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Perfectionism and Creative Thinking

“I’m a maniacal perfectionist. And if I weren’t, I wouldn’t have this company. It’s the best rap!”

Martha Stewart added, “I have proven that being a perfectionist can be profitable and admirable when creating content across the board: in television, books, newspapers, radio, videos… All that content is impeccable.” []

Filmmaking and other arts often demand an obsessive attention to detail, and even rely on a certain level or quality of perfectionism in the pursuit of excellence, but perfectionism can also be limiting and destructive.

Actor Michelle Pfeiffer was quoted in an interview: “I’m a perfectionist, so I can drive myself mad — and other people, too. At the same time, I think that’s one of the reasons I’m successful. Because I really care about what I do. I really want it to be right, and I don’t quit until I have to.”

Director, musician and actor renowned (and often condemned) for her perfectionism, Barbra Streisand, has commented about the need to temper this drive: “We have to accept imperfections in ourselves, in others, in life. And it’s part of the beauty of the experience in life. Nothing can be perfect. Also, perfection is cold. Imperfection has humanity in it. Why I love making movies is I’m thrown into nature, into life, into the spontaneity of the moment.”

Following that kind of freedom of thought and action can lead to creative energy and insights, but it may be inhibited by unhealthy perfectionism: an exaggerated concern for doing something “right.”

Part of what can fuel perfectionistic thinking is a fear of investing so much time and talent in the “wrong” path or project.

It may also show up for many talented and creative people as a sense of being inadequate or a fraud – feelings which can very effectively dampen our creativity. Many women may be especially vulnerable to what has been defined as the Impostor Syndrome.

One of the tricky aspects of the kinds of thoughts that drive perfectionism is that there can be so much validity to them, at least in some situations, at some level.

If you do create something “perfect” people really are likely to notice and acclaim it.

And some creative work, like novels and movies, take years of labor and exquisite attention to detail.

But there can be a real freeing-up of creativity if you can be more aware of the restrictions of perfectionistic thinking, and let go of it when it is self-limiting. Or embrace it when it is working for you.

“No, I’m a greatist. I only want to do it until it’s great.”

Film director James Cameron, responding to an actor calling him a perfectionist.

Photo from post: Gifted and driven: Striving for excellence & being a perfectionist.


Present Perfect: A Mindfulness Approach to Letting Go of Perfectionism and the Need for Control, by Pavel Somov.

The Gifts of Imperfection, by Brene Brown.

“Were it not for perfectionism, we would be in short supply of all those myriad human activities we deem extraordinary, excellent, outstanding or great in quality. Once upon a time perfectionism was perceived not as neurosis, but rather as a sign of commitment, caring,  and devotion to one’s work…” Psychologist Stephen A. Diamond – from post: Too Much Perfectionism.

Also see more High Ability site posts on Perfectionism.


Perfectionism and Creative Thinking

Douglas Eby

Douglas EbyDouglas Eby, MA/Psychology, is a writer and researcher on psychology and personal development related to creativity; creator of the , and author of books including [link to book site with excerpts.]
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APA Reference
Eby, D. (2012). Perfectionism and Creative Thinking. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 7, 2019, from


Last updated: 16 Nov 2012
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