Incessant perfectionism erodes the confidence of many women. It causes us to constantly question the quality of our work and gives fuel to our inner critic who’s ready to berate us for our shortcomings. Perfectionism has the potential to become a self-destructive addiction. If that sounds extreme, consider workaholics who put in extravagant hours to produce work satisfying their elevated standards. The price for the drive for perfection is increased depression and anxiety.
If you’re ready to break out of this pattern, here are some strategies to tone down perfectionism:
- Make a list of the benefits and drawbacks of trying to be perfect. Maybe the benefit is the approval of your boss or client. They can count on you to “get it right.” But getting it right may mean pulling an all-nighter or not seeing your kids before they go to bed.
- Be realistic about the scope and precision requirements of your work. Overkill is the m.o. of a perfectionist. But overdoing a project until it meets elevated standards is unlikely to be a good use of your time.
- Set realistic time parameters on your projects. If you work on large projects that typically run on for days, break your work into smaller pieces and set a time budget for each. When the time has expired, move on to something else. Adhering to a time allotment may help you overcome procrastination which is a typical problem of perfectionists.
- Keep your eye on the big picture. When you’re agonizing over meeting your elevated standards, ask yourself:
- Does meeting that standard really matter?
- Will your performance on this project still matter next month? Next year?
- What is the worst thing that could happen if you relax your standards?
- If the worst thing happens, can you survive it? We perfectionists get shaken by the prospect of “the worse thing happening.” Realize that death and destruction are many steps down the line.
- 5. Question your use of time. Ask yourself often, Is this a valuable use of my time? If you answer yes, then ask Why? If the reason is concern about your self-image and others’ opinion of you, you may be indulging in perfectionism.
- Lower your standards. That’s a revolutionary concept for a perfectionist, but it may be one that lets you breathe easier. Choose one project, experiment with lowering your standards and see what happens. Are there any negative consequences? Does your client or your supervisor notice? Did anyone complain? If you can answer no to each of those questions, try lowering your standards again and consider the results.
- Do something unfamiliar. Learn something new that carries a risk of failure. I’m not suggesting paragliding, but how about a sketching or ceramics class? Maybe try baking bread, decorating a cake or knitting a stocking cap. Experience failure. You’ll find it’s not the end of the world. Failure may be the avenue to learning and, in all likelihood, it will increase your confidence. That may seem counterintuitive but it grows because you have learned to cope with your failure. You witness your own resilience.
Taking some of these steps to defeat perfection may be difficult and even require courage. Heaven forbid I lower my standards! In deciding whether to adopt them, remember the words of Annie Dillard:
“How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
(To show I practice what I preach, I’m posting this with typos which resist my attempts to correct them!)