Wanting to be the best and achieve the best is a great motivator in work and life. Ask any sportsman and as you’d expect they are focused on winning, by performing at the highest standard, avoiding mistakes and beating the competition. Society rewards their high performance with financial rewards and fame and the same is true of careers in business.
Whilst healthy ambition is a trait to be admired perfectionism takes it a step further and has been defined by Brene Brown (researcher and author) as “a self-destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary thought: If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment and blame”.
This implies that a perfectionist is focused on others opinions and pleasing others rather than on their own self-improvement. They will never be content with what they have achieved and are driven by ‘shoulds’ and a fear of disappointing others.
The affect this has on their performance at work is:
They procrastinate and avoid starting jobs in case they can’t deliver them perfectly
Their confidence and self-esteem is low as they require external validation and whatever they achieve isn’t good enough
A fear of mistakes mean they spend time achieving 100% rather than the ‘good enough’ 80% which reduces time available for innovative new ideas
They see asking for help as a weakness which can lead to stress issues and a lack of collaboration
Teamwork is difficult as it’s hard to bond and trust a person who can’t be related to
The danger is that this addiction to being perfect can only result in exhaustion, high stress levels and burnout. However by changing some beliefs such as ‘I am what I achieve and how well I achieve it” and starting new habits a perfectionist can learn to be more realistic in their expectations of themselves.
If you have an employee or colleague who self-sabotages themselves with perfectionism, they probably won’t ask for help but you can still be a support by proactively exploring with them their work ethics and your expectations of their performance versus their own.
Other tips that perfectionists can practice are:
Accepting that 100% can’t always be achieved and in many situations 80% is enough
Stop black and white thinking, for example: “I’m either the best at my job or I’ll get fired”
Take small steps. If you procrastinate about a job because you’re scared about making a mistake, then break the job down into smaller steps
Learn to love and accept your imperfections, you will still be loved and respected
Challenge yourself to take risks and make decisions
Show others your weaknesses, it makes you seem more human and therefore likeable.
Breaking the addiction of perfectionism does take time and effort but try to focus on self-compassion and remember that this time practice does not make perfect!
For more ideas on helping perfectionists and building confidence please contact me .I’d also love to hear your thoughts on the subject of perfectionism, in the comment box below.