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Wellbeing / Business psychology

Perfection Infection

Does the thought of failure make you feel queasy? Do you set the bar too high? You may just have what psychologists are now calling the Perfection Infection.

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Perfectionists put unreasonable demands on themselves and often expect too much from colleagues, friends and family.

Have a read of the following list and see if any relate to you.

Ten signs your a perfectionist:

1. You obsess about a mistake you’ve made.

2. You are intensely competitive and hate losing, even at Monopoly or Scrabble.

3. You have to do things perfectly or not at all.

4. You demand perfection from everyone else.

5. You refuse to ask for help, believing that is a sign of weakness.

6. You will persist at a task long after other people have quit.

"It’s not wrong to strive for excellence, but perfectionists can benefit by honing a sense of perspective."

7. You are a fault-finder and go out of your way to correct other people.

8. You consider people with cluttered desks or houses to be lazy and undisciplined.

9. You are very self-conscious about making mistakes in front of others.

10. You noticed the error in the title of this list and it really annoyed you!
(sorry – but we had to check).

Want more articles like this? Check out the business psychology section.

Perfectionists vs. healthy achievers

It’s not wrong to strive for excellence, but perfectionists can benefit by honing a sense of perspective.

Here are the differences between obsession and a healthy attitude:

Perfectionists set goals beyond reach and reason. Healthy achievers set high goals that take a bit of a stretch but are still within reach.

Perfectionists are never satisfied with anything less than 100%. Healthy achievers enjoy the process as well as the outcome

Perfectionists can become dysfunctional and depressed when failing. Healthy achievers bounce back from failure and disappointment quickly and with energy.

Perfectionists are preoccupied with fear of failure and disapproval. Healthy achievers keep anxiety and fear of failure within normal bounds.

Perfectionists view mistakes as evidence of character weakness and unworthiness. Healthy achievers view mistakes as opportunities for growth.

Perfectionists become overly defensive towards feedback. Healthy achievers react positively towards feedback.

An obsession with perfection can contribute to a slew of health issues, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, eating disorders and anxiety, along with a host of relationship and marital problems.

Fighting the Perfection Infection

Overcoming perfectionism requires patience, courage and support. Here are a few suggestions to help fight the perfection infection:

List the pros and cons

On the left side of a sheet of paper, list the benefits of being a perfectionist and on the right side, list all the costs to your health, relationships, career and so on. Hopefully, you will find the costs outweigh the benefits.

Increase awareness of self-talk

Tune into your inner voice and start identifying those all-or-nothing thoughts. Then ask questions like, “Is there an alternate way to think?” or “Are things really as bad as I’m making them out to be?”

Be realistic

Try being a little easier on yourself. If you don’t swim a personal best in the pool today, is it really going to have a major impact on your life?

Set strict time limits on projects

Move on to another activity when time is up. This technique reduces the procrastination that typically results from perfectionism.

Learn to deal with feedback and criticism

Perfectionists tend to take all feedback personally. Concentrate on being more objective and try to learn from your mistakes.

Has the Perfection Infection affected you or someone you know? Tell us about it.

Main sources: Gordon Flett, Professor of Psychology, York University, Toronto; Why Perfect is not always best, BBC News; Perfectionism can lead to imperfect health, Science Daily, Toronto; Has it got to be perfect?, Helen Kirwan-Taylor.

Andrew May

is the CEO of The Performance Clinic and is recognised as a leading performance and productivity expert.

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