Here’s what we know: there’s no such thing as perfect. It doesn’t exist. Even in baseball, the “perfect game” is when a pitcher gets every batter out and no one gets on base. He didn’t pitch perfectly, of course… he threw a few balls.
Yet, many high achievers fall into the perfectionist trap. They want everything to be perfect.
Perfectionism is like a personality trait. It’s ingrained in some people. It makes life a constant checklist of accomplishments. When perfectionism is healthy, it can motivate and drive us to get past blocks and experience success. When unhealthy, it can turn into a vicious cycle into unhappiness.
The difference on whether your perfectionist trait is healthy or unhealthy depends on your orientation:
Positive Perfectionists are achievement oriented. They want to accomplish great things.
Negative Perfectionists are failure oriented. They don’t want to fail.
There is a difference between striving for excellence and demanding perfection. Adaptive (positive) perfectionists set high goals accompanied by high standards. They work tirelessly to achieve success. In short, they are focused on getting what they want. Their perfectionistic tendencies are a strength, not a weakness.
Maladaptive (negative) perfectionists set impossibly high and unreasonable expectations for themselves as well as others. They quickly see faults and are overly critical of mistakes. Procrastination on projects happens because the fear of failure is so high. When they receive praise, they tend to dismiss it and don’t acknowledge their achievements.
Dr. Theo Tsaousides, a neuropsychologist and author of Brainblocks: Overcoming 7 Hidden Barriers to Success says that this difference in orientation has long term consequences. “Positive perfectionists are well protected from emotional distress. They tend to be healthier psychologically and more emotionally stable. In contrast, negative perfectionism is linked to low self-esteem, more anxiety and higher levels of depression.”
Aside from the psychological problems that can come from being a negative perfectionist, your results suffer. The reason you’re unlikely to achieve your goals can be explained with The Law of Attraction, which says that what you focus on you get more of. When you focus on not failing, all your focus goes to the “failing” part of the equation. That sets you up for the very failure you want to avoid.
My favorite example of how The Law of Attraction works is this: Right now, don’t think about what a pink elephant would like. Seriously, don’t picture a pink elephant.
I’ll bet you thought of the pink elephant. Why? Because your mind started to focus on a pink elephant and a picture popped up in your mind. Even though the directions said “don’t think about it.”
Here’s the great news… again, perfectionism is more like a personality trait that is ingrained in you. And, part of it is really good and beneficial to achieving big goals. What perfectionists can do is harness the positive and fend off the negative.
Here’s some ways to use positive perfectionism.
Let go of the comparison mindset. When we compare ourselves to others or even an ideal, we set ourselves up to create win/loss scenarios. Become okay with doing your best and learning from the outcome. Have confidence in your journey and know your journey is not your neighbors.
Mindfulness. Fear of failure is a cousin to anxiety. It’s a future oriented fear. When you practice mindfulness and can live in the moment, fear of the future melts away. You cannot fear the future if you’re only thinking about the present moment. There are many avenues for mindfulness practices. The app Insight Timer is my go-to.
Challenge negative self judgement. When we fear failure, we are likely to judge ourselves. We get in our heads, which affects how we do anything. Understand that the negative self judgement is simply a perspective. You are free to have other perspectives. Use these questions below to help yourself shift into a different, non-judgmental perspective.
So what if it’s not perfect?
What can you learn from this?
Who did you help?
Listen to your gut, what’s it really telling you?
Being a perfectionist has its pros and its cons. Be sure to harness its power to help you achieve success.