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Last Updated on October 28, 2019

How Not to Let Perfectionism Secretly Screw You Up

How Not to Let Perfectionism Secretly Screw You Up

While perfectionism is commonly seen as believing you want to be perfect or perhaps the obsession of wanting something to be exactly right, being a perfectionist can manifest in other subtle ways:

  • Having to check something just one more time
  • Procrastinating with the thought that it isn’t the perfect time to start something
  • Being the first person to spot a mistake all the time

It actually reflects more than we think and can be a blessing or a curse.

“Perfectionism is more than pushing yourself to do your best to achieve a goal; it’s a reflection of an inner self mired in anxiety.” — Thomas S. Greenspon

This is said by Thomas S. Greenspon, a psychologist and author of a recent paper on an “antidote to perfectionism,” published in Psychology in the Schools [1]

In other words, perfectionism is born out of uneasiness, concern and doubt rather than a simple basic want to do things well.

The Psychology Behind Perfectionism

Why are some people such perfectionists? There are several reasons why this personality trait is stronger in some than others and it’s down to a certain psychological mindset.

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While some people take or leave mistakes as a lesson, perfectionists see them as personal flaws. They mentally beat themselves up and feel that sense of failure – the same fear of failure that perfectionism stems from.

Another source of perfectionism is the issue of the ego. Many people want things to be perfect because they’re in a mindset of caring what other people will think of them – that they’ll be judged negatively if something isn’t up to a certain standard.

Childhood experiences can also allow perfectionism to evolve in your personality, especially if you’ve learned from a parent or guardian that you somehow can’t be loveable if you’re not perfect. This transcends into your way of thinking throughout work and relationships into adulthood.

And of course, the restricted rules during your education years can teach you at a young age that following rules is important and to your detriment if you’re to break them in any way or not live up to them.

How Perfectionism Secretly Screws You Up

Many people take comfort in being a perfectionist but it’s a common myth that perfectionism creates perfection.

One downside is the time wasted on making something seemingly perfect and actually causes you to become less productive.

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Spending more time on something can often be an illusion – we think we’re improving something but that time isn’t necessarily quality time and could be hindering your performance.

For example, say you were working on an important project for your department that accounted for 15% of sales for the company and it took you 4 months to complete. While another coworker completed another project in a month that only accounted for 7% of overall sales for the company. While it didn’t rack up more sales, your coworker had time to complete further projects which brought a total of 21% of sales.

This is an example of the idea that failing fast is better than succeeding too slowly. When you fail fast, you learn much more in a shorter period of time preparing you for future success much sooner and this is what perfectionism can prevent.

How to Change Your Perfectionist Mindset

If you feel your perfectionism is holding you back, then it might be time to change your habits and way of thinking. There are several strategies you can adopt to change your perfectionist mindset and improve your success in life.

1. Abandon the “All or Nothing” Mindset

A common mindset when it comes to perfectionism is either you want to do something well or not at all. But the problem with this is in denying the importance of the process.

Achieving greatness comes from the experience and insights gained from this process, allowing you the chance to tune and apply these for future success. This inadvertently reduces the chance of failure overall despite what the perfectionist mind may try hard to deny.

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2. Keep in Mind the 80/20 and 70% Rule

It’s sometimes easy to ignore the essence of something when it comes to perfectionism but as long as the essence is apparent within whatever you’re doing, it doesn’t need 100% perfection. Just 70% is all it really needs for it to be great and the fine tuning can be done afterwards. This way you’re seeing the end result more clearly helping to see potential issues.

The 80/20 rule is a good one to keep in mind – only 20% of your efforts can amount to 80% of the results. Any more than this isn’t going to make a huge difference plus it gives you that leeway to tune up the details at a later date.

3. Actively Ask for Positive Feedback

Feedback is every perfectionist’s worst nightmare and while getting both positive and negative feedback is the ideal, this is something a perfectionist would struggle with already being aware of shortcomings and inadequacies. Therefore, asking for feedback on a regular basis can help counteract this and get the mind used to a balance of opinion.

4. Sort Out the “Must Haves” from the “Good to Haves”

Lots of ideas can be great unless perfectionism is your downfall. Prioritization is key here but a perfectionist can find it hard to leave out ideas that they think should be included. However, this is detrimental to the quality of your work or project and can cause you to fall behind or add extra pressure on yourself.

Before you start any project, make sure you create a list of the ‘must haves’ and the ‘good to haves’. Make the ‘must haves’ an absolute priority and only include the ‘good to haves’ if time allows.

5. Celebrate Small Wins Every Day

A perfectionist’s mindset tends to lean towards the negative so writing down 3 daily achievements can help shift this mindset to one of positivity. Anything small from “I got up earlier than my alarm today” to “I met a new and interesting person” can get the mind thinking of positive aspects and detracts from the negative.

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One study explains how this is all down to certain chemicals interacting with our reward system in the brain allowing us to receive the feeling of accomplishment. This feeling motivates us to repeat the process again in order to achieve it. Thinking of positive daily aspects, no matter how small, can literally train your brain to be more positive.

6. Set Realistic Goals

Setting unrealistic goals is a definite trait of a perfectionist and ends up causing feelings of inadequacy because they can be hard to achieve.

Say you’re an actor who aims to become a Hollywood star within a year, or you want to have a successful published book within the next 6 months before you haven’t yet written a word – while this could happen, realistically you’re bound to be disappointed.

Having goals is a wonderful thing but raising the bar too high can create feelings of demotivation and lack. So harvest that desire to improve yourself by all means, but not to the point of making yourself feel less-than.

Learn more about how to set realistic goals here: How to Use SMART Goal to Become Highly Successful in Life

Final Thoughts

You can’t always extinguish the perfectionist in you (that’s perfectionism) but you can become a ‘healthy perfectionist’. You can do this by always keeping the bigger picture in mind.

Whenever you start drilling into an aspect or detail of your project, ask yourself how much it’ll affect the end result. If it only contributes to around 2%, then you need to let it go. This is an example of opportunity cost where there is potential loss of other avenues or alternatives because of sole focus on one idea.

Stepping back before diving in can save you a lot of time and frees you up to focus on a better result.

Reference

[1] Psychology in the Schools: Is There An Antidote to Perfectionism?

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on July 13, 2020

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

How Not to Feel Overwhelmed at Work & Take Control of Your Day

Overwhelm is a pernicious state largely caused by the ever-increasing demands on our time and the distractions that exist all around us. It creeps up on us and can, in its extreme form, leave us feeling anxious, stressed and exhausted.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, here are 6 strategies you can follow that will reduce the feeling of overwhelm; leaving you calmer, in control and a lot less stressed.

1. Write Everything down to Offload Your Mind

The first thing you can do when you begin to feel overwhelmed is to write everything down that is on your mind.

Often people just write down all the things they think they have to do. This does help, but a more effective way to reduce overwhelm is to also write down everything that’s on your mind.

For example, you may have had an argument with your colleague or a loved one. If it’s on your mind write it down. A good way to do this is to draw a line down the middle of the page and title one section “things to do” and the other “what’s on my mind”.

The act of writing all this down and getting it out of your head will begin the process of removing your feeling of overwhelm. Writing things down can really change your life.

2. Decide How Long It Will Take to Complete Your To-Dos

Once you have ‘emptied your head,’ go through your list and estimate how long it will take to complete each to-do.

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As you go through your list, you will find quite a few to-dos will only take you five or ten minutes. Others will take longer, often up to several hours.

Do not worry about that at this stage. Just focus on estimating how long you will need to complete each task to the best of your ability. Here’s How to Cultivate a More Meaningful To Do List.

3. Take Advantage of Parkinson’s Law

Now here’s a little trick I learned a long time ago. Parkinson’s Law states that work will fill the time you have available to complete it, and us humans are terrible at estimating how long something will take:((Odhable: Genesis of Parkinson’s Law))

    This is why many people are always late. They think it will only take them thirty minutes to drive across town when previous experience has taught them it usually takes forty-five minutes to do so because traffic is often bad but they stick to the belief it will only take thirty minutes. It’s more wishful thinking than good judgment.

    We can use Parkinson’s Law to our advantage. If you have estimated that to write five emails that desperately need a reply to be ninety minutes, then reduce it down to one hour. Likewise, if you have estimated it will take you three hours to prepare your upcoming presentation, reduce it down to two hours.

    Reducing the time you estimate something will take gives you two advantages. The first is you get your work done quicker, obviously. The second is you put yourself under a little time pressure and in doing so you reduce the likelihood you will be distracted or allow yourself to procrastinate.

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    When we overestimate how long something will take, subconsciously our brains know we have plenty of time and so it plays tricks on us and we end up checking reviews of the Apple Watch 4 or allow our colleagues to interrupt us with the latest office gossip.

    Applying a little time pressure prevents this from happening and we get more focused and more work done.

    4. Use the Power of Your Calendar

    Once you have your time estimates done, open up your calendar and schedule your to-dos. Go through your to-dos and schedule time on your calendar for doing those tasks. Group tasks up into similar tasks.

    For emails that need attention on your to-do list, schedule time on your calendar to deal with all your emails at once. Likewise, if you have a report to write or a presentation to prepare, add these to your calendar using your estimated time as a guide for how long each will take.

    Seeing these items on your calendar eases your mind because you know you have allocated time to get them done and you no longer feel you have no time. Grouping similar tasks together keeps you in a focused state longer and it’s amazing how much work you get done when you do this.

    5. Make Decisions

    For those things you wrote down that are on your mind but are not tasks, make a decision about what you will do with each one. These things are on your mind because you have not made a decision about them.

    If you have an issue with a colleague, a friend or a loved one, take a little time to think about what would be the best way to resolve the problem. More often than not just talking with the person involved will clear the air and resolve the problem.

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    If it is a more serious issue, then decide how best to deal with it. Talk to your boss, a colleague and get advice.

    Whatever you do, do not allow it to fester. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. You need to make a decision to deal with it and the sooner you do so the sooner the problem will be resolved. (You can take a look at this guide on How To Make Good Decisions All The Time.)

    I remember long ago, when I was in my early twenties and had gone mad with my newly acquired credit cards. I discovered I didn’t have the money to pay my monthly bills. I worried about it for days, got stressed and really didn’t know what to do. Eventually, I told a good friend of mine of the problem. He suggested I called the credit card company to explain my problem. The next day, I plucked up the courage to call the company, explained my problem and the wonderful person the other end listened and then suggested I paid a smaller amount for a couple of months.

    This one phone call took no more than ten minutes to make, yet it solved my problem and took away a lot of the stress I was feeling at the time. I learned two very valuable lessons from that experience:

    The first, don’t go mad with newly acquired credit cards! And the second, there’s always a solution to every problem if you just talk to the right person.

    6. Take Some Form of Action

    Because overwhelm is something that creeps up on us, once we feel overwhelmed (and stressed as the two often go together), the key is to take some form of action.

    The act of writing everything down that is bothering you and causing you to feel overwhelmed is a great place to start. Being able to see what it is that is bothering you in a list form, no matter how long that list is, eases the mind. You have externalized it.

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    It also means rather than these worries floating around in a jumbled mess inside your head, they are now visible and you can make decisions easier about what to do about them. Often it could be asking a colleague for a little help, or it could be you see you need to allocate some focused time to get the work done. The important thing is you make a decision on what to do next.

    Overwhelm is not always caused by a feeling of having a lack of time or too much work, it can also be caused by avoiding a decision about what to do next.

    The Bottom Line

    Make a decision, even if it is to just talk to someone about what to do next. Making a decision about how you will resolve something on its own will reduce your feelings of overwhelm and start you down the path to a resolution one way or another.

    When you follow these strategies to can say goodbye to your overwhelm and gain much more control over your day.

    More Tips for Reducing Work Stress

    Featured photo credit: Andrei Lazarev via unsplash.com

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