Perfectionists are Imperfect

Posted by Nikoletta Ventseslavova

 Read this if : you want to win the battle with your own fears and impediments, to learn how to move on and optimize your time.

Gain: Productivity and a more balanced outlook

Cost to you: Only the effort required to tackle the job

 “Humans are never satisfied. You give them one thing and they want something more.” Steinbeck

If we look back to the 17th century, Shakespeare tells us that life is like a play and we merely go through the stages of our life acting it out.  Fast forward to the reality of the 21st century and we are trying every trick to take the role of the wealthy,  successful, beautiful and content. But is this possible? Is satisfaction a misunderstood word in our globalized and material world? We set high bars for ourselves and we do our best to achieve them. We dedicate huge amounts of attention and time to our work with the purpose to maintain our high personal standards.  Our obsession for excellence drives us to continuous improvement. With dedication and effort we achieve more and more. But finally we never seem to get enough and to feel happy. Why?!?

Ironic or strange it may be: Being a perfectionist at its extreme prevents us from reaching our full potential.  F. Forrester Church said: ”’Whether it is for riches or thinness, fitness or knowledge or fame, the desire for perfection shuts out all other people and pleasures one by one. It is an addiction like cocaine: even more deadly in proportion to its purity”.

The aspiration for perfection isn’t bad in itself. However when it becomes uncontrollable the results are depression, unhappiness and unproductiveness. The perfectionist can’t accept his own imperfections and weaknesses and this makes him act destructively. Prem Fry, a psychology professor at Trinity Western University in Canada, notes that “perfectionism is a virtue in some cases, but in most of the cases, it represents a danger for the human life”.

Let’s take a look at the difference between self-improvement and perfectionism:

Here’s one good example given by experts from the University of Massachusetts for the tight relation between improvement and perfectionism: A doctor who always tries to improve his/her technique because he realizes that a mistake could mean a loss of human life is a good and professional behavior. Perfectionism becomes a problem when the doctor goes home and expects perfection from his family members or when he is dissatisfied by certain details of everyday life and when he feels pressured not to make any mistakes, or when he crashes under stress when a situation goes wrong.

What do we need to get the feeling of fulfillment?

In the wild, animals avidly seek out food only when they are hungry. Human beings are not hungry, so why do we want more if our physiological needs are met? Why do we think that more money can bring us happiness?  The study of economics teaches us a Law Of Diminishing Marginal Utility, stating that as a person increases the consumption of a product his desire for it declines with each additional bite. Accordingly, our desire to consume should stop when we are satisfied. What happens in reality is different. People act in a way that suggests they believe that money can always buy more happiness. Whilst we all need money and the satisfaction level is different for each individual, why do statistics show that the wealthiest nations aren’t happy?

Epictetus knew the answer 2000 years ago: “Freedom is not procured by a full enjoyment of what is desired, but by controlling the desire.”

Take a step back from the “competition”. Teach yourself to accept losses. The winner in life is the person who knows well what failure means and has overcome it.

Make a list of expectations. Revise them later and try your best to distinguish the realistic from the unrealistic ones, the achievable from the unachievable ones.

Celebrate the fact that you have learned a lesson when a mistake is made and you’re one step the wiser. Try to change the angle of your own perception and remember life doesn’t play out as we imagine it will.

Break the job down. Here the explanation of Dr. David Burns in his “Ten Days to Self Esteem” is laconic:  “One of the secrets of people who are highly productive is that they rarely try to tackle a difficult job all at once. Instead, they break the task down into its smallest component parts and do one small step a day.”

Be smarter with the money you have: stop buying things that you don’t need. Spend your money on things that will truly make you happy.


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