Do you fear that your work will suffer if you don’t put high, perfectionistic expectations on yourself? Perfectionism definitely propels you forward into doing things well, but it also holds you back through overthinking and putting way too much pressure on yourself.
When you understand the root causes of your perfectionism, you can take some pressure off yourself without sacrificing your goals.
What Is Perfectionism?
Perfectionism is when you strive for perfection and high performance. This is often accompanied by strong self-criticism and concern about how others will evaluate your performance.
A common job interview question is, “what are your weaknesses?” People often answer this question by saying, “I tend to be a perfectionist.” This answer isn’t viewed as a weakness, and is more of a cop out answer.
Perfectionism appears to be a good trait to others. It means you value your work and have high standards. Who doesn’t like that?
But on the inside, you are constantly being critical of yourself. You have concern that your work won’t be good enough and that others will know it.
You overthink things, procrastinate because it’s hard to get started on “perfection”, and you never feel like you’re good enough.
I struggled with some of my perfectionist tendencies as I outlined this post. I felt like I needed to encompass every aspect of perfectionism and do detailed research. But I forgot, this is not a research paper that is receiving a grade.
It’s impossible for me to include every single piece of information about perfectionism, which is something I had to accept.
The way I coped with this pressure was by being specific with my goals and expectations for the article.
This is one way of coping with perfectionism that I will discuss later in this article. First, let’s get to the root causes of your perfectionism.
The Root Cause Of Your Perfectionism:
I am going to discuss 3 possible root causes of your perfectionism. Understanding the causes and the why can help you pump the brakes when you notice your perfectionism.
1. Fear Of Failure
You often fear making mistakes. As a result, you fear the negative consequences that might occur if you don’t perform up to your incredibly high standards.
You overestimate what will happen if you fail and are critical towards yourself, fearing what others will think of you if you don’t perform well.
You think they other people will see you as “stupid,” “incompetent,” “a failure,” etc…
Those things that you fear other people will think are often a reflection of how you speak to yourself.
You have a presentation tomorrow and you are up all night perfecting the slides because you don’t want to make a mistake. You fear that people will see you as being incompetent. In reality, you are judging yourself because you lack confidence in your abilities.
This is an example of imposter syndrome. Imposter syndrome is when you fear being a fraud or you doubt your abilities, despite what you have achieved or evidence of your success.
Imposter syndrome can drive perfectionism because you are questioning your competence and abilities. You overthink and want things to appear perfect as a result.
Perfectionism Starts In School
The fear of failure can come from internalized expectations that begin in school with the pass/fail mentality.
I hate this concept because it’s not reflective of reality. The process of memorizing information, regurgitating it, and being graded creates a dangerous environment for perfectionists and high achievers. You tend to set the bar way too high and feel discouraged anytime you don’t get 100%.
Failing is bad, passing is good… but what does it actually mean to pass in life as an adult? Does it mean success? Happiness? Do you even know what you’re measuring yourself against and when you will finally feel happy?
The problem of being a perfectionist is that it is like having the goal of “wanting to make more money or a lot of money.” You will never be happy. When you have a non-specific goal of always wanting more or to be better– it never feels like it’s enough.
Failure is necessary for progress and growth. The fear of failure keeps you stuck and prevents you from trying when something seems too difficult. It also keeps you stuck in paralysis by analysis. When you did well in school and got the highest grades, it can be difficult to stomach the normal failure that comes in a career or as an entrepreneur.
2. Fear Of Not Being Good Enough
The second root cause of perfectionism is the fear of not being good enough. This includes fearing that you will only be loved or appreciated for your work and how much you accomplish.
This can be a consequence of how you were raised.
Did your parents have high expectations for you? Perfectionism can happen when you were trying to live up to your parents high expectations growing up (and even as an adult), and felt like it was never good enough.
It also occurs when you are praised primarily for your work and performance. This includes receiving praise for how well you do, and what achievements you have accomplished, but not receiving praise for who you are as a person or whether or not you are happy as a result of these accomplishments and work.
Another parenting style that can lead to perfectionism is the combination of not receiving enough encouragement or praise along with criticism, blame, or punishment. If you got punished for doing poor in school, this can create a drive to perform well all the time to avoid punishment or negative consequences.
This isn’t to blame your parents or caregivers for your current problems (unless of course it falls into the category of abuse). This is to give you an explanation and understanding of why you may have learned certain behaviors growing up.
Parents are only human, and the vast majority of the time- they are doing things with the intention of supporting you. The reality is that it may not have always been in the way you needed it.
3. Anxiety And Control
The third root cause of perfectionism comes as a result of anxiety & control. You put your focus on everything you can control to cope with the fear of uncertainty that comes along with anxiety.
The feeling of uncertainty is closely tied to anxiety. Uncertainty creates anxiety because there is so much room to think of the possibilities and the “what if’s.” This leaves you feeling stuck and with a lack of direction.
This can result in you wanting to make the “right choice” of what to do next to ensure the best possible outcome. You overthink and want to make the perfect choice. Then you get caught in the paralysis by analysis trap of researching, Googling, seeking reassurance from others, and doubting yourself.
How To Maintain Your Drive, without the constant pressure and criticism:
Is it possible to maintain your drive and desire for high quality, without the constant pressure and criticism you put on yourself?
Absolutely yes! The same way you learned these behaviors and ways of thinking, you can also learn new behaviors and ways of thinking. You can focus on performing well but not getting stuck, doubting yourself, and criticizing yourself.
Set Specific, Realistic Expectations
My #1 tip to cope with perfectionism is to set specific, realistic expectations.
The way I coped with the automatic perfectionist thoughts that I mentioned earlier was by…
- Recognizing my initial unconscious expectation. In this case it was to create a comprehensive resource on perfectionism and include every single piece of information.
- I then adjusted this expectation to something specific and realistic:
Create an episode on perfectionism conveying the most effective and accurate information. My focus will be towards my audience of listeners in an easy to understand format so that you can learn and grow from it.
This specificity immediately gave me clarity and got me started.
Be Kind To Yourself
Tip #2 is to show yourself compassion and be kind to yourself.
You are doing much better than you think you are.
I want to repeat that: you are doing much better than you think you actually are.
Speak to yourself as you would a friend and recognize your strengths. Have pride for each and every one of your accomplishments no matter how small. You deserve it.
Perfectionism is a trait that is highly valued externally. But it also results in a lot of internal struggling and excessive time spent on tasks & projects.
The same way you learn perfectionistic behaviors & beliefs, you can also unlearn them and replace them with more positive behaviors and beliefs.
Are you ready to dive deeper, get to the root cause of your perfectionism, and learn my step-by-step process to learning more positive behaviors and beliefs so you can finally take action from a place of confidence?