Perfectionism Holds Us Back



Perfectionism is defined as a personality trait indicated by a person’s strong desire for flawlessness and setting high-performance standards in every aspect of life. Critical self-evaluations tend to accompany perfectionism. We live in a society where perfectionism is considered a positive trait that pushes us to do more and be better at the workplace or in any other environment. However, perfectionism holds us back.

The real truth about perfectionism

While perfectionism is described as a strong urge to push yourself harder and harder to succeed, the reality is that this trait has nothing to do with self-improvement and excellence. Instead, perfectionism is all about winning approval. Men and women with this personality trait strive to achieve perfect execution of their assignments because they love the feeling of being praised, acknowledged, and recognized for their work. Most perfectionists were raised in environments where exceptional performance is praised and expected. For example, some 10-year-old children are expected to put on a professional-level performance at their soccer games. Kids who fail to meet high standards set by adults, whether it’s their parents or coach, are often criticized. It’s natural for kids to get the urge to be perfect because that’s the only way to win someone’s approval. But the sheer idea of expecting a perfect performance from kids is incredibly detrimental. 

The notion that doing a good job gives high honors and praises follows a person into adulthood. After all, that person has grown up in an environment where nothing less than perfect is expected or respected. Everyone wants respect, but some people believe this is the only way they’re going to get it. As a result, they grow up to become people whose confidence depends on the brilliant execution at work, after which approval or respect from team members and leaders comes along. In other words, perfectionists strive to please other people and are willing to go through a huge amount of stress and anxiety to do so.

Nirvana fallacy 

The obsession with perfectionism is called nirvana fallacy, i.e., the informal fallacy of comparing the actual things with unrealistic and idealized alternatives. This generates the well-known statement, "if I can't do it perfectly, then I won't do it at all," and most of us have said it to ourselves at one point or another. That's because we do not always think perfection is an illusion, but assume it’s probable and achievable. For instance, one researcher surveyed professional athletes and asked them if they would be willing to take a pill that guaranteed them the gold medal, but they'd die within five years. Over 50% of responders said, "YES." Seriously! He repeated the same survey a few more times over the years and asked athletes the same question, but ended up getting the same results. What does this tell us? Perfectionism occurs when we completely forget it’s okay to be good enough. 

At first glance, it may seem like a little bit of perfectionism can't harm anyone. But that's false! Perfectionism harms the perfectionist, but also those around them. The strong urge to achieve that perfect performance alienates us from other people, makes us think of others as the enemy and even leads to thoughts of engaging in dishonest practices just to avoid getting results that are not perfect. 

How to fix the problem?

Letting go of perfectionism may be easier said than done, but it is achievable. Of course, changing a personality trait doesn’t happen overnight. It can take a while, a few bumps in the road, but you’ll get there. 

The first and most important thing to bear in mind is that perfectionism leads nowhere; it's a search for an illusion that creates problems for everyone involved and induces stress, anxiety, low self-esteem, and other problems. Instead, we should all accept it’s okay to be good enough because it is! 

Perfectionists can step out of the vicious cycle when they take some time to think about this type of behavior from a different perspective. Just think about it this way; how many opportunities in life have you missed just because they weren’t good enough? How many sleepless nights did you spend working on something that was good enough, but wasn't perfect? How many stressful days have you had just because you pushed yourself to do something better although it was okay the way it was in the first place? 

When you put things into perspective, it’s easy to understand that perfectionism is like a paralysis; it keeps you away from good, beneficial things that could enrich your life.

Perfectionism also weakens your position as a leader in the workplace. Your way of thinking is not the only way, and other people have good ideas or solutions as well. Perfectionist leaders often bring negativity into their team, unknowingly, all because they believe that nothing less than perfect will earn them respect. 

Take some time to think about what it takes to do something, whether it's work or any other aspect of your life. What should you do to accomplish that assignment? What's good enough? Once you identify what's good enough, go ahead and just do it. Do not pick flaws and look for problems in things that aren't broken.

Perfectionism is common today because we are brought up to believe that someone’s respect and praise will come with perfect performance, and anything less than that is not okay. Being good enough is more than okay. Sticking to perfectionism holds us back in life, takes away opportunities that would make us happy, and brings a lot of stress and anxiety. Re-evaluate your habits and performance, determine what it takes to get the job done, and accept the notion that perfection is an illusion.


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