tired, and no amount of coffee could help him stay alert. His grades suffered though he knew the material well. He used to go through long periods of depressive thoughts as he was frustrated that he didn’t perform well in the exam though he knew all the answers.
I am sure you are able to relate to some of the examples above that you would have observed in others or experienced yourself. Let’s look at a few types of perfectionism that afflict people.
Time, Space, and Resources
This is the most common type of perfectionism that reduces the number of situations in which a person will act. Exercising is a great example to explain how those who are perfectionists. They are the ones who have clearly designated places where one must exercise, the time of the day when it should be done, and the complete list of resources that must be available before exercising. For example, you must go to a gym to exercise, must be ideally before 8 AM in the morning and not later than 6 PM in the evening and you must have the perfect clothing to exercise. They are also people who consider weight training to be done using heavy equipment.
But we all know that the only exercise equipment that you need is your body unless you are a perfectionist.
This is something we encounter every day and know of. Those who have this kind of perfectionist tendencies are driven mad by their incessant desire for flawless execution. They cannot tolerate anything less-than-perfect. This is most often seen in our workplace but for some, it can be part of their family life as well. Expecting nothing less than a perfect score or grade from their kid at school, perfectly clean rooms with not even a speck of dust particle in any corner. They are the ones who go around after a cleaning session rubbing their palms over nooks and corners to see if there is even a little particle, they would have missed cleaning. The worst, if they find even one such corner, they start all over again looking at all rooms to just ensure that they have done a perfect job.
Quantity and Measurements
Those who are obsessively driven by quantity and measurements are never satisfied with action if it falls below a number threshold or benchmark they have in mind. There are over 90% and more people in the world who struggled with the perfectionism of this kind. It’s probably because social norms have set definitions of success in any job and those benchmarks are always big size and nothing less than perfect.
This type of perfectionism is mostly in the sense of quality: getting your hair done perfectly, having a perfect dinner table, and keeping your desk spotless and does more than quality or that of time, space, and resources. The problem of this type gets accentuated especially when working with “GOALS”.
Most of us are inadvertently conditioned to be perfectionists by mimicking the goals of people around us. You will notice that every single “normal” goal is perfectionistic in nature. They are expressed in terms of quantity and metrics, and almost all people have such goals.
For example, our “New Year Goals and Resolutions”. I must lose 40 pounds in six months, publish a book this year, start earning six figures this year, read one book per week, and so on. You will notice these aren’t impossible goals, but they are somehow perfectionistic in nature as they implicitly indicate that small progress isn’t good enough. For me, when I go to the gym, for my workouts, I had to increase the weights for my squats by at least 6 pounds every week; anything less wasn’t good enough progress.
For me a goal was always about a “podium finish” and it had to be Gold. No matter how much progress I have made, my goals were always like a high jump, either you are over it or under. This extremely binary view of our goals worsens the problem for a perfectionist.
I think the biggest mistake a perfectionist would make is often redefining partial success as a “complete failure”. They end up feeling humiliated and embarrassed if it is anything less than the whole.
It is not just harmful to our progress and mental well-being but borders on being irrational. Not accepting or putting a value on small progress and wanting only big and perfect wins can be frustrating and paralyze action.
When you set goals like these, it triggers in us emotions such as guilt and shame, and we relapse into our old selves. That is probably the reason why most people give up on their new year goals every year – year-on-year.
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