If you’re wondering whether or not you’re a perfectionist, there’s a good chance you are one, at least to a degree. And if we're being honest here, there's also a good chance you have some investment in the identity of being a perfectionist because of the positive connotations of the word "perfect"—who doesn't want to be perfect instead of just fine? (Perfectionists, that's who!)
It's important to educate yourself about just what constitutes perfectionism and why it's seen as a really bad thing, so you can decide how much you want to work at shrugging off these traits, and know how to do this.
The problem with perfectionism—and the reason you'll want to know if you possess any perfectionistic traits and what to do about it—is that perfectionists actually tend to achieve less and stress more than regular high achievers.
Perfectionists are a lot like high achievers, but with some key differences, and these differences are important, as perfectionists tend to experience more stress.
The following are ten telltale traits of perfectionists, that you may be able to spot in yourself or in the people you know. Do any of these sound familiar?
Perfectionists, like high achievers, tend to set high goals and work hard toward them. However, a high achiever can be satisfied with doing a great job and achieving excellence (or something close), even if their very high goals aren’t completely met. Perfectionists will accept nothing less than, well, perfection. ‘Almost perfect’ is seen as failure.
How to Overcome All-or-Nothing Thinking
Perfectionists are far more critical of themselves and of others than are high achievers. While high achievers take pride in their accomplishments and tend to be supportive of others, perfectionists tend to spot tiny mistakes and imperfections in their work and in themselves, as well as in others and their work. They hone in on these imperfections and have trouble seeing anything else, and they’re more judgmental and hard on themselves and on others when ‘failure’ does occur.
“Push” vs “Pull”
High achievers tend to be pulled toward their goals by a desire to achieve them, and are happy with any steps made in the right direction. Perfectionists, on the other hand, tend to be pushed toward their goals by a fear of not reaching them and see anything less than a perfectly met goal as a failure.
Unfortunately, a perfectionist’s goals aren’t always even reasonable. While high achievers can set their goals high, perhaps enjoying the fun of going a little further once goals are reached, perfectionists often set their initial goals out of reach.
Focus on Results
High achievers can enjoy the process of chasing a goal as much or more than the actual reaching of the goal itself. Conversely, perfectionists see the goal and nothing else. They’re so concerned about meeting the goal and avoiding the dreaded failure that they can’t enjoy the process of growing and striving.
Depressed by Unmet Goals
Perfectionists are much less happy and easygoing than high achievers. While high achievers are able to bounce back fairly easily from disappointment, perfectionists tend to beat themselves up much more and wallow in negative feelings when their high expectations go unmet.
Fear of Failure
Perfectionists are also much more afraid to fail than are high achievers. Because they place so much stock in results and become so disappointed by anything less than perfection, failure becomes a very scary prospect. And, since anything less than perfection is seen as ‘failure’, perfectionists sometimes put off things until the last minute.
Healthy Ways to Cope With Failure
It seems paradoxical that perfectionists would be prone to procrastination, as that trait can be detrimental to productivity, but perfectionism and procrastination do tend to go hand in hand. This is because, fearing failure as they do, perfectionists will sometimes worry so much about doing something imperfectly that they become immobilized and fail to do anything at all.
Because a less-than-perfect performance is so painful and scary to perfectionists, they tend to take constructive criticism defensively, while high achievers can see criticism as valuable information to help their future performance.
High achievers tend to have equally high esteem; not so with perfectionists. Perfectionists tend to be very self-critical and unhappy, and suffer from low self-esteem. They can also be lonely or isolated as their critical nature and rigidity can push others away as well. This can lead to lower self-esteem.
What You Can Do
If you see some of these perfectionist traits in yourself, don’t despair. Recognizing that a change may be needed is a very important first step toward creating a more easygoing nature and achieving the inner peace and real success that comes from overcoming perfectionism and being able to say that ‘almost perfect’ is still a job very well done.
Why Some Perfectionist Traits Can Be Healthy
Being a perfectionist makes it more challenging to meet the goal of being perfect, or even of reaching a personal best.
High achievers tend to be not only happier but more successful than perfectionists in the pursuit of their goals.
Procrastination can then lead to greater feelings of failure, further perpetuating a vicious and paralyzing cycle.
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