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Perfectionism - why we need to watch out for this sneaky trait

Updated: Jan 10

When I was coming up through the ranks in a Big Four professional services firm I wore my perfectionist badge with pride. I was proud of my excessive attention to detail, my high standards for myself and my team (I “may” have been called a task-master on more than one occasion), I thought my ability to be responsive and to always say yes was a good thing.

Both the environment and my natural tendency to want to aim for 100%, cultivated perfectionism that not only was unhealthy for me but also those around me.

Many of us battle (consciously or unconsciously) with perfectionism. You don’t either have it or don’t - as with many psychological experiences it’s a spectrum and we move between a healthy sense of wanting to do a good job and deliver against our promises towards unhealthy levels of pressure and expectations on ourselves to be perfect.

For me, the problem with perfectionism is that it prevents you from taking action.⠀

Perfectionism leads to procrastination - we question our value and whether what we're doing is good enough. It holds us back and stops us putting ourselves and our work out into the world.

Procrastination then leads to overwhelm as we don't get the things done which we want to, we start thinking that's because we're not good enough which leads to more negative thoughts and overwhelm.⠀

Too much overwhelm and we're feeling stressed and experience heightened anxiety.⠀

So what should we do? I believe we need to strive to move ourselves away from that perfectionist persona (some might say a more of a JFID attitude…) and accept that making mistakes are part of life.⠀

Less perfection, more authenticity

Less perfection, more authenticity… so how?

  1. We need to accept that we all make mistakes. No one is perfect. We will all flounder, mis-speak, mis-step and stumble each day with our kids, our partners, friends and work colleagues. The key is acknowledging our mistakes (saying sorry sometimes too) and then moving on. Allow yourself a moment to think about what happened and why but stop the ruminating and berating - it won't change what happened. ⠀

  2. We need to think about where in our lives we are procrastinating. Ask ourselves whether it's because we are setting ourselves unrealistic goals and targets. Are these goals stopping us from completing the task as we are afraid of failing? This comes up for many of my clients in multiple areas of their lives.⠀

  3. Finally we need to think about how we reward ourselves. When we tie our self-esteem to striving or achievement we discount that we are amazing humans on other levels and what's makes us good people isn't about whether we achieve our goals or targets.⠀

So what are we aiming for? Well it’s a sense of healthy balance when it comes to the standards that we set for ourselves.

Here’s some mantras that might help

  • I have high standards and expectations but I resist the urge to be perfect - sometimes an interim, the imperfect solution still works perfectly well.

  • There is no perfect way of being you - we are all unique and special in our own ways.

  • My expectations are realistic and I hold myself to realistic standards and I set realistic goals for myself but I accept that life happens and my plans might need to change (January lockdown anyone?).⠀

  • My goals are achievable and don't come at a considerable negative personal consequence for myself or others around me.

  • I celebrate my successes and reflect on what I've achieved.

  • I can flex my approach and apply my professional judgement to know that sometimes good enough is good enough.

If you’d like to have a conversation about how perfectionism might be holding you back, you can book a call with me here.

Liked this article? You might also like to read my article about resilience.

- Natalie.


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