I am a perfectionist. This means that although I work very hard on projects to put my best work forward, I also have a tendency to hold my own work to an insanely high standard. It also means that when I see the incredible successes of others, I beat myself down for what I feel I haven’t yet accomplished. It often leads to stress because I can almost never reach my own high standards, and depression occasionally follows because they can’t be met. I have curbed these tendencies over the years, by understanding exactly what I need to feel accomplished, and I hope to share a few of these tricks in order to help you, the reader. You may find wisdom in them even if you don’t have the perfectionist tendencies, as they may apply to whatever challenges you face with your own work.
Facing Perfectionist Tendencies:
Let me just mention that I am not a psychologist, so take all my advice with a grain of salt. It’s meant for general interest and is not to be used in place of professional medical advice.
1. Move from one project to another
The problems start to crop up if I procrastinate. If I have a list as long as my arm, I always get stuck on one item on the list, doing it perfectly before I can move on. I end up spending all my time on one item, or just never starting for fear of accomplishing any one task perfectly.
The fix for this has been to break down each task into very small bits, so that I can have the satisfaction of crossing off each little bit of task as I finish it. Once I complete a small task, I move on to the next one right away so that I can accomplish it as well.
This has helped me feel like I’m making progress on my work, and after a day of crossing off items, I feel like I’ve really made a dent in my work.
2. Ask for feedback on simple things
One of the things that perfectionists often find difficult is taking advice and feedback from others. This is detrimental, as the advice of others is usually constructive and useful for making the final product better. The issue faced by the perfectionist is that they cannot handle any criticism for fear of being revealed as anything other than a producer of high quality work.
“If no-one says anything bad about my work, then how can it be bad?”
Overcoming this has been about starting small when it comes to feedback. I ask people what they think of something I am proud of, something that has achieved my perfect gold standard. Usually there is some constructive feedback, but most of it is good, so I get a net positive and still end up with a few ways to improve.
The best thing I could have done to work on this was to go to toastmasters. Every time you give a speech you are given an evaluation by another member. The evaluations are expected to be mostly positive, with some offering of areas for improvement. They always end on a high note, so that even if you are given some criticism, the focus is ultimately positive, encouraging you as a speaker to work to improve yourself.
I’ve been trying to build momentum and ask for feedback in other areas of my life on a regular basis, and although it’s difficult, I’m moving in the right direction.
3. Schedule Breaks
When I find myself spending too much time on a project, I often go into overdrive and keep working non-stop, burning myself out and then going through a period of procrastination and laziness to essentially recharge my batteries. The reality is that I’m overdoing it, and stepping away for a few minutes to do something else can help give perspective on the project, and remind me that I tend to scrutinize my work too much. Often when i take a break, I realize the work is good and just leave it alone, moving to the next item straight away.
Clarity and perspective are important when working. It pays to rest your mind, to slow down, to reset, and to ensure you aren’t overdoing it. Instead of working non-stop and being out of commission as you spend days recharging, you can work an appropriate amount each day without burning out.
We should never have to make excuses for the way we are. We all have characteristics that we feel are weaknesses, but really they give us insight into how to master our own destiny. If we can learn to work with what we have, and find ways to circumvent the things that prevent us from succeeding, we can accomplish much more than we ever thought possible. Always remember that you can bring out the best in yourself through effort and reflection, and whatever situation you find yourself in, you have the power to change it.