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Ways to Avoid Getting Trapped in Perfectionism

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At some point, you will have to stop polishing and put up the sculpture. Click To Tweet

Perfectionism is one of those personality traits that one takes pride in till the day they find out that it is actually a mental disorder. It’s a little disconcerting to find out that everything the studies are saying is true for you when the outcomes include anxiety and depression.

I have always been a perfectionist. I still am. And I can vouch for the fact that, first, it is tiresome, and second, it’s not at all easy to just stop! Even for those who try, shifting your brain to stop following the old perfectionist tendencies you have been learning since childhood is damn near impossible.

I literally wrote a book on perfectionism when I used to work as a ghostwriter. Over time, I have read hundreds, if not thousands, of articles on the topic. But I still catch myself in perfectionist conduct. I still constantly delay execution to improve ideas “just a little bit more” even when said ideas are getting antiquated.  

Clearly, a perfectionist is not something you can just stop being. Perfectionism is not a habit than can be unlearnt in 21 days.

Perfectionism goes deep. It’s a character archetype – a mental model. Perfectionists are naturally wired to find ways to improve things. That is not a bad trait when you are trying to accomplish an important project. It is only harmful if you let it get in the way of your being productive. To stop this from happening, you can try the following: 

Seek to become the imperfect perfectionist

Just because perfectionism has negative outcomes does not make perfection bad. It’s just too high an ideal to aspire to. Perfectionism makes you spend your life chasing something that can never be captured.

Everything can always be improved. But you have to start with something.

The imperfect perfectionist recognizes the futility of chasing perfection all the time. He recognizes that you cannot get something 100% excellent and neither is there a need for it. It is okay to give something your best. At some point, you will have to stop polishing and put up the sculpture.  

Re-evaluate your standards

Perfectionists tend to have high expectations not just of themselves but of others as well. They get incredibly frustrated when these expectations are not met. This contributes to the complex of mental disorders associated with perfectionism. Relationships with others get strained when expectations are not met.

Speaking from a personal viewpoint, a perfectionist’s high standards create a constant flow of self-critique. Even when a perfectionist does well, he or she can still find something they could have done a little bit better. In the long run, this could be harmful. This constant flow of disapproval contributes to anxiety towards taking action.

Perfectionists set their standards based on how things “ought” to be like. This only adds more pressure to do better, except that the pass mark is too high to ever hit. If not handled well, this could result in stagnation. When setting standards, it is always encouraged to assess the situation as is and not as it should be.   

Put your perfectionism to the test

As a perfectionist, I was mortified to find advise online that told me to half-ass it, albeit strategically, to overcome my perfectionism. How does that work out? Well, let me introduce you to the strategy of not trying.

Instead of trying to write an impactful article on perfectionism, I have simply focused on getting out of my own way to write it. Trying too much gets you worked up and you never complete assignments on time. That is a cool Confucian principle you can always look up later. 

I have often struggled to finish my articles because I would always find cool new ideas to add to an idea while writing. You get a lot of ideas and no writing done. In a way, switching off that adventurous part of my mind has allowed me to focus better. Effortless effort.

As a perfectionist, the best thing you can do is try getting out of your own way for a little while. Allow yourself to make mistakes. There is no way that you can grow without them.

Challenge your perfectionist thoughts and tendencies

With their high expectations, perfectionists’ inner dialogues focus more on “you should” than “you can”. The outcome is a person who knows everything they cannot do but very little of what they can do.

Perfectionists tend to get stuck more because they can’t figure out the perfect action plan. If only someone had told them that there is NO perfect plan… In fact, there is no perfect anything. You will just have to wing it like everyone. Challenge every thought that tells you that you must get it perfect before starting. On the other hand, you just need to … start.    

Expose yourself more

Perfectionists struggle to start things because there are too many “what ifs”. It is too much pressure for a perfect plan to cope with. Somehow, your brain tricks you into believing that if anything goes wrong, everything will come tumbling down. But that is never the case. The more you try to do things without the perfect plan, the more confident you will get in doing the things that scare you.

Perfectionism is classified as a personality disorder. But for perfectionists, it is a perfect imperfection. It is a part of your identity and you must learn to love it as well. So it is always helpful to remember that perfectionism is a mirage. All we have is the ability to do better today than we did yesterday.

Also read: 5 Reasons to Stop Calling Yourself a Perfectionist

Peter Gatuna

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