Perfectionism haunts many of us. Ohhh to be PERFECT…but what is perfection? This depends not only on the topic at hand but also to the individual deeming the perfection. Tricky, right? It can be. Being a perfectionist can have both negative and positive connotations. While helpful in a skilled trade, or sports…it can kill creativity. But alas, perfection can also help create amazing works of art. Which is it? Both.
Although we have to always. Remember the phrase “nobody’s perfect”, which in many cases is true. But try to figure out who is awarding the perfection before you get all bend out of shape. Is it your boss? Your fans? Your agent? Your significant other? Yourself? What’s my point? Perfectionists (myself included) need to lighten up.
I did a bit of Google digging on the subject and thought I’d share. I was surprised by the fact that there are psychological and philosophical definitions for perfectionism, both quite different:
Perfectionism, in psychology, is a belief that a state of completeness and flawlessness can and should be attained. In its pathological form, perfectionism is a belief that work or output that is anything less than perfect is unacceptable. At such levels, this is considered an unhealthy belief, and psychologists typically refer to such individuals as maladaptive perfectionists.
Hamachek describes two types of perfectionism. Normal perfectionists “derive a very real sense of pleasure from the labours of a painstaking effort” while neurotic perfectionists are “unable to feel satisfaction because in their own eyes they never seem to do things [well] enough to warrant that feeling of satisfaction”. Burns defines perfectionists as “people who strain compulsively and unremittingly toward impossible goals and who measure their own worth entirely in terms of productivity and accomplishment”.
Greenspon considers perfectionism to be a unitary combination of a desire to be perfect, a fear of imperfection, and an emotional conviction that perfection (not “near-perfection”) is the only route to personal acceptance by others. Perfectionism itself is thus never seen as healthy or adaptive.
In ethics and value theory, perfectionism is the persistence of will in obtaining the optimal quality of spiritual, mental, physical, and material being. The neo-Aristotelean Thomas Hurkadescribes perfectionism as follows:
This moral theory starts from an account of the good life, or the intrinsically desirable life. And it characterizes this life in a distinctive way. Certain properties, it says, constitute human nature or are definitive of humanity—they make humans human. The good life, it then says, develops these properties to a high degree or realizes what is central to human nature. Different versions of the theory may disagree about what the relevant properties are and so disagree about the content of the good life. But they share the foundational idea that what is good, ultimately, is the development of human nature.
The perfectionist does not believe that one can attain a perfect life or state of living. Rather, a perfectionist practices steadfast perseverance in obtaining the best possible life or state of living.
I personally dig the philosophical version of perfectionism myself, although I have traits of the psychological as well. We can’t let perfectionism hold us back. Our internal critics LOVE to use perfectionism as a tool against us, we just need to be conscious of it. Many of us feel our perfectionism helps us, although research indicates this isn’t true. I challenge you to take a good hard look at where perfectionism may be holding you back in life.
- List all the things in life where you strive for perfection (you can use instances within the previous month if this helps – career, family, personal relationships, exercise, eating, art, etc.)
- Create a two-column Cost / Benefit grid so you can expand on each instance
- For Example: I strive to have the perfect blog posts – the cost is undue stress to me and the very real resistance I get to writing because of this expectation. The benefit would be great posts which help readers and an inflated ego for ME. (This kind of clarity helps me see things in perspective)
That’s it, take it easy on yourself. Don’t beat yourself up over this stuff. Just be aware of it, good and bad. Focus on the positive and notice when you’re being too critical of yourself and others. We can’t get rid of our perfectionism overnight, but awareness of these traits can help turn them to allies instead of enemies.