Perfectionism and Me

Paul Glynn - Psychotherapist & Counsellor London
Author: Paul Glynn, Clinical Director, Psychotherapist & Counsellor
Last updated: 23rd August 2023

Success coach

Do you strive to do better, yet often fall short?  Do you want to improve, yet frequently feel a failure? Do you pay close attention to detail and want to get things right, but often feel that you’re not good enough?

If this sounds familiar, perhaps you’re struggling with perfectionism?  Perfectionists are never happy with what they achieve.  After all, they can always do better and will often experience feelings of failure.  In part, this is because the goals set are often unrealistic and many times, impossible to reach.  Some characteristics of perfectionists are: –

  • Viewing mistakes as failures
  • Holding high, unrealistic goals
  • Spending excessive amounts of time planning or redoing work in an attempt to make it perfect
  • Being risk adverse unless “success” is guaranteed
  • Feedback or criticism is feared
  • Can find it difficult to adapt if plans do not go the way they anticipated.

Could It Be a Good Thing?

Of course, perfectionism can be seen as a strength, enabling some to produce high quality work.  This work is done with a laser like focus and attention to detail.   These can be valuable attributes.  Yet when the consequences of imperfection are small, or we need to deliver something that is “good enough”, then perfectionist tendencies can be unhelpful and even harmful.

So for many, having high standards and striving for excellence is a good thing.  In fact, these characteristics are encouraged in elite sports people, so they can train long and hard to reach excellence. But perfectionism for some involves setting impossible standards and judging that anything short of this standard is terrible.  Holding such high standards makes it easy to believe that minor imperfections are catastrophic.  Can you imagine going through life believing that you should never make a mistake?

Doing it Differently

Therefore, why not consider the standards you use, and how you judge yourself.  Would it help to relax these standards and ease the stress and anxiety of trying so hard to be perfect? Or does even the thought of relaxing your standards elicit fear and anxiety?

What Can Help?

Recognise Perfectionism – there is nothing wrong with having high standards, but if these standards are too high, they can get in the way of your work or career, relationships, and life.

Realistic Thinking – replace self-critical or perfectionistic thoughts with more realistic statements.  For example, “nobody is perfect”, “all I can do is my best”, “making a mistake is not catastrophic, its human”.

Looking at the Big Picture – perfectionists tend to get bogged down in details and worry a great deal about the small or little things.

Setting Realistic Standards – although I would like to be employee of the year, is that reasonable in my first year?

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