Is perfectionism holding you back?

Are you very critical of your own work? Do you spend a lot of time fretting about the tiniest details? Do you often worry about failing and beat yourself up about it when you do? Chances are you are suffering from perfectionism.

It is often assumed that being a perfectionist is a blessing in (a rather transparent) disguise. ‘I’m such a perfectionist’ is an answer that is often given by interviewees when confronted with questions about personal weaknesses. What is actually meant by this is something among the lines of ‘my only fault is working very hard’.

However, while being a perfectionist might, indeed, make you a hard-working and determined employee, it doesn’t mean it makes you the most productive, efficient and, ultimately, happy one.

The clue is in the name: a perfectionist is someone who strives for a perfect end goal, and nothing less. The difficulty with this is that, as most of us know from experience, very few things – if any – in life are perfect, which would make this goal an virtually impossible one to reach. Chasing the idea of perfection will therefore almost certainly lead to feelings of frustration and disappointment which in turn will affect your productivity, your self-esteem and your overall happiness and well-being.

All sound a bit too familiar? Not to worry. While some might be more prone to perfectionism than others, it’s ultimately about beating a certain mindset and the behaviour associated with it. The main thing to learn as a perfectionist is to let go. To accept that not everything is within your control and to be happy with a piece of work being as good as it can be, even if it didn’t reach the standards you set in your mind.

Easier said than done? Probably. It’s essentially a process of resetting your brain and will therefore take time and conscious effort. Let this be an incentive: perfectionists often achieve less than their non-perfectionist (but still high-achieving) colleagues because they are more prone to lose motivation and procrastinate due to the overwhelming pressure that comes with the equally overwhelming goals they set for themselves.

Here are some steps you can take:

1. Become aware of your tendencies. A great way of doing this is by recording your perfectionistic thoughts when they arise. This way you can easily recognise (and put a stop to) them in the future.

2. Remember that failure is a part of life and try to look at mistakes as an opportunity to learn.

3. Be realistic when you set goals for yourself: setting the bar too high will ultimately lead to disappointment.

4. Focus on the positives. Positive thoughts lead to positive results, so try to make a conscious effort to take note of your successes. This will help you build up your self-esteem and stay motivated.

5. Be conscious of the weight you give to criticism and don’t let it overshadow your achievements.

While you may consider your perfectionism a strength, it might actually be the genuine weakness wheeled out at interviews. Examine the effect it is really having on the way you work and start turning that drive, commitment and work ethic into something more positive in which ‘near-perfect’ is a win as well.

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