Do you think that, no matter how hard you try, you are never good enough? Do you wonder how to use perfectionism to your advantage?
For perfectionists, life is a never-ending evaluation. Work performance, accomplishments, looks — the critique never ends.
Perfectionists, like everyone, desire success. Their curse, however, is that they are more concerned with avoiding failure. This negative orientation can drive a conglomerate of characteristics and behaviors that ultimately create the opposite of desired results.
Perfectionism, in and of itself, isn’t all bad. It is a trait that defines some of the greatest minds and most creative, accomplished people in history. The problem arises when it is rooted in a belief that one is never good enough.
Recognizing the adaptive and maladaptive forms is essential if you are going to learn how to use perfectionism to your advantage.
The most telling trait of maladaptive perfectionism is procrastination. The perfectionist associates failure in accomplishment with failure as a person. And that internalization is enough to make the perfectionist put off a task as long as possible.
The drive to achieve an unattainable ideal leaves the perfectionist feeling let down. Uncontrolled perfectionism can lead to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, fear of failure and broken relationships.
Are you guilty of procrastinating out of a fear of being “found out” as an imposter? Do you spend too much time trying to get things exactly right in order to avoid criticism? Are you afraid of losing control if you invite change into your life?
Just as importantly, do you wonder how to use perfectionism to your advantage?
In order to make your perfectionism adaptive, start by recognizing that, like most things, perfectionism is a spectrum. Some degree of perfectionism and obsessive-compulsive disorder is helpful.
The goal is to develop realistic, fluctuating expectations. Allow 75% to be “good enough,” even if you have to get there gradually. Extremely high expectations are a breeding ground for extreme anxiety, so bringing them into a range of “realistic” will have a calming effect.
Be compassionate with yourself as you embrace these changes. Change isn’t linear. There will be ups and downs, so be patient as you develop these adaptive skills.
Do reality checking. Step outside yourself and ask, “What would I say to a friend? What would I expect of someone else?” Bring that same realism and compassion to yourself.
Be mindful not to globalize your mistakes. They are situational, not a defining personality characteristic.
If you are guilty of worrying until the last possible minute, ask yourself, “What is the worst possible scenario? Can I survive it? What will I do if…? What then?” Anxiety is primarily a symptom of focusing on the unknown, so talk yourself through what you do know.
Commit to learning from your mistakes. Doing so will help to convert your perfectionism to successful imperfection. Remember, as I have elaborated on in a previous article, you are already good enough.
Keep in mind that perfectionism does not equal laziness. It is a misguided sense of activity based on a low tolerance for frustration and failure. The perfectionist resorts to diversions to avoid the risk of either.
And in that regard, it is the enemy of decision-making, creativity, productivity…and ultimately success.
I said earlier that perfectionism is a “spectrum.” It holds as many upsides as it does downsides.
Adaptive perfectionists have great attention to detail, commitment and persistence, and show preferences for order and organization. They also have lower levels of procrastination than non-perfectionists.
Even their obsession with the end result can motivate them to work diligently and maintain a higher work ethic.
If you struggle with a belief that you are never good enough, please hear and receive this message: You are already good enough.
By starting with that truth, your perfectionism will become a gateway to living your dreams, not a block to them.
If you need guidance in learning how to use perfectionism to your greater good, please reach out. We are here to help.