Perfection. We’ve all heard the word before but what does it really mean? While it’s nice to want one’s work to be top-notch, that’s not quite the same thing as “perfectionism.” Perfectionists don’t want to get the job done at 100%; they are fearful of not nailing it at least 110%. Anything less would be akin to failure, which terrifies them and drives them to keep their nose to the grindstone (McKeown, Greg, Today, Just be Average, Harvard Business Review, 10/30/2013).
The classic perfectionist revises ad-nauseam. They tear down and revise what they just created only to rebuild it all over again. The cycle repeats itself. Stuck in the nitty-gritty details, the perfectionist is unable to prioritize because it becomes impossible to accurately see how these details fit into the big picture. Meanwhile, the drive for perfection keeps them from being able to move on to other projects/tasks. Deadlines become increasingly difficult to meet.
Effects on Health and Wellness
Naturally, a process that challenges productivity and ability to meet deadlines can be detrimental in the workplace. However, the effects extend into one’s personal life as well. When in a place of fear, our sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight) is activated. The fight or flight state certainly has a practical purpose in life, but living in a constant state of an activated sympathetic nervous system can become problematic. “Research suggests that prolonged stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction” (Harvard Mental Health Letter, March 2011, Understanding the Stress Response).
Put very simply, excessive and/or perpetual stress can make you sick. In addition, the workaholic tendency that often accompanies perfectionism keeps the individual from spending enough time with family/social circles and participating in stress-relieving hobbies and activities.
Stop being an overachiever?
Of course, avoiding perfectionism isn’t a call to laziness! Good effort and hard work are still important. It’s more about letting go of fear and allowing oneself to be a strong employee instead of fixating on a standard that’s impossible to reach—sort of like trying to count to infinity.
Path back to wellness
What can one do to help curb perfectionism? Well, the real first step is self-awareness (for more information on this concept, see our blog post Wellness Awareness). When you catch yourself on revision #10 or when you realize that you’re going to miss the deadline because you can’t “get things just right,” stop and take a breath. Step back and really put this into perspective with the big picture. Is it more effective for you to spin your wheels on this and drop the ball on others tasks, or should you give it your best and then move on? The funny thing is that you doing a job that’s “good enough” is probably you getting it done 100%. So in stepping back and taking the pressure off, you maintain a place of balance and wellness while also doing great work and completing all your tasks—and all within the timeframe of deadlines!