Generally you would be forgiven for thinking that perfectionism is a good thing if it results in you doing better work and trying harder to complete tasks well. And to an extent perfection largely is a positive trait that can actually be very helpful – but there comes a point at which this changes and at which perfectionism can start to get in your way and hold you back. Here we will look at where this point is, and at what you should do about it if you think that's what's starting to happen to you.
The Downside of Perfectionism
So how can perfectionism possibly be a bad thing? Well it becomes a bad thing when it stops you ever being satisfied with yourself or what you've accomplished, and even more if this starts to affect other people.
For instance, perfectionism can mean that you're never happy with the work you've done and this can then prevent you from ever leaving it alone, or even from ever pronouncing it finished. Every artist knows how important it is to stop adding touches to their paintings and work and how constantly adding elements can end up ruining it otherwise.
Likewise in business perfectionism can actually lose you a lot of money if it prevents you from releasing your projects. The best way to work in business you see is actually to release your products and services before they're finished so that you can use the market feedback as a means to improve your offering once you know what your audience want. Tweaking any offering a business has will always cost you a lot of time and money, so to make too many changes before you even know if they're going to be successful can be a serious waste of money. Instead you need to be able to release lots of products, see which ones are the most popular, and then listen to the market to invest money into those in the way that your audience is telling you to. Otherwise you can spend thousands or even millions creating the perfect product, only to release it and find that the market just isn't there – and that's how a lot of companies go bust. Or if you're a small start-up you can spend so long developing that you never actually release anything and that you go under before you've even finished – it happens.
Worst of all is the effect that perfectionism can have on you and those around you. If you constantly demand only the very best from yourself then this can quickly become tiring and can damage your self-esteem as you find nothing you do will live up to your expectations. And if you extend this harsh judgement to your friends and family and only focus on the negatives around them, then you can damage the way they perceive themselves and make you very unpopular.
How to Combat Perfectionism
So how do you get rid of these kinds of crippling perfectionism? Well there are a couple of things you can do, here we will look at a few of them to help you be more laid back.
Learn to Take Risks: Learning to take risks is incredibly important for your self-development and actually to perfect any endeavour. While you might think you can do more to improve your work of art, or your pick up techniques before testing them in the real world, actually you will learn a lot faster by seeing how they're received by your target audience. We've discussed how releasing something before its ready is often the best strategy, so learn to take risks and leave things in the lap of the Gods sometimes.
Learn the Value of Failure: And when you take those risks you need to be ready for some of them to fall flat. This might feel uncomfortable, but the point is that these failures will teach a lot that you can then put into your next project.
Manage the Risk: If you are putting yourself out there in a situation where you are likely to fail, then this can be damaging too to your self-esteem, your finances or your overall game plan over time. What you need to do then is to learn to manage risk and minimize the consequences where possible. If it's your pick up technique you're putting out there for instance then, practice in a setting where there's a smaller audience. And if you're taking risks in a business setting, look for ways that you can reduce the cost of failure by reducing your overheads for instance, or by spreading your bets with multiple income streams.
Don't Compare: Often perfectionists will have such high standards because they are making comparisons with other people. An artist who thinks their work is never done for instance might be comparing their paintings to those of Van Gogh, whereas an overly critical parent may be comparing their children's work to their own and forgetting that they're children. Try to judge your work and that of others on its own merits then and don't make unfair comparisons with big businesses or others who have more experience.
CBT: Sometimes perfectionism can be a result of a condition called 'obsessive compulsive disorder' which is a personality disorder in which we become obsessed with one thing in particular and then can't let it go. You may then for instance find yourself obsessing over a speck of dirt on the counter when you next clean the kitchen, or you might find yourself looking around the house for hours to make sure everything is turned off before you head outside. In such cases it can help to get therapy from a professional such as a cognitive behavioural therapist or a behavioural therapist who will be able to look at why your brain works that way and help you to switch off as a result.
Increase Your Sense of Urgency: Perfectionism is one drive that motivates the way we work and operate, but another is the sense of urgency. I've never let perfectionism hold me back because I'm incredibly impatient like a ball of energy. When I have an idea for an article for instance I will want to rush home and write it right there and then for fear of forgetting it, or for fear of someone else writing it first. While that might be a bit extreme too, you can cultivate a little urgency as a great antidote for perfectionism. If you are taking too long to get into work in the morning because you're spending it doing your hair for instance, then bring to mind how much nicer it would be to be sitting in the office with a mug of coffee without being rushed to finish work. If you're a perfectionist in business on the other hand, then create a display showing you how much money you're losing every minute through inaction – that should speed things up.
Step Back/Get a Second Opinion: If you are constantly tweaking things and never happy then the chances are that you're too close to the situation and that you can't judge it clearly any more. To get a more objective review, ask someone else what they think and whether they think it's 'good enough' yet. Alternatively try just giving your project some breathing room by leaving it for a bit so that you can come back to it with 'fresh eyes'.
Learn to Let Go: Ultimately though the main thing to develop is the ability to say 'c'est la vie' and let the cards land as they will. Stop worrying and learn to decide when you've done all that you can, and then just let go. This will feel like an incredible weight has been lifted and it's very good for your mental health as well as your productivity and success.