There was a time, and it wasn’t long ago, that I would beat myself up for not being perfect. I would write off an entire piece of work because I’d omitted an apostrophe or committed the sin of all sins and used your instead of you’re.
I was thirty-eight years of age when I got the diagnosis of Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder and was placed as a Total Perfectionist on the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale. All those exhausting years under the oppressive weight of the fear of not being enough. Thankfully, there are treatments, tools, and exercises that, with practice, have helped me to overcome perfectionism.
It is important to understand that perfectionistic behaviour is often confused with high achieving behaviour. Perfectionistic behaviour is driven by the fear of not being good enough whereas high achieving behaviour is driven by a desire for gratification. Perfectionists are rarely if ever, gratified.
Perfectionism is anything but perfect!
It is incredibly difficult for a perfectionist to accept shortcomings, whether there are perceived or actual.
Being a mobile and freelance worker, flitting between devices, and often working in random places is begging for trouble with a bowl out.
Here is how I deal with my own Perfectionistic Behaviour:
Live with intention
Perfectionists often struggle with accepting that a piece of work is finished, I have learned to help myself by seeking to understand the intention of any action before I start.
What is the intention? is it different from Why am I doing this? because in a perfectionist’s mind the answer will probably always be, it has to be done, perfectly, and I’m the one one that can do it! whereas the intention is a defined purpose that will help with motivation.
For Example, my intention in writing this post is to increase awareness of the condition, separate it from high achieving behavior, and list the tools I use that help me to overcome it.
When I am writing copy or creating content for clients I invest heavily in this part of the brief which makes so that I can measure the progress of the assignment.
A checklist can then be used to chart the route to getting to this defined destination, or intention. Preventing me from getting lost in endlessly second-guessing, editing and editing again. No piece of work is ever good enough to a perfectionist.
For example, I help myself to stay on the right path by creating a checklist reminding me to include, a link to the Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale, links to the treatments, spelling punctuation and grammar check, etc.
My previous post on Hijacking Habits is helpful with this.
Create a routine
Endless thinking, the struggle to prioritise and insecurity would leave me at constant risk of not delivering. This is especially dangerous to me, as a freelancer.
A routine, in my calendar with reminders, helps me to keep perspective and prioritise. My routine is in my diary. This may sound like an arduous task but the impact of doing it is incredible, and the sense of satisfaction that arises from having a ‘finishing point’ is a valuable one for a perfectionist.
For example, every day I walk my dogs between 11:30 and 12:30, have lunch between 12:30 and 13:00, and then I write from 13:00 – 16:00. Multi-tasking is not a perfectionist’s friend, so routine helps to keep focus (I often put my phone on flight mode to prevent wandering off-task).
Rally some allies!
I would often feel extreme pressure caused by the belief that the only person with the ability to do a thing and get it right, was myself. Perversely this is exactly what usually prevented me from being able to complete a task.
Having a friend or colleague to talk to can be helpful. It is important that the communication is incredibly clear and there are boundaries in place. This can sometimes feel awkward, clumsy, and even embarrassing at times but it is important to persevere.
For example, my trusted friends and I understand that when I appear to be defensive, I am aware of it and am striving to be better.
There is an NHS app called My Possible Self which is helpful, and free.
Feedback is a gift
The thought of not being good enough, or our work not being good enough, is crippling for a perfectionist and can lead to having an almost primal urge to protect our work.
Opinions have no value because they are a judgment. Feedback has value because it creates an opportunity for learning.
I have learned to separate opinions from feedback and it has become a mantra for me that feedback is a gift. Some gifts are easily accepted and others we wish came with a gift receipt so that would return them.
Take the perfectionism test and discover where you place on the scale and learn more about perfectionism philosophy.
Please share your thoughts about or experience with perfectionism, I would love to create a conversation around this.