Being a perfectionist should be seen as a gift. Very few people are blessed with the keen eye for detail, the steadfast belief to absolutely not settle for anything less than perfection and the ability to push beyond the realms of good enough to achieve something that is truly groundbreaking. But perfectionists can also be their own worst enemies, what with the constant levels of dissatisfaction at both work and home. The good news is that you can overcome these feelings, not by destroying your perfectionist tendencies, but by recognising them so you can modify your mindset to overcome the difficulties.
This will mean that the next time you are feeling depressed about a project that just isn’t going to plan, or your colleagues are just not able to deliver to the standard you expect, you can apply one of these methods for overcoming your perfectionistic tendencies. You will be amazed at the difference it makes.
1. Recognise You Have A Problem: It may seem obvious, but some people are not aware they even have a problem. Therefore the first step to overcoming perfectionism is to recognise the problem in the first place. You may be telling yourself that you just have high standards, but there is a difference between high standards and perfectionism. The following questions can help you identify if you are a perfectionist.
Do you rarely meet your own standards?
Do you suffer from atychiphobia (a fear of failure)?
Do you consistently miss deadlines due to stressing over a single element?
Has anyone ever told you that you have unrealistic expectations?
Is your self-confidence dependent on your achievements?
If you answered YES to any of these questions, you may be suffering from perfectionism. But it’s OK, now let's turn your perfectionism into an advantage.
2. Set SMART Goals: Setting unrealistic goals is one of the underlying problems of most perfectionists. A goal that is forever out of reach risks increasing your stress levels, destroying your self-confidence while increasing your frustration. You may think the solution is to set realistic goals, but these are never going to satisfy a true perfectionist. Fortunately, there is a better solution: SMART goals. SMART stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Trackable. Setting SMART goals brings structure and traceability to your goals and objectives. SMART goal setting creates a series of milestones along with an estimation of the goal's attainability, which is important for most perfectionists. Any goal can be turned into a SMART goal by outlining the expected result before breaking it down into the five component parts of the SMART checklist. For example, a goal should be specific, the results should be measurable, the goal should be attainable and relevant to the task and you should be able to track progress along the way.
3. Turn Criticism Into Feedback: Many perfectionists dwell on criticism often taking it to heart, treating it as a personal attack on their character. They deal with this by going way beyond what is expected of them in an effort to avoid criticism at all costs. They will often work through the night stressing over every little detail, only for their boss, colleague or client to criticise their work the following morning. The easiest way around this problem is to turn criticism from your peers into feedback. Now it’s not about you, it's about what you have produced. Listen to the constructive feedback and create a set of SMART goals to solve the problem. No more stressful nights, no more feeling deflated no more criticism.
4. Recognise That Perfectionism And Healthy Striving Are Different Things: These may sound like similar things, but there is a difference between healthy striving and perfectionism. According to Brené Brown, a professor at the University of Houston, healthy striving comes from a realisation of who you are and what you can be. In other words, you are happy with your current situation but want to improve your performance on certain tasks. This is different from perfectionism, which comes from a place of inferiority. Perfectionists often feel like they are not good enough and constantly beat themselves up over it. This leads to unrealistic goal setting, which they hope will satisfy their needs once they are achieved. Which of course, never are. Recognise the difference and use the other tips in this guide to overcome your perfectionist tendencies. There is nothing wrong with wanting to improve, so long as you are doing it for the right reasons.
5. Identify The Must Haves, Should Haves And Won’t Haves: Perfectionists have a tendency to want everything NOW, which can undermine a project by creating unrealistic goals and timescales, hampering the project from the very beginning. You can get around this problem by working out what features a product or service needs versus those that would be nice to have. The MoSCoW method is used by business analysts and software developers to create prioritisations of features in a product or service. MoSCoW stands for must have, should have, could have and won’t have. Use this method to prioritise which features will provide the greatest benefit to the business in the shortest amount of time. Now you can concentrate on getting these features right before moving on to the should haves and could haves. This allows a working project to be delivered on time and on budget. Don’t forget, you can always add features down the line as the project progresses.
6. Lower Your Expectations, Not Your Standards: Many perfectionists set their standards unrealistically high. This causes stress levels to increase and depression to set in when those lofty standards inevitably go unmet. It’s easy to say lower your standards, but if you could do that you wouldn’t be such a perfectionist in the first place. So a better approach is to lower your expectations while keeping your standards high. Expectations are beliefs that something is going to happen in the future. So if you are developing a new product, service or project you may have expectations that it is going to be an overnight success that will completely change your career or business straightaway. This creates unnecessary pressure, so why not lower your expectations, by aiming for it to change your career or business in the next 3 to 6 months. Now you have reduced the pressure of creating a successful product or service (or whatever you are working on) without lowering your standards.
7. Try Something New: Perfectionists constantly fear making mistakes. They think that mistakes make them look incompetent and so avoid making them at all costs. They may even attempt to cover them up, which only exacerbates the problem when inevitably they are found out. It is therefore imperative for perfectionists to realise that mistakes are an important part of the learning process that should be embraced, not feared. A good way of learning to embrace mistakes is to try something new. This allows you to become more comfortable with accepting mistakes as part of the learning process, a skill you can then transfer to other parts of your professional life. Remember, making mistakes is part of the learning process and should not be feared.
8. Don’t Follow The Crowd, Get Inspired: The world we live in sets impossibly high standards, standards we can’t hope to achieve in real life. While movies, TV and the media often portray flawless women who are able to hold down high-pressure jobs or run high earning businesses, all while balancing the many aspects of a personal life, the reality is somewhat different. You may desire the perfect world you see in the media, but you must realise this is a fairytale life that has no basis in reality. If you feel like you will never be able to achieve the perfect life, you need to stop reading those lifestyle magazines, stop following the latest fad diets or spending too much time on social media. Start reading things that inspire you instead, or start a hobby - anything that reinforces a positive attitude and sparks the creative fire inside you.
9. Learn To Accept Work In Progress: Perfectionists always want things to be complete. They imagine a perfect utopian world where everything works the way it was intended, where everything is beautifully designed, where colleagues or clients are happy and deadlines are met. The reality is somewhat different, however. Things that are worth having take time. You may see someone with a perfect business or someone in your ideal job role and wonder how they managed to get there so easily, but what you don’t see is the hard work, time and effort that they went through to get there. You need to realise that everything you see is work in progress, nothing is ever complete. You should look on this as a benefit because it gives you the chance to constantly improve. If you are in business, you should always be looking to enhance your product or service or if you want to progress your career you should be looking at studying courses or gaining new experiences that will help you move up. That is the beauty of perfectionists - they constantly see areas for improvement.
10. Enjoy The Ride, It’s Not Only About The Destination: Perfectionists like to focus on the destination when all the dirty work is done and everything is finished and well, perfect. But by doing this, they fail to enjoy the ride - they never get to appreciate the work done as the project progresses. And when finished, they may afford themselves a small pat on the back, but only if it meets expectations, which it rarely does. If you are to enjoy everything that life has to offer, you must learn to overcome your perfectionist tendencies. A good way of taking your mind off stressing over every detail is to get a hobby which combines learning something new with doing something enjoyable. By doing this, you will learn to appreciate life more, become more open to new ideas and reduce your stress levels, allowing you to enjoy the ride and maybe even the destination as well.
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