The 5 Mistakes All Perfectionists Make
(and how to fix them!)
Many times, perfectionists spend their 20’s and 30’s with a false sense of virtue. They might believe that their exceptional attention to detail or unreasonably high standards are getting them ahead - but did you know all perfectionists make the same mistakes? Keep reading to see if you make these same mistakes - and stay tuned for a free download which will show you exactly how to fix them.
The problem with perfectionism is that a lot of people don’t see it as a limitation. Many young people will proudly state in an interview that their weakness is “perfectionism” - but do they realize how perfectionism is contributing to both wasted time and wasted opportunity? Would you say in a job interview “I’m afraid to take any sort of a risk. I can’t walk away from a task even when I know it’s no longer productive or beneficial to the company and I don’t take any form of criticism well.” You probably wouldn’t right? However, this is exactly the environment that perfectionism develops, and it becomes the place from which perfectionists form their ideals and habits.
Perfectionists tend to form the same habits in their extreme avoidance of failure - procrastination, being paralyzed by indecision, practicing all or nothing thinking and demanding excessively high standards from yourself and others. As a result, all perfectionists tend to make theses same five mistakes:
- Mistake #1 - Thinking perfection exists
- Mistake #2 - Believing others care about how well you perform
- Mistake #3 - Confusing productivity with procrastination
- Mistake #4 - Equating perfection with happiness
- Mistake #5 - Perseverating the notion that perfectionism is a good thing
Are you wondering if you suffer from perfectionism? Take this free quiz to find out! Click the image below to get the link:
Mistake #1 - Thinking Perfection Exists
Where exactly does “great” end and “perfect” begin? I don’t believe enough perfectionists stop to ask themselves this question. So many are stuck on the hampster wheel of seeking perfection, only to see themselves rise and fall numerous times while making zero progress. I see this all the time in my coaching practice - as clients come to me after spending all of their time and energy on a specific outcome, only to find it didn’t bring the result, or sense of purpose they anticipated.
Think back to your latest personal challenges, particularly if you set out seeking “perfection” as your outcome. Did you have a clear picture of what you were trying to achieve, or did you have a general idea and believed you would “know it when you felt it”? So many perfectionists end up chasing the latter - and find that the end of the rainbow continues to move as they pursue it...while the pot of gold at the end fails to appear. Meanwhile (in this analogy at least), acres of lovely Irish countryside, and charming pub after pub have gone by unnoticed.
Have you ever stopped to think about what you are missing out on while you chase something that doesn’t exist?
Mistake #2 - Believing that other people care about what you are doing - and how well you are doing all it.
Here’s the thing - we are all rather self centered. We tend to focus on what we want as individuals, and how we can get it. Of course if someone does something related to our desired outcome, we pay attention for a moment, but then we turn right back to how we can do it better ourselves.
For perfectionists, who can be obsessed with “accomplishing” things - value starts to come from external sources. Once this cycle starts, it becomes really difficult not to believe every interaction can add or remove personal value as a result of someone else’s reaction.
If you are constantly seeking validation - you start to forget others aren’t on the same path and don’t have the same approach. Suddenly you are applying your assumptions and insecurities to a situation - because you work within a framework of constantly seeking external value and praise.
It’s important to remember that others might not operate this same way. They might be asking you for more information because they are genuinely interested in what you have to say - not because they think you gave an incomplete response. You might be brushed over for a new project because your boss recognizes you are already overworked and wants you to recharge, not because they think you are incapable.
Try to remember that other people are more focused on their own problems than they are on your abilities to achieve your goals. Separate facts from assumptions and find sources of internal value before seeking external praise.
Mistake #3 - Confusing Productivity with Procrastination
It’s completely normal for a perfectionist to spend an excessive amount of time perfecting a project before making it visible to the outside world. This could be the case for a school report, a work project, a blog post, or a new business idea. The reasons for this ties directly into Mistake #2, as perfectionists want to be praised highly for the work they produce so they can feel more valued and successful.
The reality of everyone’s situation is that we only have so much time - and the cost of delay is a real (but often ignored) factor for perfectionists. People are often surprised that perfectionism and procrastination go hand in hand - but the two are very closely linked.
Perfectionists practice a special form of procrastination, where they avoid real outcomes by focusing on planning, editing, re-doing, refining and generally finding really “productive” ways to avoid putting their genuine work out in the world for evaluation.
The big mistake that perfectionists make here - is masking procrastination with being “busy”.
If your house is sparkling clean, your desk is completely organized and you’ve just re-labeled your spice drawer - chances are you are avoiding something that scares you. Hiding behind being busy will not get you the results you crave. You are still avoiding something. It’s so liberating to figure out exactly what that something is - and why it’s so scary for you. The next time you are in a daze or re-organizing everything, think about what’s triggering this behaviour and why it scares you so much.
Mistake #4: Equating perfection with happiness
This is one of the hardest mistakes to admit to - and for good reason! It’s the backbone of perfectionism. You’ve probably thought to yourself (more than once) “If I can just achieve this next goal, then I will be happy” - right? That goal might be to grow your social media following to a certain number, or lose a certain number of pounds - but once you get there, you find yourself to be the same person with slightly different statistics. So you quickly figure out what the next step on the ladder would be and set your sights on that. You work harder this time, possibly setting a gruling schedule - in order to “make it”. The bar keeps moving and you continue to be the same person you were when you started…
But are you? If you constantly equate your ideals of perfection with happiness, you will be searching forever. Focusing entirely on the outcome will bring you no joy - and in fact drain you as it sucks your time and energy for little to no reward.
So what is the mistake that all perfectionists make here? Focusing on the outcome and not the journey. The outcome won’t change you into a different person - but the lessons you learn and experiences you have along the way might. How do you grow and develop as a person in response to challenges along the way? What does this tell you about your perspective of the world and where your blind spots might be? Did you uncover a hidden talent that you didn’t know was there?
These little discoveries and revelations will bring you happiness and joy as you start to uncover your true self and the strength that exists there. Being able to check a box in your bullet journal will not change you - but expanding your perspective and challenging yourself as a person will bring you a huge sense of personal accomplishment and achievement. So stop focusing just on the goal - and start becoming aware of your surroundings as you move through the different steps to get there.
Mistake #5 - Perseverating the notion that perfectionism is a good thing
You might be reading this - and agreeing with points here and there as you go along - but down deep you could be thinking “But my perfectionism does still serve me”. I promise you it doesn’t. You could still have attention to detail if you weren’t a perfectionist. You could still be driven and ambitious if you weren’t a perfectionist. In fact - you could do all these things BETTER because you wouldn’t have the limitations and constraints that perfectionism implies.
Perfectionism is not part of your personality - it’s a framework and method of thinking that has caused you to form habits over the years. While those habits may have contributed a huge portion of your personal identity - they don’t define you and I promise they aren’t helping you.
You get to choose who you are going to be going forward. Are you going to be someone who wastes their days (and their opportunities) chasing a mythical unicorn? Or are you going to be someone who grows and develops quickly as a person as they push their boundaries by taking on new experiences that scare them.
So What Do You Do Next?
Take a minute to dream about what life would be like without the limitations of these five mistakes. What would you do more of? Who could you become? What if perfection didn’t exist for you as a personal goal marker. What could you accomplish if you removed the constant pursuit of perfection?
If you are serious about taking action to make this a reality - download my guide to identifying which perfectionist tendencies you tend to exhibit. This will give you a great starting point to make an action plan to tackle your limitations and understand which mistakes you might be making! Remember - this just just a snapshot of where you are at this moment, it’s not a definition of your personality or your personal trajectory.