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    HOW TO OVERCOME PERFECTIONISM
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    Welcome to the November 2011 Victoria Stress and Anxiety Counselling Newsletter. It has been a beautiful fall so far in Victoria, British Columbia, and the weather for all the little trick-and-treaters was simple perfect. Usually, perfect is what everybody strives for, however, there is an ugly underbelly to perfect and perfectionism.

    Our culture values high standards, achieving excellence and "going the extra mile". However, perfectionism is different. It is a tendency to set such high standards that achieving them is virtually impossible. Perfectionists consider anything less to be horrible, a catastrophic failure.

    For example, most people consider that making mistakes from time to time is inevitable. Most folks state that they are trying to do their best in the given circumstances, and that making a mistake doesn't mean they are a failure or that their efforts have been altogether lost.  On the other hand, folks who have perfectionistic tendencies think making a mistake, even a minor one, means they are a horrible person for having disappointed other people. This way of thinking creates internal stress and anxiety, as it makes it extremely difficult for the person to meet their own expectations. This could possibly lead to feeling disappointed and inadequate.

    OVERCOMING PERFECTIONISM

    1. Recognizing Perfectionism

    The first important step is to sort out whether or not perfectionism is a problem. The questions below are intended to aid in figuring this out:

    • Do you have trouble meeting your own standards?
    • Do you feel frustrated, depressed, anxious, angry when trying to meet your own standards?
    • Have you ever been told your standards are too high?
    • Do your standards get in the way? (ie., of having fun, meeting deadlines, trusting others, being spontaneous).

    If you've answered "yes" to any of these questions, there is a likelihood you've a challenge with perfectionism.

    2.    Recognizing Perfectionistic Feelings

    Perfectionism can leave one feeling negative about themselves, disappointed, dejected and deflated about one's self-worth. A relentless internal assault of negative self-denigration is possible. The accompanying emotions may include anger, anxiety, stress, depression and frustration.

    3.    Recognizing Perfectionistic Thinking

    There is a very strong cognitive component to perfectionism, which include the following:

    • Black & White Thinking (ie., anything less than perfect is a complete failure)
    • Catastrophic Thinking (ie., I can't handle anyone being upset with me, I will be devastated)
    • Probability Overestimation (ie., I can't take any sick days, everyone at work will think I'm lazy)
    • Should Statements (ie., I should never make mistakes, I should never feel anxious)

    4.    Recognizing Perfectionistic Behaviour

    Perfectionism also has some hallmark behavioural features, such as the following:

    • chronic procrastination and difficulty completing tasks
    • being overly cautious and extremely thorough in doing tasks
    • excessively checking (ie., rereading an email 20 times before sending it)
    • constantly redoing things in efforts to improve them
    • agonizing over small details (ie., what movie to rent)
    • making elaborate "to do" lists
    • avoiding trying new things and taking new risks for fear of failing or making mistakes

    TOOLS TO OVERCOME PERFECTIONISM

    TOOL 1 CHANGING PERFECTIONISTIC THINKING

    1.    Realistic Thinking

    Given that many folks with perfectionistic tendencies are self-critical and hard on themselves, it is important to begin changing those perfectionistic and self-critical thoughts with more realistic ones. It is imperative that these new realistic statements be practiced regularly, as repetition will turn these positive realistic thoughts into a habit, breaking the old habit of negative thinking. Some examples of these thoughts are:

    • All I can do is my best.
    • Nobody's perfect
    • Making mistakes is part of being human, it doesn't mean I'm stupid or a failure. It makes me human.
    • It's OK to have a bad day sometimes, everyone does.
    • It's OK if I'm not liked by everyone.

    2.    Perspective Taking

    People with perfectionism have a hard time seeing things from other people's perspectives.  Considering how other people may see the situation can be a helpful tool to practice. For example, "Will my daughter really stop loving me if I say 'no' to babysitting tonight?"

    3.    What's The Big Picture

    Adults with perfection can get bogged down in small details and forget the bigger picture. To stop getting stuck, you can ask yourself the following questions:

    • Does it really matter that much?
    • What is the worst thing that can happen?
    • If the worst thing happens, can I survive?
    • Will this still matter tomorrow? Next week? Next year?

    4.    Compromising

    Compromising means becoming more flexible, especially if you have very high standards. For example, if you are preparing for a work presentation, you may ask yourself, "what level of imperfection is reasonable?" Asking this question, and answering it will give you a sense of what are appropriate and reasonable levels of performing. It is suggested to do this in stages, so that you don't overwhelm yourself with too much change too fast.

    TOOL 2 CHANGING PERFECTIONISTIC BEHAVIOURS

    Given that perfectionism is really about having a fear of failure and/or judgement, a strategy to counter that is through gradually, systematically and consistently facing those fears. For example, the fear of making a mistake involves exactly doing that-making mistakes-gradually and consistently, and then learn how to manage yourself. Here are a few ideas about how to start this experiment:

    • make an appointment and be late 10 minutes
    • leave a common area in your home a little messy
    • wear a piece of clothing that has a visible stain
    • purposely be a few pennies short for the bus fare
    • send an email that has a few spelling mistakes
    • talk at a meeting without first rehearsing what you are about to say
    • try a new restaurant without first researching it beforehand

    Practice, Practice, Practice. You'll need to be diligent about practicing. Expect the first few times to feel anxious and awkward, but the more you practice the easier it will get. Don't get discouraged, this will be helpful.

    TOOL 3 OVERCOMING PROCRASTINATION

    Procrastination is an avoidance vehicle. Given that perfectionists have a fear of making mistakes and have set extremely high standards, sometimes it is easier to procrastinate than to actually attempt doing the (seemingly overwhelmingly difficult) task. Procrastination is only a temporary avoidance, and in fact can make the anxiety even worse. Here are a few tips on how to manage:

    • Create a Realistic Schedule: break down larger tasks into smaller, manageable tasks, give yourself a time line and a reasonably limited amount of time to complete the smaller tasks.
    • Setting Priorities: Prioritize the list of tasks and set out on the most important items.

    REWARD YOURSELF

    Facing your fears, making changes and trying to start to do things differently is hard work. Make sure that you reward yourself and your efforts appropriately...don't procrastinate on this one! Best of luck!