The Perfectionism Paradox

‘If I can’t do it perfectly I don’t want to do it’

These words go through my head at least three times a day, if I can’t do something on the first try, I have the tendency to assume that it’s not for me.

In June, I had a lot of very important papers, but I was so obsessed with making them perfect that I did not leave myself enough time to finish them to the level that I wanted to. Even after I submitted them, I was still obsessing about how I could have made them better, and how I could have fixed them. I was so busy trying to think of the perfect essay, that I did not leave myself enough time to achieve it. When I am learning a new language, I am very nervous to practice speaking it, because I might make a mistake, even though that’s how you learn languages. I feel so uncomfortable trying new things at the gym in case I can’t do it. I so badly want to get something perfect that it inhibits my ability to try.

This ‘perfectionist’ thinking bleeds into almost every aspect of my life, I am always tweaking things to try and make them better, focusing on tiny details and always finding an excuse to not finish.

I used to really rebel against the label of ‘perfectionist’ because to me, that described a person who worked hard to achieve perfect results. I didn’t feel like a perfectionist, I felt like a failure, because no matter how hard I worked, or what I achieved, I was a failure because I couldn’t live up to the impossible ideal that I had created for myself. This made me very hesitant to try new things because I was terrified of not living up to my ideals.

This crippling mentality meant that I was not happy with anything I achieved, because I would set a goal, and then when I got close to it, I would move the goalposts. This habit makes you like a shark, never happy and always restlessly moving forward. Whilst this might seem superficially good, it also means that you are never satisfied, as you are always seeking this perfect end state that is not real, and is definitely not achievable.

We live in a culture that is obsessed with perfection, and we read about successful people who have built these fantastic things, but we only focus on the impossible end goal, rather than the heartbreaking, exhausting journey to actually attain perfection. It is estimated that it takes 10 000 hours, or approximately 10 years to become a master of something, so expecting the perfect result the first time is naive at best and self-destructive at worst.

Perfectionism is an obsession with creating the perfect thing in your head, and your frustration at your inability to create that thing. It means that you are so fixated on the perfect ending that you underestimate the skills and time needed to achieve it.
Perfectionism is also a great excuse to not go after the results because you’re so busy procrastinating on the tiny details, that you avoid going after the scary things.

Perfectionism is an unreasonable and self-defeating ambition to get something absolutely right, and it’s a punishing way to live because nothing will ever be enough.
I am not saying that having high standards is a problem because its valuable skill to hold yourself to a high standard, it becomes a problem when we assume perfection should be easier than we are finding it to be. The expectation of perfection should include the expectation of failure, effort and growth.

I have been learning the importance of not using perfectionism as a mark of failure but seeing failures as a part of the journey. We have this idea that is it’s not perfect then we shouldn’t try, but its an incentive to try, its only by failing and getting off your butt and trying again that you can improve and develop.

Tips to help recovering perfectionists:
* focus on the little wins, fixating on a perfect endgame makes it harder to appreciate the tiny victories on the way, by celebrating them, it can be satisfying and give you the motivation to keep going.
* Have deadlines-If I didn’t have deadlines, I would literally never get anything done, giving yourself a time limit forces you to be productive and cuts off any potential to obsess
* Make yourself uncomfortable- force yourself out of your comfort zone, I was so nervous speaking in another language that it was stopping me from learning, I picked up Russian, which has a different alphabet and is notoriously difficult to learn, which gave me the room to be terrible, and help me to be able to make a fool of myself and learn at the same time.
* Remember perfectionism is the gap between your ideas and your ability and the only way to bridge the gap is practice.

How do you deal with perfectionism? Have you struggled with your perfectionism? What tips do you have?

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