Why Perfectionism Isn’t Always Bad

Some people should be perfectionists, right? Surgeons, pilots, copy editors, whoever is cooking your eggs. Sometimes you need to be sure that what you’re getting is the best possible. If that was all perfectionism did, that would be great! Go for it, surgeon, pore over the placement of every stitch. Go for it, egg chef, spend forty minutes setting up the sous vide to give a flawless texture to the yolk.

Unfortunately, in the real world, the perfectionists among us are under time pressure and don’t have limitless resources to match their limitless ambitions. The ambition and drive are only parts of perfectionism. The other half is ruthless evaluation against extremely high standards.

Recognising Perfectionism

A lot of the time you might not see yourself as a perfectionist. What is “good enough” for one person might look like a burnt meal to someone else. Recognising perfectionism can take time, and it’s important to be kind to yourself. When someone compliments you on something you’ve done, do you reflexively counter their compliment with a criticism?

Perfectionism can mean you never start a project, or never finish, because it isn’t quite right. You can be critical and dismissive of anything that doesn’t meet your standards (which might be everything). Perfectionists can be tricky to work with and tricky to live with, but it can be even harder to be one.

The Positive Side to Perfectionism

There are techniques we can use to shave the hard edges off our perfectionism. It’s often said that no work of art is ever finished, just abandoned. If we can learn to work hard and shoot high, but deal with the discomfort of leaving something without perfecting it, then we can get the benefits of perfectionism without the downsides.

The key to starting to move your perfectionism towards something that works for you rather than against you could be mindfulness. People use the word “mindfulness” to mean a lot of things. In this case it means becoming aware of your thought patterns around tasks. If you can start questioning the criticism as it comes into your mind, you can start working to make it more realistic. Talking to a professional can help with this! There are also many resources online, where you found this, that can start you down the path of having a better time with your perfectionism.

The first practical step can be looking at your goals through a more realistic lens. Try checking your goals at the start of a project. Is there really time to do what you want to do? What outcome is the easiest possible that will still work? Can you scrape enough of the burnt stuff off that it will do for now?

Most of the time when we look at work that other people have done, we only see the finished product. If you can, get information about how much time and energy someone has put into something that you see as “good enough”. You’ll often be surprised by just how much has gone into it. Changing perfectionism habits can take time, like everything, you don’t need to feel you’ve nailed it immediately.

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