No one’s prefect - oops - perfect

  • Cynthia Johnson

If you have done a full workshop with us, you’ll remember that one of the eight thinking habits that can tip pressure into stress is Perfect Control. People can get a sense of their perfectionism through the personal resilience questionnaire and we often see very high scores on the Perfect Control scale. Given that perfectionism is one of the eight research-based drivers of stress it’s concerning to learn from a 27-year study involving 42,000 American, British, and Canadian university students that perfectionism is increasing.

In a recent workshop, a participant asked for more information about perfectionism, and I sent her three references which I thought I would share more widely.

The disadvantages of perfectionism outweigh the advantages

In a 2018 meta-analysis of 95 perfectionism research papers, Brian Swider and colleagues identify two types of perfectionism: that arising from the drive for expertise, and that arising from a fear of failure.  While this analysis identified a couple of positive outcomes of perfectionism (high levels of motivation and conscientiousness,) there was no relationship between perfectionism and performance. However, there was a relationship with burnout, stress, workaholism, anxiety, and depression. 

Arresting perfectionism

In addition to the Challenge of Change follow-up notes on remedies for moving the eight scales in the desired direction, I also sent her two articles with ideas for remedying perfectionism.

In Rebecca Knight’s 2019 article the advice for perfectionists is to:

  • recognise the opportunity cost and time of perfectionism; in other words, could you be better spending your time elsewhere?
  • adjust your standards. Your ‘not good enough’ may be someone else’s ‘good’
  • create a checklist of what needs to be done and stick to it
  • break the cycle of rumination (course attendees: have you heard that before?)
  • get perspective (course attendees: and have you also heard this before?)
  • monitor or review progress.

In an Anxiety Canada article, perfectionists are advised to recognise perfectionist thinking, feelings, and behaviours. They’re given strategies for overcoming these three drivers of perfectionism including:

  • perspective taking
  • big picture thinking
  • compromising standards
  • suggestions for overcoming procrastination.

If you think perfectionism is the enemy of your peace of mind, read these articles and try a couple of the suggestions. And remember perfectionists, don’t let fear of failure get in the way of making a real attempt to try them - don’t judge the suggestions too quickly, give them a chance, AND don’t strive to perfectly master them either!


Photo credit. Vitolda Klein on Unsplash

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