Perfectionism

Perfectionism image - links to Perfectionism page

Perfectionists use rules and assumptions to pursue high standards and that is the problem.

We don’t want to get rid of standards, they are useful in working out where we want to go and what we need to do to get there, but when they are rigid and unrealistic they can block us from moving through the steps to get somewhere.

Blocks 

Below you will find three common blocks (barriers and misconceptions) that slow down our progress when dealing with perfectionism.

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  • My high standards will make me successful

    If we blindly accept unrealistic high standards for ourselves and others, then we accept the idea that everyone thinks this way and has the same expectations as we do, thereby putting even more pressure on ourselves to perform to our high standards. If we don’t meet our high standards we feel even more negative about ourselves, thinking that other people would have met these standards.

    Credits: animation by James Gleeson-McCoy.

  • There is no point doing it unless it is perfect

    Practicing new behaviours is the only way to break free of old inappropriate behaviours. As perfectionistic standards are unrealistically high the chance of us meeting them is slim to none. This causes high anxiety that paralyses us to take even a small step.

  • If I’m not perfect in this then the rest of my life is impacted negatively

    Ironically, by allowing this style of thinking to exist you will impact other areas of your life adversely (e.g. health, relationships, work, study). Being perfect is not a reality, pursuing it will harm your health, muck up your relationships and effect your progress at work and study.

Boosters

Below are three things you can do to boost success.

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  • Take a step

    What is the smallest step towards your goal that you can recognise as a step in the right direction? Asking this question is a good way to start to move somewhere. It is better to be moving somewhere than to not move at all because it is not perfect.

  • It is what it is

    This is not to say that you can't strive for excellence in your life, but suggests instead to be realistic about the limitations that life throws at us (e.g. time, genetics, environment, resources). Be happy with what you have managed to achieve and focus on this rather than what you haven’t got or achieved. Practice gratitude for what you have.

  • Challenge your expectations

    Recognise that your expectations may be unrealistic and not how others think. Practice talking to yourself in ways that challenge perfection (e.g. “I might not get into Masters at AU but I have options at other universities around Australia. There is more than one way to get to where I want to go.”)

Need more info?

  • Consider working through these modules on Perfectionism from the Centre for Clinical Interventions.
  • Overcoming perfectionism workbook
  • Explore in depth material in a book (e.g. Overcoming Perfectionism: A Self-help Guide Using Cognitive Behavioral Techniques by Shafran, Egan and Wade.)