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Lesson 3.3 - Unbundling perfectionism


video lesson




Hey you! It’s lesson 3 in module 3 and in this lesson we’re going to unbundle perfectionism.

I first came across this idea when I read about the work of professor Ellen Langer from Harvard University. It helped me understand why bridging the gap between perfectionism and imperfectionism is so difficult.

In an experiment conducted by professor Langer and her student Loralyn Thompson participants of the study were given a list of undesirable traits, such as rigid, gullible, and grim, and were then asked which of these traits they had tried to change in themselves and whether or not they had succeeded.

Later, they were asked to evaluate the importance of traits such as consistency, trust, and seriousness. What participants were unaware of was that the traits on the second list are often seen as the positive equivalents of the traits on the first list. Consistency may be perceived as the positive version of rigidity, being trusting may be seen as the positive side of gullibility.

What professor Langer found was that those who valued a certain positive trait had difficulty changing its negative counterpart. Those who valued consistency had difficulty becoming less rigid because deep down, subconsciously, they feared it would mean becoming less consistent.

Langer wrote about this study: “The reason some people have a hard time changing their behavior, no matter how hard they seem to try, is that they really value that behavior under a different name.”

One of the reasons overcoming perfectionism is difficult is because we associate it with certain positive traits: “My perfectionism makes me meticulous and driven and I don’t want to be sloppy and lazy, so I’ll just remain a perfectionist.”

We don’t realize that these qualities are two sides to the same coin.

To be able to bridge the gap towards imperfectionism, we need to become aware of what exactly it is that we want to get rid of and what we want to keep.

This is where the concept of unbundling that was coined by researcher Nina Dir comes in. Unbundling is the process of taking a particular quality and separating it into two or more distinct sub-aspects.

Let’s take action

Let’s grab the worksheet and apply the unbundling process to perfectionism. Take into account all of the work you did into understanding your perfectionism in module 1 and then, answer these questions:

  • What does perfectionism mean to me?

  • What do I gain from being a perfectionist?

  • What aspects of perfectionism am I proud of?

  • What price do I pay for being a perfectionist?

  • What price do others pay for my perfectionism?

  • Which aspects of perfectionism do I want to keep?

  • Which elements of perfectionism do I want to get rid of?

When looking over your answers, you’ll likely find that you have some deep-seated and up until now subconscious beliefs that make zero sense or that you still buy into certain myths about perfectionism.

For instance, you’re really ready to give up your perfectionism, but you don’t want to give up your quest for excellence. When you think about it, those two things aren’t even the same thing. Working towards excellence is associated with imperfectionism not perfectionism.

Let’s also look at the example I used earlier. You think: “My perfectionism makes me meticulous and driven and I don’t want to be sloppy and lazy, so I’ll just remain a perfectionist.” Well, first of all, imperfectionism doesn’t mean you’re going to be sloppy and lazy. Embracing the concept of imperfectionism doesn’t mean you have to give up on being meticulous and driven. You can use those talents just as much in your pursuit of imperfectionism as you did through perfectionism.

Another example. You want to ditch your unrealistic expectations, which you associate with perfectionism. But you want to keep your high standard of quality work, which you associate with imperfectionism.

Or you want to ditch your control freak tendencies, which you associate with perfectionism. But you want to keep on working in a structured and organized manner, which you associate with imperfectionism.

Or you want to stop second-guessing yourself, which you associate with perfectionism. But you want to keep being diligent and detail-oriented, which you associate with imperfectionism.

You might need an outside perspective in working through this unbundling process. So please, share the traits and talents you have unbundled in the Facebook group. They could be an inspiration for others. And don’t be afraid to ask questions in the group or ask for help.

Once you define those areas where you want to change and those where you do not, you’re likely to be less conflicted and more ready to change. After you unbundle the traits, you can decide whether or not you want to change and what it is that you exactly want to change.


Okay, this was a short lesson but with a lot of work for you to do over on the worksheet. Take your time with it. I’ll be patiently waiting for you in lesson 4.