Are you a perfectionist and do you know it could be seriously holding you back? Here DOSE writer Sam shares her battle with perfectionism and how she was able to loosen its powerful grip…
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Confessions of a recovering perfectionist
Being a perfectionist is both a blessing and a curse. It has been my greatest motivator and helped me reach my goals but it has also plagued my life and at times held me back.
I used to set myself impossibly high standards – at school, university and in the workplace – and I had to do my absolute best at everything.
The problem was the better I did at things, the better I felt I was expected to do. This meant I put myself under an unnecessary amount of pressure.
I also associated mistakes with failure and would beat myself up if even the smallest things went wrong.
What is perfectionism?
So, what is the definition of ‘perfectionism’? According to psychologist Antoinette Raymond, it is a personality trait characterised by a person’s “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection”.
There are three types of perfectionism;
– Self-oriented (expectations someone puts on to themselves, by themselves)
– Other oriented (expectation others have of them or expectations they have of others)
– Socially prescribed (expectation society has and uses as definitions of values and traits)
What are the traits of a perfectionist?
Perfectionism can be seen as a positive trait. A perfectionist is likely to be ambitious, hardworking, diligent, detailed-orientated, motivated and driven.
However, it is also associated with certain negative characteristics. One I can particularly identify with is the inability to delegate. I’ve struggled to share my workload in previous managerial roles, as I believed if you wanted something done properly you had to do it yourself. It resulted in me drowning in to-do lists and working crazy long hours.
Other weaknesses can be: staying within your comfort zone due to the fear of failure, inability to finish something until the ‘standard’ is met, procrastination, and being solely focussed on the ‘end game’.
How to overcome perfectionism
So, is it possible to overcome perfectionism? Yes, with some mindset shifts. Antoinette recommends striving towards a ‘growth mindset’, which allows you to “see failure not as a weakness, but rather learning and development opportunities”.
She continues: “I think another one of the best ways to control perfectionist tendencies is to get an outside perspective. This could be asking someone you trust to be a sounding board. They can assess whether your expectations are realistic and achievable. Especially if you are in your head with fears, feelings of inadequacy, etc. sometimes an ‘outside’ voice helps you rationalise what is going on with you.
“Reaching out to a trusted ‘someone else’ is a way of stopping (or at least slowing down) the train of unrealistic expectations. But finding the right person is key. You must trust that they want you to succeed but also want what is best for you. And that you respect and will listen to their input.”
And what was my turning point? Taking up yoga. The practice crushes the idea of perfection and teaches you that it doesn’t exist. It’s often why there are no mirrors in yoga studios as it’s not about doing every pose perfectly.
I’ve moved away from seeing my imperfections as inadequacies and it’s been really liberating. The three words I now live my life by: “I am enough”.
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