Being thorough is one thing, but if you obsess over your work and beat yourself up if you make a mistake then you could be a perfectionist.
While there are definitely upsides to being a perfectionist (it’s likely that you’ll have a reputation for being thorough and detail-oriented), it can be a disadvantage if you find it impossible to move on from a task.
A 1978 study by DE Hamachek identified two kinds of perfectionist: the ‘normal perfectionist’ who strives for perfection and is able to accept failure and the ‘neurotic perfectionist’ who is driven by a fear of failure. Does this sound familiar?
Perfectionists tend to be extremely self-critical and can suffer from a range of mental and physical health issues ranging from depression to eating disorders.
So is perfectionism a mental disorder? The answer no, not in itself, but it can be a risk factor for other conditions.
Surprisingly, the number of perfectionists in our society is growing. A paper published in the Psychological Bulletin journal found a growth in perfectionism in undergraduates in the US, UK and Canada between 1989 and 2016.
In particular, the students’ anxiety was social. 33% of the students felt that others expected them to be perfect and they then put pressure on themselves.
Read on to learn more about perfectionism and take the quiz…
Perfectionism and anxiety
If you’re a perfectionist, your dedication to getting things right can be a source of stress and anxiety.
Perfectionism is, at its heart, a fear of failure. Perfectionists are so desperate to avoid mistakes that they find it difficult to move on from anything if it isn’t perfect. And that fear can lead to anxiety.
The Frost MPS Scale is used to measure perfectionism and it suggests that perfectionists often share common traits. Perfectionists worry excessively about mistakes, set themselves high personal standards, have doubts the quality of their own work, feel anxious about parental criticism, worry about high parental expectations and a tend to like things to be organised and orderly.
How do you conquer perfectionism?
While there is no quick fix for overcoming your perfectionist tendencies, there are a few techniques that you can try.
The Centre for Clinical Interventions has created a workbook to help your put perfectionism in perspective, which could be helpful if you feel that your perfectionism is taking over your life.
Here are a few other tips that you can try:
Focus on positive statements
If your perfectionism is rooted in a fear of failure, practice focusing on positive statements such as “all I can do is my best” and “everyone makes mistakes”. Remember that you are not your mistakes and the world won’t end if you do get something wrong.
Try to focus on these whenever you find yourself becoming anxious.
Find some perspective
For perfectionists, it can be difficult to move on from a task and they tend to get caught up in the little details.
Ask yourself what the worst possible outcome would be if your work isn’t perfect. Will the consequences really be disastrous? Will things break? Will the sky fall down?
For most of us, making a small mistake isn’t the end of the world and we need to learn when to accept this and move on.
Change your outlook
Instead of worrying about failure, focus on the aspects of a task that you enjoy instead. This will help you to feel more positive about your work.
Be kind to yourself
Perfectionists are often highly self-critical and find it difficult to block negative thoughts.
A good way to tackle this problem is to imagine that you’re talking to a friend. Would you ever speak to a friend in the same way that you speak to yourself?
If the answer is no, then you can try to dismiss the thought as unkind or unrealistic. Be a good friend to yourself.
Lower your standards
Learning to accept when things are ‘good enough’ is a big hurdle for perfectionists to overcome. Reflect on what standards you’re prepared to lower – are you prepared to spend less time working on a project? Are you prepared to spend a little less time polishing your work?
Anxiety Canada has some great exercises to help you work on setting more realistic personal standards.
Set yourself time limits at work
Overcome the urge to spend too long on any task by setting yourself a time limit at work. Break your time into chunks and split down big projects into smaller tasks.
This will stop you from lingering on the fine details and help you to move on.
Try using CBT techniques
You don’t have to be a perfectionist forever. It’s possible to use cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) to reprogram your brain and learn to accept imperfections.
There are lots of great free resources online to help you to get started, such as this perfectionism workbook from the University of Surrey.