I’ve been a recovering perfectionist for some years now.
I’ll be honest:
I used to think being a perfectionist was something to be proud of. But luckily I started to see all the ways it was ruining my life.
Rather than turn me into a better version of myself, it stripped me of the resilience and confidence I needed to grow.
Often, we fall into perfectionism without even seeing the signs.
Here are 11 things you might not know you’re doing because you’re a perfectionist.
1) Beating yourself up
You expect a lot from yourself, and you feel deep disappointment whenever you feel like you’re not measuring up.
One of the clearest signs of perfectionism is asking too much and then chastising yourself if you fall below your own impossible standard.
But the only person saying that is you.
You cannot win, because whatever you do, you want more from yourself. You will always notice ways you can improve.
One of the biggest ways we tend to beat ourselves up is through a barrage of negative self-talk.
2) Negative self-talk
Pay attention to your thoughts.
What is the narrative?
When you look in the mirror each morning, what does that voice in your head say to you?
When you say something you wish you hadn’t, what is its reaction? If you make a silly mistake at work, what goes through your mind?
We are so used to the constant commentary that goes on inside our brains day in and day out, that we don’t even notice it anymore.
Yet it feeds us thoughts that often get cemented into beliefs —about ourselves and our place in the world.
“That was dumb”
“OMG, you look awful today”
“Why did you just do that, you idiot”
Let’s imagine that someone else spoke to us this way. Not just once, but all the time.
We would most likely call that abuse, right?
And so we should. It strips away at your self-esteem and worth.
Yet, perfectionists can find themselves repeatedly subjecting themselves to this abuse through their negative thought patterns.
Now think of someone you care about deeply.
If they were feeling bad about something, what would you say?
I’m guessing you would tell them to go easy on themselves.
Imagine how much happier we might be if we could all treat ourselves like we would our best friend.
3) Setting yourself unrealistic goals and deadlines
Shoot for the moon and you’ll reach the stars, right?
But the truth is that if you are a perfectionist, you’re far more likely to become demotivated and disillusioned.
The stars won’t feel like a big enough prize. You wanted to the moon, so the moon is what you expected of yourself.
Rather than breaking goals up into bite-sized chunks, you have a tendency to demand unrealistic timelines and set insurmountable tasks.
You may find your “to-do” list is far too long as you expect yourself to juggle many balls all at once.
You expect yourself to do it all. But nobody can. And in doing so you sort of set yourself up for failure.
Gigantic goals are achieved through baby steps. When we try to take on too much at once, we can quickly fall into procrastination.
4) Putting things off
Here’s the funny thing about perfectionism, rather than helping us to reach our best it has the opposite effect.
Because when the bar is set so high, that’s a whole lot of pressure.
The fear of getting it wrong can feel incredibly burdensome.
Nothing but the best will do. So it’s very difficult to accept trial and error is sometimes necessary.
But when we don’t accept that making mistakes is part of the process, we find it harder to make a start.
We want to avoid failure at all costs. That can mean procrastination and excuses.
It’s less threatening to put things off for another day rather than face the emotional strain of doing your best, and feeling like it might not be good enough.
Sometimes we misjudge procrastination as a problem with time management or even willpower, but it’s not about that.
As highlighted in the New York Times:
“In a 2013 study, Dr. Pychyl and Dr. Sirois found that procrastination can be understood as “the primacy of short-term mood repair … over the longer-term pursuit of intended actions.” Put simply, procrastination is about being more focused on “the immediate urgency of managing negative moods” than getting on with the task.”
5) Planning, and overly organizing as a way to self-soothe
This one comes down to wanting to control everything.
You might love nothing more than buying a new organizer or arranging your calendar meticulously.
Creating lists and scheduling can be very soothing to you.
Because it makes you feel on top of things.
You can bask in the thoughts of achieving and getting things done. In this planning phase, everything is limitless potential.
But it’s the doing that is harder because that’s when there is room for things to not work out the way you planned.
And hence, why you may fall back into a cycle of procrastination.
6) Scrutinizing your image
You may spend a lot of time, money, and energy on your appearance.
Perhaps you insist on having a new outfit for any special occasion. Maybe you hate to be seen out in public without makeup on.
If anyone comes by your house, you want to make sure it is spick and span.
Rather than vanity, this is usually down to the next thing on our list.
It’s because you are very mindful of how others see you and what people might be thinking of you.
7) Being overly concerned about what everyone thinks
I hate the thought of someone disliking me. It’s one of the perfectionist tendencies I’m still trying to work on.
If ever cross words are spoken, I will dwell on it. It makes me incredibly uncomfortable to think that anybody has a problem with me.
Why? Because it feels like they are saying I am bad.
We all know the expression:
“You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”.
And we probably know that it’s very true. But really feeling it can be another matter altogether.
Despite what your head may tell you, your heart may feel differently.
Plenty of perfectionists struggle with people-pleasing tendencies. They are scared to rock the boat and face someone’s harsh judgment.
For this same reason, even the most well-meaning feedback can hurt.
8) Taking constructive feedback to heart
Your boss might spend 15 minutes singing your praises in your evaluation.
Then she briefly offers you a couple of things that you might want to work on. Some constructive feedback to help you grow in your role.
Despite all the positivity and approval, all you focus on is that there is something you could potentially improve on.
It can be the tiniest thing. And because of it, you ignore all the wonderful things she just said.
You have a tendency to blow any suggestions or critique completely out of proportion.
9) Thinking that if you want something done right, you need to do it yourself
You may find it very challenging to delegate because deep down you don’t trust others with a task.
It can seem more effort than simply doing it yourself.
You are worried that they will mess up or not do it right. So you have a tendency to micro-manage or watch them over your shoulder.
Struggling to accept help and support can mean that you overload yourself with things to do. That can lead to stress, burnout, or exhaustion.
But that’s not all:
It’s very difficult for others to meet your exacting standards. And that can put a strain on your relationships.
10) Expecting too much from others
The exacting standards of a perfectionist aren’t just self-imposed.
Often, they are placed on the people in your life too — your friends, family, partner, and colleagues.
It can mean that you aren’t forgiving of others’ mistakes. Because you are ultimately unforgiving of your own.
This can lead to being a demanding person.
In your mind, what you are asking is not unreasonable. You may even believe that you have everybody’s interests at heart by expecting the best.
But others may find it very draining trying to live up to what you are asking of them.
11) Believing average is bad
There’s nothing wrong with average.
Good enough is just that—good enough. But try to convince a perfectionist that this is the case.
Because in the perfectionist ordering of things, excellent becomes average. And anything less than that just will not do.
Whilst you may see that as lowering the bar for yourself, in praise of average, author and coach Michael Neil encourages us to shift our perspective:
“I was talking to the supercoach Steve Chandler once when he said to me, “Have an average day!” A bit taken aback, I asked him what he meant. After all, isn’t the idea to have “great” days, or even “exceptional” ones?”
He goes on to explain that “great” or “excellent” don’t raise standards the way we might think. All they do is raise the pressure, and that has the opposite effect.
But average, applied time and time again, very quickly adds up:
“And this is the paradoxical promise of the “average day” philosophy-the cumulative effect of a series of average days spent doing an average amount of what one loves and wants to do is actually quite extraordinary!”
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