Lesson 1.4 - Myths about perfectionism
Up until now in the course we’ve focused on what perfectionism IS, which of course is very helpful. But, in trying to gain an understanding, it can also be helpful to focus on what something is NOT.
That’s why, in this lesson, we’re going to go over some myths and misunderstandings around perfectionism.
Let me bust some perfectionist myths for you.
Perfectionism is not the same as striving for excellence
Repeat after me: perfectionism is not the same as striving for excellence. Striving for excellence is not even close to what perfectionism is about.
Striving for excellence would mean focusing on personal growth and healthy achievement: “How can I improve?” or “What are my goals?”.
Instead, being a perfectionist means you're focused on the other and trying to win their approval: “What will they think? Will they like me? Will they think my effort is good enough?”
There’s a difference between healthy striving (which is internally motivated) and perfectionism (which is externally motivated).
Perfectionism is not the key to success
Another myth is that being a perfectionist is the key to success. Wouldn’t that be great? That perfectionists are more successful than others? *wink wink*
Wake up, sister, we ain’t dreaming.
Perfectionism doesn’t help us achieve our goals. In fact, it holds us back and hinders growth and achievement.
How many times have you not done something you actually wanted to do, because knowing you wouldn’t be perfect (or even good) at it right from the start made you anxious? I know I have. For the longest time I didn’t sign up for drawing class, because I couldn’t bear the thought of other people seeing my work.
Perfectionism is not a Wonder Woman cape
We tend to think that being a perfectionist is like having a special superpower and if only we could put that superpower to use we’d be successful and noticed and appreciated. But perfectionism is a shield we put up to stop people from seeing what is really going on with us on the inside. It doesn’t make us invincible, it makes us invisible.
Perfectionism is not something we’re born with
Perfectionism is NOT about setting high expectations or being successful in your endeavours. It is about being concerned about making mistakes and worrying about what others think. We are not born perfectionists. We pressure ourselves to become perfectionists, mostly out of fear and anxiety.
Perfectionism is not a collection of personality traits
We’ve talked about this false belief in-depth is lesson 1 in this module, so there’s no need to go over that again. But what we CAN do here is untangle this false belief even further and differentiate between false belief and true perfectionism, between talent and compulsion.
False belief: you’re diligent and conscientious, that’s why you’re a perfectionist.
Truth: you’re constantly second-guessing yourself, that’s why you’re a perfectionist.
You’re a perfectionist because you can’t stop second-guessing. You’re probably also bothered by its obnoxious second cousins ‘overthinking’ and ‘indecisiveness’.
When you’re rocking your talent of being conscientious, sometimes perfectionism creeps in: “Am I missing something?“ or “Should I do it more like this?” This usually happens when you’re working on an important project and you start to feel uncertain about if you were really diligent enough and you wonder if you should’ve done more.
When you find yourself thinking in terms of ‘enough’, that’s when you know you’re treading dangerous perfectionism waters.
Being diligent and conscientious is your talent. When you’re second-guessing, that’s when perfectionism is running the show.
False belief: you have a keen eye for detail, that’s why you’re a perfectionist.
Truth: you can’t let go, that’s why you’re a perfectionist.
You’re a perfectionist because you just can’t let go. Paying attention to details is a great talent to have. It sets you apart from others.
But when you’re so focused on all the details, trying to make sure that you’ve handled every little detail and not letting go before it’s perfect, that’s dangerous perfectionism territory.
This holding tight to the idea of perfection is what’s actually standing in your way. It’s what keeps you stifled and unable to move. It just sucks up all of your energy.
Having a keen eye for detail is your talent. When you’re not able to let go, that’s when perfectionism is running the show.
False belief: you favor quality over quantity, that’s why you’re a perfectionist.
Truth: you’re stuck in comparison, that’s why you’re a perfectionist.
You’re a perfectionist because you can’t stop comparing yourself and your work.
Favoring quality over quantity is a great talent to have. It becomes dangerous when you feel uncertain or insecure and you start comparing. Perfectionism is when you’re comparing yourself to other people and you’re attaching more value to their ideas, their work, and their expertise. You think their ‘quality’ is better than your ‘quality’.
The key here is to not let yourself get distracted by someone else’s shiny pennies. They aren’t perfect and don’t have things figured out as well as you think they do. Don’t underestimate yourself. Your ideas and your work are of great quality, even if they aren’t perfect.
Favoring quality over quantity is your talent. When you keep falling for the comparison trap, that’s when perfectionism is running the show.
False belief: you have high standards, that’s why you’re a perfectionist.
Truth: you have unrealistic expectations, that’s why you’re a perfectionist.
You’re a perfectionist because you have unrealistic expectations. Having high standards is a sign of motivation and self-discipline and it doesn’t mean you’re a perfectionist.
In fact, most successful people set very high standards for themselves. The punishing pursuit of perfection happens when you’re worried about mistakes… mistakes you fear you’ll be making when trying to make those high standards happen.
Although having high standards is often helpful, perfectionism is about having expectations that are so unrealistic that they actually interfere with your performance. Plus, it’s impossible to live up to those expectations.
Having high standards (and holding yourself to them) is your talent. When you act based on unrealistic expectations, that’s when perfectionism is running the show.
False belief: you work in a structured and organized manner, that’s why you’re a perfectionist.
Truth: you’re a control freak, that’s why you’re a perfectionist.
You’re a perfectionist because you have this need for control.
Many people wish they could have your talent of being structured and organized. But that’s not the same as being a control freak. A control freak is someone with a need to control other people, situations, and environments to relieve their anxiety and create a sense of security. They use their perfectionism to cover their insecurities and fears.
Are you constantly redoing things to make sure they’re absolutely perfect? Do you find yourself noticing pictures on walls that are slightly crooked and straightening them, even if it’s in someone else’s home? Do you criticize and find faults with others, but in your mind you’re always right?
The way you work - in a structured and organized manner - will lead you to excellence. Perfectionism leads you nowhere. Perfectionism is about controlling the outcome in order to receive love and acceptance. Excellence, unlike perfectionism, is about lovingly pushing yourself to act, think, relate, and create from the highest part of yourself.
Working in a structured and organized manner is your talent. When you get caught up in your control issues, that’s when perfectionism is running the show.
Okay, that’s it for this lesson. I hope this lesson cleared up a few misunderstandings around perfectionism for you, because there’s a difference between using your talents and abusing them through perfectionism. I’ll see you over in lesson 5.