Are you a perfectionist?
Did you know that perfectionists are actually some of the biggest procrastinators? Yes, really.
In theory, perfectionism sounds like a good thing. Who doesn’t want to do and be their best? It can even seem like a harmless way to motivate yourself.
But the reality is, nothing is perfect.
What does “perfect” even mean? What does it look like? Who has the instruction manual?
It’s different for everyone. What’s “perfect” in your eyes may not be perfect in someone else’s eyes and vice versa.
As you can see, there is no end to this game. There is no way to win.
Perfectionism is setting yourself up for failure. It’s setting impossibly high standards for ourselves (and likely others).
I know because I was proud to identify and call myself a perfectionist for most of my life. I was even voted “Biggest Perfectionist” in my high school yearbook superlative. I’m also a Virgo, so perfectionism came extra naturally to me.
But what I thought was a strength was actually an Achilles’ heel.
Because when things didn’t work out (whether in my professional or personal life), I was incredibly hard on myself.
I would ruminate and stress over every single detail. Ask myself, “What if this … what if that …” Compare myself to others thinking they had it all together. I feel embarrassed that I couldn’t figure it out. Tell myself stories that made me feel like I was never good enough.
All this self-blame and judgment only perpetuated the circumstances. It resulted in constant overdoing and overworking in efforts to prove myself. It felt like I was constantly chasing a carrot on the stick. Or procrastinating until the very last minute because the task seemed too daunting.
I was exhausted. I was never present. I was missing out on life.
So perfectionism is a myth.
Are you ready to hear the truths about perfectionism?
Perfectionism comes from fear. Fear of not being perfect. Fear of being inadequate. Fear of making mistakes. Fear of being judged. Fear of disapproval. Fear of disappointment. Fear of failure. The list goes on. This fear is all-consuming and only keeps you stuck.
Perfectionism does not make you more likable or successful. Perfectionists often focus on doing it “right,” thinking that means everything will be good. And yes, some perfectionists experience a lot of success, but it often comes at the expense of their mental and physical well-being. Humans are not meant to be perfect. Even the illusion of perfection can create a separation between you and others because most people don’t want someone perfect. They want to be around people who are authentic so they can relate because they’re not perfect either.
Perfectionism wastes time and blocks productivity. Think about how much time you spend on “perfecting” things. I remember in school constantly re-reading emails to professors and triple checking every detail to make sure it all looked good before hitting Send. And then feeling a sense of doom and gloom wash over me when I read it again and catch that spelling error. Now, in the grand scheme of things, was this spelling error going to make or break things? No. But it certainly felt that way at the moment when you’re caught up in wanting things to be perfect. Just notice the time you spend on over-perfecting and imagine how much more time you could have to be productive doing other things instead.
Perfectionism will not make you happy or fulfilled. You might equate perfectionism with happily ever after. But in reality, you’re never satisfied. You measure yourself up to an impossible standard, meaning even your best effort will never feel good enough. You feel like there’s always more you can do. You don’t let yourself relax or have fun. It’s exhausting. It’s a tiring way to live.
OK, so if you’re ready to change your perfectionist tendencies, read on!
First, remember that it’s possible to change. We know the brain is always creating new neural pathways and connections with neuroplasticity.
See perfectionism as a “habit,” and you can recreate a new habit whenever you’re ready. Habit creation is simply a process that takes intention and practice. Want to change but don’t know how to start? Coaching is one of the best ways to create new habits and rewire your brain to improve physician well-being, as demonstrated in this JAMA article.
Next, learn to practice self-compassion so that you can be kind to yourself, no matter what. You can check out my Youtube video on how to use self-compassion to heal from burnout. When you are in a state of health and ease, you show up as your best self in every aspect of life and feel So Much Better.
Lastly, recognize your inherent worth and value. You are a worthy human being because you are here and alive in this world. There is a reason you are here. You do not have to “prove” anything. No one is better or worse. Do not use external or material possessions as validation or reassurance.
Learn to create and source from within. You deserve to enjoy your life, your way.
Cindy Tsai is an internal medicine physician and can be reached on Twitter @cindytsaimd.
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