VIVA's Report On The Troubles With Perfectionism
The Perfect Everything
The dress you're wearing to the awards show? The presentation you're working on for the board? The dinner you're preparing for your family? You want it to be perfect. Of course you do. But according to Dubai-based British cognitive therapist Russell Hemmings "perfection can be ugly." Today's generation has been programmed to strive for unachievable perfection – a laborious and ultimately futile quest for the elusive glory of being perfect.
How many of us have spent hours agonizing over small details that ultimately don't matter much? Or consider anything imperfect a complete failure? Or avoid trying new things for the fear of being imperfect? The answer is: too many. Today, too many of us are entrapped in the need to be perfect.
Experts have even found a direct correlation between people with perfectionist tendencies and disappointment. Russell Hemmings explains, "What people fail to understand is that perfection is ultimately impossible to achieve and its pursuit can only lead to disappointment. Moreover, perfection is subjective – what is perfect to you, will not be for someone else. In the end, you will never feel like you are good enough if you hold yourself to such standards."
From an early age, we are under constant pressure to achieve absolute excellence – perfect grades, perfect clothes, perfect hair. These only grow with age into the need for the perfect job, the perfect figure and the perfect man.
We may try to be good parents and not inflict direct pressure on our children with the repetitive use of the word 'perfect', but let's be honest, they can feel our unvoiced desire to have better children than everyone else's.
And today, with social media, the craze has magnified: to achieve the flawless look of photoshopped models, match our friend's stunning family photo on Facebook, or own the coveted Marc Jacobs bag on our colleague's Instagram post.
Even celebrities fall into the trap. Beyonce and Mariah Carey, both powerful and beautiful women, have been known to photoshop their images before posting them on social media. Hollywood's darling Gwyneth Paltrow spoke about the pitfalls of perfectionism in her life on her blog: "Striving to achieve a sense of perfection has been a misguided belief in my life, often leading me down the wrong path. It has made me, at times, place value on the wrong things. It has made me not listen to my true self for fear that I would somehow fail in another's eyes."
Culturally, too, we prize perfectionism; Martha Stewart is frequently credited with insisting that her team strive for it. But what we don't usually talk about is the impact of working with a control freak or the collateral damage to creativity. Just think of your obsessive boss who devalues your work, only to discourage you further. It's a toxic loop.
"There's a difference between excellence and perfection," explains Miriam Adderholdt, a psychology instructor at Davidson Community College in Lexington, North Carolina, and author of Perfectionism: What's Bad About Being Too Good? Excellence involves enjoying what you're doing, feeling good about what you've learned, and developing confidence. Perfection involves feeling bad about a 98 out of 100 and always finding mistakes no matter how well you're doing.
The Right Steps
The first step in overcoming hazardous perfectionist tendencies is to acknowledge the fact that mistakes are a part of existence and making a mistake does not mean that you as a person are a mistake. Learn to see the beauty in imperfections.
If your inner-perfectionist was cheering you on from the sidelines, that would be one thing, but when it's a rant rather than a cheer and it sounds like: "This isn't right, this isn't good enough, how come your friend is doing so much better than you?", you need to pull the plug - not on the project, but on the perfectionist that's bringing you down.
To counteract those negative messages, get the facts. Ask yourself different questions and really answer them: What is working? What are you enjoying? What is the purpose of what you are doing? Are you meeting that purpose? Or, if things aren't working so well, don't give up - ask yourself why it isn't working. Maybe this is a clue about where you need to head next.
According to Hemmings, it is also important to let go of black-and-white thinking. Success and failure aren't mutually exclusive. Just because you did not achieve the sales quota for the month doesn't mean that you have failed. You may have formed some strong long-lasting client contacts on the way which can help you later on.
And stop comparing yourself to your perceived standards of perfection. Because guess what - that friend of yours with the perfect job with a huge paycheck? She hasn't had a good date for months. Or that size zero model on TV? She has been starving herself for weeks and has no energy to enjoy her fame. Not to say that you should try and find things wrong with another's life. But it is important to understand that no one's life is perfect. So there is no need to criticise yourself for not being able to achieve certain goals.
Try and focus on the journey rather than simply the destination. What you might learn or experience during the process may be far more valuable than the ultimate goal. Don't be so busy micromanaging your colleagues that you lose out on the chance to make great friends! And sometimes try and look at the bigger picture; that perfect Chanel dress with Swarovski crystals you can't afford, it really won't make a big difference to your life and well being in the long run.
When you stop trying to be perfect, you will enjoy the imperfection that is what is called life.
Top 5 Tips to Break Free of Perfectionism
Do a reality check –
- Rationalize your conclusions.
- Refuse to let fear of failure control your actions.
- Reduce the pressure on yourself – everyone makes mistakes!
- Be your own cheerleader.
- Focus on your successes.