young man working

Letting go of perfectionism

November 30, 2017

► Do you set excessively high standards for almost everything you do?
► Do your accomplishments rarely meet your expectations?
► Do you try to appear faultless to the outside world, even your close friends?
► Do you judge yourself based on your accomplishments?
► Do you consider yourself a failure if you get a ‘B’?
► Do you put things off because you can’t get them perfect?
► Do you avoid giving your opinion for fear of looking dumb?
► Do you have difficulty in relationships because of your high standards?

If you checked even one of the above points, there is a good chance that you are a perfectionist. Perfectionism is a self-defeating cycle in which a person sets unrealistically high standards, fails to live up to those standards, feels bad about it and then blames him or herself for not being good enough or trying hard enough. To offset this, the person feels compelled to set more unrealistic goals in order to try and feel better. Perfectionism is not the healthy pursuit of excellence but rather, as Dr. David Burns states in his bestseller Feeling Good, the compulsive striving towards unrealistic goals.

Why not strive to be perfect?

Perfectionism usually interferes with, rather than contributes to, success. Perfectionists never feel satisfied and, even if they get some temporary satisfaction, they usually don’t accomplish as much as non-perfectionists because they spend so much time trying to get things just right.

Perfectionists tend to be all-or-nothing thinkers, believing that if they
don’t get A plus marks or do a job perfectly they are failures. Becoming so obsessed with achievement often means missing out on the satisfactions and joys of life.

Perfectionists are very self-critical and usually value themselves based on
the approval of others. Because their self-esteem comes from outside approval, the perfectionist is vulnerable.

Perfectionists often have problems with relationships because they apply their own unrealistic standards to others and can be critical and demanding.

Perfectionism is also a major cause of procrastination. Fear that they cannot do a task perfectly, or anticipation of the effort involved to achieve perfection, often causes perfectionists to avoid tasks. Tasks become arduous rather than rewarding.

The constant pressure that perfectionists put on themselves, as well as the lack of joy or sense of satisfaction they get from doing tasks, is wearing and makes perfectionists more susceptible to anxiety and/or depression.

Making Changes

All of this isn’t to say that you shouldn’t strive to do well. Setting realistic goals based on what you want rather than on what you perceive others expect of you is a good practice. Healthy achievers take pleasure in pursuing their goals rather than feeling stressed that they might not achieve perfection. Perfectionists can change. Check off the perfectionism-busting techniques that you already incorporate, and then choose one tip (perfectionists want to do it all right away) that you can realistically
• Look at what you have accomplished in the past and set small, achievable goals based on past performance.
• Decide on several things that are really important to you and put your effort into those goals. Lower your standards on other tasks.
• If you are feeling highly stressed, feel like giving up or find yourself
avoiding necessary tasks, this as a warning signal that you may have unrealistic expectations such as taking on too much or trying to do everything perfectly. Evaluate what it is that you need to change.
• Remember that people learn by making mistakes. If you’re not taking risks
because you think you might fail, you are probably missing out on a lot of growth and learning.
• Set limits on how much time you will spend on a project – and stick to them!
• Judge yourself by who you are, not by what you accomplish.
• Lighten up by scheduling free time for fun and relaxation. (This actually makes you more creative and productive).
• Ask yourself “What is the worst thing that could happen if I don’t do this
perfectly?” or “if I fail?”
• Stop chasing the impossible dream. No one is or ever will be, perfect.

Perfectionists often fear letting go of their high expectations, thinking that they will become total slackers. Don’t worry – people almost never move from one end of the continuum to the other.

Letting go of perfectionist tendencies requires time, effort and patience (and the willingness to accept that your efforts at change won’t be perfect)! But healthy goal setting is within your reach … and you will probably find yourself enjoying life a lot more.

Counsellors at Student Counselling can help you work towards healthy goal setting. Personal counselling is free, confidential and available to all currently registered NAIT students.

Main Campus – Room W-111PB in the HP Centre: Counsellors are available from 8-4:30 with extended hours for apprentices. Book in person or by phoning
Souch Campus – Counsellor available Thursdays from 10-4. Book by calling 780-
378-6133 or in person in Room Z-153
Patricia Campus – Counsellor available Tuesdays from 10-4. Book by calling