Do more, be better

The perfectionist problem

by Jessica on 29 July 2011, filed under Working It Out

We all know the stereotypical perfectionist. Perfectly groomed with everything in order, but a slightly maniacal glint in the eye and a tremor in the hand as things fall out of line.

One of the most interesting paradoxes we have found in our research is how often those who are viewed as ‘disorganized’ display many of the same traits as the people who practice perfectionism as a way of life.
It seems strange to think that the person with weeks of admin backlog, or whose desk is in disarray could be a perfectionist. Academics describe the psychology of perfectionism using words like: conscientious, organized, compulsive, which seems to be the exact opposite of this behavior.

We can reconcile the two by understanding that perfectionists have an ‘all or nothing’ mentality. Unless something can be done completely and, well, perfectly, they struggle to see the point in doing it all. They know that when the task cannot be completed to their high standards it will only leave them feeling frustrated. So they say to themselves, “unless I am able to do 6 months worth of admin and have everything completely up-to-date I may as well not start it at all”.

Perfectionists see any deviation away from ‘perfect’ as a failure and when achieving perfection is unrealistic, they feel defeated before they even begin.

Perfectionism is also a means for procrastination. Having to do things meticulously to or re-do them can be a way of feeling productive while putting off something else more urgent. As Harry spoke of in his last post, it’s all about denial!

There are situations where meticulous and relentless perfectionism is required; brain surgery springs to mind. But in most cases ‘good enough’ is better than not at all. It seems so counter to everything you have been taught. But sometimes doing the best way isn’t always best right now. Look at what you can actually achieve. Aim for realism, not perfection. Having something done is infinitely better than having nothing done.

You will find that ‘all or nothing’ is not the way to make changes and get on top of things. Small changes, consistently, over time are.

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