The term “toxic perfectionism” is a bit of a misnomer because all perfectionism is toxic. “Why?” you might ask, “There is nothing wrong with wanting to be your best”. True, pursuing your best self is a noble task but perfectionism rarely helps people achieve their goals. The pursuit of perfection places the sole value on flawlessness while striping all other things of their importance. In the end, perfectionism will have you trade your efficiency, your time, your relationships and your happiness just to have things exactly right.
Taking time to slow down and be mindful of the motivations for each activity you do daily can help you detect and avoid perfectionist rationalizations. Here are five questions to ask yourself when you feel the desire for perfection starting to gear up:
1.”Is this worth my time?”
When you feel the need to redo or overdo the task at hand, it’s important to ask yourself what is the real value you are getting out of being hyper-critical of yourself or your work. For a final paper that could determine your college degree, it makes sense to edit and re-read your body of work several times to make sure everything is on par. That same level of dedication to perfection doesn’t need to be applied to a simple email or text message to a friend. The time and energy used to rewrite and triple check your message isn’t worth it.
2. “Could this hurt the people I care about?”
You might be your own worst critic but are you letting your high-standards affect how you interact with others? You may have expected yourself to get all A’s in school but you shouldn’t hold your son to that standard if he tries his best but still only gets B’s. Your friends and family members all have their strengths and weaknesses which is what makes them unique individuals. It isn’t fair to them if you keep setting the bar so high and not appreciating them for who they are.
3. “Is this really going to make me more successful?”
You often dive into small tasks or projects and end up giving them 100% but spending all your precious time and resources to achieve perfection in every task can quickly wear you out. Sometimes you don’t have enough of that perfectionist drive left to actually pursue the goals that matter the most to you. So you put them off until you can do them at the standard you have set for yourself. For example, if you avoid or put-off an important assignment from your boss because you fear you will not do it perfectly, chances are she will overlook you for a promotion. This form of procrastination doesn’t help you become more successful and fear of failure will never let you reach your goals.
4.”Am I stopping myself from learning or growing?”
Making mistakes is part of the learning process as well as a key aspect of self discovery. You will never learn a new skill or discover your true potential if you become completely derailed at the first mistake. If you have always wanted to learn a new language, it isn’t fair to yourself if you give up because you conjugate a few verbs incorrectly. Making mistakes at your first attempt or even your fifteenth attempt isn’t a sign you should give up, it’s a sign you’re learning.
5. “Am I making myself happy?”
Chances are the negative-self talk you experience on a daily basis isn’t contributing to happiness. Perfectionists are known to beat themselves up over minor imperfections. You may experience a rush when you’re in the middle of a new project but this shouldn’t be mistake for happiness or fulfillment. As much as you might enjoy giving it your all, you may find yourself up through the night making sure your project is flawless or you may fall to pieces as soon as someone critiques your work. Happiness comes from self-acceptance not the elimination of imperfections.
Perfectionism is toxic and can eat away at mental well being if you don’t cut it off at the source. Your own internal thoughts may be causing perfectionism to thrive in your head. Learning to be mindful of the activities you are doing and why you are doing them can help stop toxic perfectionism in its tracks.
Throughout the month of May, RtoR.org will release a daily Post
of the Day in observance of Mental Health Awareness Month