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Perfectionism: How to Manage our Newest Disability!

Perfectionism is turning into the new disability. Recent research by Curran and Hill (2017) has shown perfectionism to be on the rise for the last decade. While there are certain benefits to being one, perfectionists are more likely to suffer from anxiety, depression, compromised relationships and even a higher rate of suicide.

Who is a perfectionist? According to Hesitt and Flett (1991), a perfectionist is someone who has high personal standards and is overly critical of self. This is very different from someone who values learning and strives for excellence. The self-oriented perfectionist holds themselves to a high unattainable standard where innocent mistakes become personal flaws, making them over-react to criticism. They take comments personally as they internalize them as messages of “not being good enough.”1 Once internalized, they can go into defense mode quite easily, being reactive to any type of disagreement.

Perfectionists are great at creating long-term plans and having the discipline to perform and achieve high-quality results. While their attention to detail can be paralyzing at times, their products are often impeccable. Many successful people like Steve Jobs or Leonardo Da Vinci were perfectionists! As a matter of fact, certain jobs such as an accountant, court reporter or a lab technician require a great level attention to detail that a perfectionist has, enabling them to perform superior compared to others.

If not developed, most perfectionists abandon ideas before conception due to the multiple factors associated with creating a “perfect product.” First of all, in their mind, the excruciating pain and stress are not worth the effort. If you are one, I'm sure you have a long list of projects and ideas that you have left incomplete due to the high level of stress they create for you. Also, in the fear of making a mistake, a perfectionist procrastinates instead of making a decision. This adds to their idea list and further adds to their stress. Plus, no task meets their high unattainable standard. This in turn prevents them from trusting others and delegating their tasks, which ultimately negatively impacts their team work, leadership ability and financial growth. Think about it: if you have such high standards for your work, wouldn’t you look at everyone else's work through the same lens? Finally, no achievement big or small is celebrated for being “good enough.” In the end, the sheer amount of responsibility results in burnout.

When it comes to interacting with others, it shouldn’t be a surprise that perfectionists hold others to the same high standards as they do themselves. As a manager or a team member, perfectionists turn into nitpicky micromanagers. Friendships are judged based on their high standard and are often strained. As a result, perfectionists often suffer from lack of supportive and deep relationships, which they desire in their personal and professional jobs.

Overall, perfectionists are constantly stressed. They have less fulfilling careers, relationships, and personal lives. Rarely, they feel the internal satisfaction, peace, and joy that their friends and peers experience in life. I bet you are not taking your perfectionism so lightly now!

As a perfectionist, I often wondered about the roots of my crippling perfectionism. I wondered whether I was trained by society, culture or did I inherit it from my perfectionist dad?

The research shows that while strict parenting can play an important role in raising a perfectionist child, our society as a whole advocates for perfectionism. Compared to decades ago, we are putting a higher focus on a picture-perfect life, individualistic achievements, social status and academic achievements. We need to be a certain way in order be accepted. The more focus we put on the aforementioned values, the higher the rate of perfectionism, and the higher the rate of depression, anxiety, and suicide. The question now becomes, what can we do to manage our disability and use it to our advantage?

1. As with any other disability, awareness plays an important role. Read about it further and educate yourself. Look deeper into your life and see why are you a perfectionist. Does your job require it, or are you just following what you were taught by your parents? Who do you need to please the most? Once you evaluate how perfectionism has disabled you to reach your personal or professional goal, try some of the techniques below to manage and control it.

2. Be aware of the thought associated with MISTAKE! As explained previously, perfectionists often associate mistake as not being good enough. Instead, you need to learn that you are in the process of learning. For that, I suggest starting a new activity, a hobby and observe yourself through your learning experience. Try answering questions below in the process.

  • What thoughts/feelings surface when you make a mistake?

  • How do you think others perceive you if you make a mistake?

  • Now make deliberate mistakes and practice other ways of thinking of yourself. I sometimes gave mini prizes to the clients who admit to making a mistake with a smile.

You can also read my blog on how I adopt a mistake-free culture for myself.

3. In a team setting, utilize the 80% rule!3 Learn to do the best 80% you can do and leave the 20% for others to complete (your boss, your coworker, your spouse or your child). While this harbors creativity for others, it frees up your ego! It's important to note this does not mean doing a less-detailed job. This simply allows room for others to give their input, which is a characteristic of team effort!

4. Celebrate your successes. The celebration doesn't come naturally to a perfectionist because simply nothing is ever good enough! Instead, define early on what is a good enough outcome so you don’t have a moving target. In the process of reaching your goal, have at least 5 mini steps (milestones). When you meet your milestones (as small as they are), celebrate their completion. Make yourself accountable to someone or to a group of friends so they can celebrate with you.

Don’t wait for a perfect time to implement these methods. Do them now! Leave me a comment below and join my newsletter for more educational blogs like this!​

By Mehran Sorourian

Image retrieved from on 4/20/18


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