Overcoming the Perfectionist Attitude

Hi. I’m the Somber Scribbler and I’m a perfectionist.

Perfectionism is not only annoying, it’s often the cause of low self-esteem and anxiety. Perfectionists have unrealistically high expectations of themselves, others, or life in general. They are often highly focused on details, particularly the negatives and they tend to discount the positives. Are you a perfectionist? Here are some of the signs….

  • You are motivated by fear of failure or sense of duty. I should, I must, I have to…
  • You are critical of every effort. Your accomplishments never satisfy you, you have to be number one.
  • You have to earn your self-esteem. You must be accomplished or you wont be loved or accepted by others.
  • You are terrified by failure. If you don’t reach your goal, you think you are a failure as a human being.
  • You must always be in strong control of your emotions, otherwise you might be seen as weak.
  • You tend to think in two categories (black and white, success and failure) rather than on a continuum.
  • You make conclusions that go beyond a situation. If it happened once, it will always happen.

Sound like you? It sure sounds like me. There are tips all over the place about how to get over it. For example, make more realistic goals, stop focusing on the little negatives, don’t discount the positive stuff and find more pleasure in life. It’s good advice, but how do you do that? It’s hard to just turn off that black and white thinking when you’ve been doing it your whole life.

I want to share some painfully obvious things that I have realized lately. Reminding myself of these things has helped me to be more successful in following the anti-perfectionist tips.

Existence = Worth
Society measures our worth by outer achievements, so that’s how I measure my own worth. How much education do I have? How many friends do I have? How much money do I have? How thin am I? Sounds about right, right? Wrong! Your worth is a given just because you exist. People give pets and plants worth just for being there. Why shouldn’t we give ourselves the same treatment?

Mistakes Are ok as Long as You Are Still in Control
You are human, you make mistakes. You probably make several a day (I do!) and that’s ok. They are not worth dwelling on. It just gives you more anxiety. There is no learning without mistakes. I know you’ve heard that before and it’s not that comforting, but what about this? Think about how many mistakes you can make before you lose control of the situation. There’s a lot of room for error there. Feel better? I do.

Would you Demand the Same From Your Best Friend?
I applied to optometry school out of high school. I didn’t get in. I hated myself. Would I hate my friend if she didn’t get in? No. Would I feel bad for her? Yes. It’s ok to be disappointed because of set backs, but don’t let it turn into something as extreme as self-loathing.

The Right Perspective
Perfectionists tend to focus on mistakes that have minute consequences let alone any real long term effects. This mistake you made feels crappy right now, but will it matter next month? Next year? I know you want to kick me for saying that. It doesn’t make you feel better right now, but it does put things in perspective. I failed my driver’s test several times. I was devastated. Does it matter now? No. Does it affect my life in the long run? No. It wasn’t worth all the anxiety I had over it.

Stop and Smell the Roses
Perfectionists are often rigid and self-denying. You can’t keep giving 100% without recharging your batteries. Make time to do something you enjoy. I got to the point where I didn’t enjoy anything anymore. Everything stressed me out. I realized it was because I was focusing on the finish line and not on the process. My favourite pass-time was drawing and I stopped doing it because I wasn’t any good at it. I was so focused on what my artwork looked like in the end that I forgot it was the drawing part that I enjoyed. Focus on the process.

When I remind myself of these things I find it easier to follow the tips on how not to be a perfectionist. I’m still a perfectionist, but I’m working on it. Thinking in black and white and focusing on the negative is still automatic, but remembering these points helps me talk myself out of it and it has reduced my anxiety by leaps and bounds. I hope it can be of some use to you too.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. FWSoccerDad
    Mar 24, 2014 @ 19:33:43

    Great post, Scribbler. Very practical advice, though not as easy to follow all the time. I'm trying, though, I'm trying.


  2. Somber Scribbler
    Mar 24, 2014 @ 19:59:38

    It's the trying part that counts! It's not automatic for me yet, but it did get easier. Keep at it!


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