“Perfectionism – the wish for everything to be ‘just right’ – has its advantages, since working hard, striving for excellence and taking pride in what you do are no doubt good traits to have.”
“But, for some, for whom the best is never good enough, there is another, unhappier side to a perfectionist personality in which self-criticism, procrastination and strong feelings of frustration and despair prevail” says Dr Mark Winwood, Clinical Lead for Mental Health Services at AXA Health.
With this in mind, Dr Winwood shares his top five tips for coping with the pitfalls of perfectionism.
Tips for overcoming perfectionism
1. Don’t let the fear of failure put you off doing something take the risk anyway
“For many perfectionists, fear of failure can affect every aspect of their personal and professional lives - from not getting involved in a new relationship to not applying for a job they really want”, says Dr Winwood. “Because many perfectionists feel they can’t control the outcome, the motivation not to take the risk is stronger than the reward of possible success. So they may procrastinate, planning the perfect outcome but, convincing themselves this is unattainable, end up struggling to get started.
2. Keep a sense of perspective – don’t become distracted by or jealous of the seeming success of others
“To help to achieve this, it’s important to try to remember that many of the positives that make us us are intangible. ‘Little’ things, such as being able to put others at ease, or being a good listener or friend, really can and do mean a lot to help to keep us grounded and bolster our self esteem. Make a list of your strengths, ask a friend to help you!’
3. Focus on the positives in your life and take comfort from successes
“Try no not to beat yourself up over shortcomings.” Reflect on what you have achieved and congratulate yourself!
4. Remember - if one part of your life isn’t going to plan, it doesn’t mean the rest is a failure
“The mistakes and set-backs we all encounter can work to our advantage, providing powerful learnings we can build on for future success. Of course, that’s not to discourage people from striving for greatness as, for some, the seemingly impossible really does become possible.”
5. Importantly – be the best you can – not perfect!
“Unfettered perfectionism can result in harmful obsession and, in some cases, contribute to stress, anxiety and depression. Accept the best solution, rather than a perfect one.”
Are you a perfectionist?
Dr Mark lists five tell-tale traits of a perfectionist:
1. They leave no room for error
"Nobody likes to fail, but for perfectionists the fear of getting something wrong can lead to intense discomfort and dissatisfaction."
2. Procrastination and avoidance
"Perfectionists may procrastinate over starting or completing a task to try to ensure a perfect outcome or avoid undertaking a task altogether to avoid the prospect of failure."
3. One giant step back
"Perfectionists are likely to react to any setback no matter how small – as a failure."
"Perfectionists can dwell painfully on critical comments, which adversely affects their ability to take in and build on the positive."
"‘If you want it done right do it yourself’ neatly encapsulates how many perfectionists feel. They can, for example, struggle to delegate even the smallest of tasks and, as a result, they fall in to the unproductive trap of micromanaging.”
Visit our mental health hub for more information and tips to help boost your resilience and look after your mental health.