Perfectionism – friend or foe?

Do you think you are a perfectionist? And if so, where on this scale would you place yourself?

Regardless of where you are on the scale, your level of perfectionism may also depend on the circumstances. Some of us tend to be more perfectionistic at work compared to home or the other way round.


Here are some traits that may point to your level of perfectionism:

  • You strive to achieve goals from a fear of failure instead of being driven by the desire to achieve the goal.
  • You are a harsh critic of yourself and others.
  • You aim to be the best in everything you do, even if it is not something you are passionate about.
  • You have absolute ideals for yourself and others, usually with unrealistic standards.
  • You focus on results and not the journey.
  • You beat yourself up when you do not meet a goal or a commitment.
  • You are prone to procrastination, because you worry about not doing something ‘right’.
  • You find criticism scary and painful even if you do value the feedback.


Is perfectionism a friend or foe?

I have always been a perfectionist, and I loved it. It was certainly my friend, a quality that helped me succeed. It helped me stay ahead of the game. It also came with rewards both financial and personal. I have been a solid 10 on the scale above and I can tick off all of the traits and some!

From a young age I learnt that doing things ‘right’ and being the best brought acceptance from my parents and teachers. It built my self-esteem and sense of self-worth – I mattered!

As I got older I translated all of this into life and work. Over the years I developed a perfect life for myself - as wife, mother, friend and business woman. I worked hard and did what was necessary to live this perfect life. I got well and truly caught up in the story I had made for myself and what ‘right’ should be and kept judging all my efforts in comparison to what I believed this ‘right’ should be.


The seduction of perfectionism:

For those of us who have a good dose of perfectionistic traits, there are many reasons to carry on exactly as we are.

  • Success and accolades
  • Rewards – financial and personal
  • Acceptance from others
  • Sense of self-esteem
  • Sense of self-worth


If you take a close look at all these ‘benefits’ of perfection there is one common theme – they are all conditional on greater and greater perfection, greater effort, more doing and more achieving. None of these ‘benefits’ are based in a greater sense of being, fulfilment or self-acceptance.


Recently I have come to realise that everything needs to be in moderation, even perfectionism! It is important to do one’s best, to do a job well and to have goals and to succeed, but it is definitely about the journey and not just the result! A ‘perfect’ life is an illusion, albeit my very well constructed illusion.


The hidden shackles of perfectionism:

  • Fear of failure – there is a constant fear of “Will I do it right?” or “Am I doing enough to guarantee success?” The fear of failure may be subtle and in the background or it may even become quite loud and stressful.
  • Procrastination – this may seem paradoxical, but the fear of failure and the need to ‘do it right’ often leads to procrastination.
  • Self judgement – the constant voice in your head – ‘right, wrong, more, less’. It just doesn’t shut up!!
  • Best is not good enough – there is no real definition of what enough is, so nothing is ‘enough’, it could always have been done better. “What can I do better next time?” is not just an opportunity for growth, it’s a drive to be even better than before.
  • Striving – there is always the next goal in this quest for being ‘perfect’.
  • There is a sense of achievement, but how often is there a sense of fulfilment? Not often!!


How to break free from perfectionism?

Realising the effects of perfectionism in your life is the first step towards bringing greater balance.

  • Notice the voice in your head – notice what are you saying to yourself? Are you continually judging your every action and thought?
  • Tell the voice in your head to go away – in whatever expletives you choose!
  • Be careful – don’t judge the judging!!
  • Work on accepting life as it is - with all its imperfections. This is not always easy and needs commitment. Hold the intention to bring acceptance into your life by practicing mindfulness in your daily activities, noticing each moment as it is, without judgement. It does get easier over time – I promise!
  • Daily affirmations work well, and here are some examples, but feel free to use your own words.
    • I accept and appreciate my current situation.
    • I make mistakes and that is why I am so smart.
    • I love myself just the way I am.
    • I let go of the urge to dictate my life’s direction.
  • Coaching or counselling are a great help as you can work on issues specific to you and your situation. Sometimes perfectionistic traits can be a major contributor to stress in your life with very real health consequences.
  • Meditation – hold the intention at the beginning of each meditation to let go and bring more acceptance into your life, looking at various aspects that present themselves on that day.
  • Bring greater love for yourself, exactly as you are – ‘perfect’ is an illusion, but you are real, connect with that realness within you, accept and love your SELF with all your imperfections.
  • Be open to share the real YOU with others and you’ll find a greater connection with those in your life. People may like the perfect you – but they LOVE the real you.
  • Gratitude – celebrate your life as it is. Be grateful for the ‘perfect’ and the ‘not-so-perfect’ things in your life!


I have just briefly touched on ways in which you can break from the hold of perfectionism. Each point is actually very deep and life-changing if you work with it.  Please contact me if you want to bring these concepts into your personal and work life in a practical and meaningful way.


Are you a perfectionist? What drives you to be one? I would love to hear your story and your personal journey.


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