Can setting high standards for yourself ever be a problem? For most people, striving for perfection would be considered a positive thing. For example, musicians only reach concert standard after thousands of hours of practice and athletes can't reach peak performance without long hours of training.
But there's also a negative aspect of perfectionism. Perfectionists tend to set standards that are so demanding that they are impossible to meet or can only be achieved with difficulty. While most people understand that mistakes are inevitable and that everybody messes up at times, a perfectionist believes that making a mistake means they have failed catastrophically, or that they have disappointed others and are therefore a hateful person.
This pattern of thinking makes it very frightening for a perfectionist to make a mistake. They strive to be perfect all the time and are often disappointed with themselves for not achieving the standards they have set. They may gradually come to believe they are less capable than other people. Trying so hard to be perfect and meeting impossible standards causes stress, anxiety and self-doubt.
If you're feeling overwhelmed with stress and anxiety, it might because that you're asking too much of yourself. There's nothing wrong with high standards. But if they're so high that they stop you enjoying life and get in the way of your school, work or relationships, you may have a problem with perfectionism. Find out whether you're secretly a perfectionist by taking our quiz:
Take a look at the following statements and check which response you think sounds most like you:
a) I'm just thankful for any successes that I achieve
b) That's true, and I feel that others will be expecting more from me as well
a) We can't all be good at everything, and I know I have qualities that they don't
b) Absolutely true - I constantly check my Insta for the latest posts and they knock my self-confidence
a) Mostly disagree
b) Mostly agree
a) Sounds like me - I'm pretty content with my life the way it is
b) I've always been ambitious, and achieving the highest goals is very important to me
a) Who know what else they have going on in their life? It's none of my business why they've given up.
b) I'm not too fond of dropouts
a) No, I know I won't always be successful, and it's OK as long as I've done my best
b) Of course, that's the whole point!
a) Their achievements are nothing to do with me
b) I feel compelled to try and keep up with them
a) Not really, I get by OK
b) Nearly always
a) Mostly disagree
b) Mostly agree
a) Not really, I don't feel any pressure
b) It certainly feels like it!
If you ticked mostly a's, you have a balanced attitude towards life. You're the sort of person who counts their blessings, allows themselves to make mistakes and is content with the way things are.
If you ticked mostly b's, you're showing many of the traits of a perfectionist. Read on to discover how you can overcome perfectionism so that it doesn't hold you back.
The first step is to change the perfectionist way of thinking. Bach Flower Essence 10, Crab Apple, can help guard against perfectionism and obsessive thoughts.
Other useful techniques include:
People who are perfectionists are often too self-critical. Perfectionist thoughts make you see mistakes as catastrophic. Replace these ideas with realistic concepts such as "Nobody's perfect" and "Everybody has bad days sometimes". Repeat these thoughts often. You might not find them believable at first, but if you repeat them often enough, they will eventually crowd out negative self-criticism.
Many perfectionists find it challenging to see things from another point of view. They don't consider how others might see a scenario.
As an example, you might you're slacking if you only cycle for 20k at the weekend when you'd aimed to do 30k. Other people might think 20k is a very acceptable amount of exercise. It can be beneficial to learn to see situations as others may view them.
When you have difficulties with perfectionism, it's as if you have a phobia of making mistakes. Try to overcome your "phobia" by facing your fear of being imperfect by deliberately making mistakes. Start with something small such as wearing odd socks! If people notice at all, it will likely be with a good-humoured comment. Next, spend 3 hours instead of six preparing your presentation. Gradually, you'll be able to cope with situations you would previously have avoided because of worries that things wouldn't be perfect.
It's very challenging to face your anxieties and try new ways of thinking! Look after yourself and enjoy a reward for all your hard work. A treat such as a movie or nice meal, or just meeting up with friends, will help you to feel good about yourself and persevere with the changes you're making.
If you recognise that you're secretly a perfectionist, don't worry! Let go of some of your high standards. Accept that you're perfectly imperfect and your life will be much more fun!
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