Trying to do things perfectly often seems like a good idea, perhaps even essential to your success, but expecting perfection isn’t realistic. So, when you hold yourself to this impossibly high standard, you’re probably creating more problems than you’re solving.
What is perfectionism?
Perfectionism isn’t the same as excellence. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do high-quality work and wanting to improve. But perfectionists don’t just want to excel, they can’t tolerate mistakes or imperfections. They drive themselves (and sometimes others) incredibly hard because they don’t feel good enough — and achieving more, looking perfect, pleasing everyone, and “having it all together” becomes a way to feel in control and worthy.
But perfectionism doesn’t make is feel more confident, accepted, or successful. It holds us back and makes it harder for us to do many of the things we want to accomplish and prevents us from being our authentic selves.
Are you letting perfectionism sabotage your health, happiness, and success? Read on to learn about how perfectionism can be self-sabotaging.
10 Ways Perfectionists Self-Sabotage
1) Perfectionists overwork and can’t relax until everything is done.
Perfectionists are often hard workers and highly productive, but we often lack balance in our lives. We become so focused on our to-do lists and worried about getting everything done (and done right) that we miss out on enjoying life. Overworking can lead to exhaustion, of course, and it also leads to missed opportunities to connect with others, to rest and rejuvenate ourselves, and to have fun – all of which would increase our health and happiness.
2) Perfectionists are self-critical.
Contrary to popular belief, being hard on yourself isn’t going to motivate you or help you perform better. Research shows that self-criticism is demotivating and is associated with depression, anxiety, shame, and decreased productivity. In contrast, self-compassion – being kind to ourselves even when we screw up – is associated with greater motivation and confidence, and less fear of failure.
3) Perfectionists think in absolutes.
All-or-nothing thinking doesn’t serve us well. When we see ourselves as good or bad, smart or stupid, a success or a failure, we miss all the possibilities in between. And we generally label ourselves and others harshly (bad, stupid, failure) because we’re imperfect. You’ll feel more motivated and optimistic if you can see your strengths and your progress rather than only your shortcomings or imperfections. Read more about changing your all-or-nothing thinking here.
4) Perfectionists feel stressed out all the time.
We put unneeded stress on ourselves and others with our unrealistic expectations. Needing everything to be perfect makes us inflexible, controlling, critical, overwhelmed, and anxious. And when we’re under stress everything is harder; we don’t operate as our “best selves”. Stress contributes to both physical and mental health problems, leaving us susceptible to illness, injury, burn out, and fatigue. Stress can also negatively impact our relationships with others.
5) Perfectionists don’t ask for or accept help.
Our rigid expectations and all-or-nothing thinking often prevent us from accepting help. As Perfectionists, we tend to see asking for help as a sign that we’re inadequate. And because we have such rigid and impossibly high standards, we don’t like to delegate or ask for help. Even though we’re stressed and overworked, we’d rather do everything ourselves because others don’t do things “right”.
6) Perfectionists overthink things.
In an effort to make the “right” decisions and always do the “right’ thing, we spend inordinate amounts of time thinking about things that either can’t be changed or that aren’t that important. You might rehash a mistake you made, letting it get bigger and bigger in your mind until you’ve concluded you’re the stupidest person in the world and no one will ever like/respect/hire you again. Or you might spend hours researching and agonizing over your options, only to regret or second-guess whatever decision you make. Overthinking generally wastes our time and energy, leaving us feeling lousy and incompetent. When you notice yourself overthinking, try some of these strategies to break the cycle.
7) Perfectionists procrastinate.
Procrastination is often rooted in fear or anxiety – fear of failing, fear of not being good enough, or fear of embarrassment. And since we base our self-worth on our achievements or performance, it’s imperative that we succeed at everything we do. With stakes this high, sometimes it’s easier not to start, not to try. Not trying becomes an easy out. It’s a lot less painful to think I failed because I didn’t try than it is to think I failed because I wasn’t good enough. But avoidance usually increases anxiety, so we need to remember that not everything needs to be perfect and that if we do fail or get criticized, we can cope and not let it define us.
8) Perfectionists don’t try new things.
Our fears can also keep us from trying new things. We like to stick to things that we know we’re good at, things we can excel at. New things feel risky and as a result, we limit ourselves tremendously. We miss out on new career opportunities, new relationships, new hobbies and adventures because we’re afraid to take a chance. When we accept that we don’t have to be perfect, it frees us up try things that we might not be good at.
9) Perfectionists are inefficient.
In addition to procrastinating and overthinking, we waste time perfecting things that don’t need to be perfect. We redo tasks, check and recheck things to make sure there aren’t any errors. Yes, there are occasions when this level of attention-to-detail is warranted, but perfectionists apply this standard to everything and it’s often a poor use of our time.
10) Perfectionists notice what everyone’s doing wrong.
All perfectionists expect perfection from themselves – and some of us also expect perfection from others. And when we have impossibly high standards for others, we become adept at spotting everything they’re doing “wrong” according to our standards. This leads to nagging and criticizing, which erodes relationships and makes us unpleasant to be around. The good news is that we can practice noticing what others do “right”, and we can generously offer compliments and acknowledge their effort and progress.
Don’t let perfectionism sabotage your health, relationships, and success! To learn more about overcoming perfectionism, pick up a copy of The CBT Workbook for Perfectionism (available at most major bookstores) and use the practical exercises it contains to change the perfectionist thoughts and behaviors that are getting in your way.
©Sharon Martin, LCSW. All rights reserved.
Photo by Rodolfo Marques on Unsplash.com