Signs that perfectionism might be getting in your way:
- you review your work repeatedly
- you don't turn things in or struggle with starting a project
- you double- and triple-check for errors
- you work extra hours
- you do work yourself rather than delegate to others
While completing something without error may reduce worry, you then establish a pattern of required perfection. You may engage in attempts to control your environment and people around you. You will worry no matter how well the task is completed. In contrast, allowing yourself to make mistakes provides the flexibility needed to start something, embark on something new, and/or complete something. When no mistakes are made, it simply means you aren't challenging yourself. Allowing yourself to make mistakes lets you decide that the project is completed to your utmost ability and you can incorporate critique and suggestion from others.
I want to share a personal anecdote that highlights focus on process as opposed to outcome. I participated in two olympic triathlons for the first time last year. My times were the same in each. One triathlon had thousands of participants, reaching a normal distribution, and I was average. The second triathlon hosted 150 participants, many of whom were college athletes, and I was not average. Here is what happened: as I'm swimming the lake portion I turn my head to see a kayaker next to me. I ask him if I am the last person in the water and he responds, "Yes. But you are doing great!" I finish the race near last. Ten years ago I would have experienced shame; now I am able to share the story on a blog and enjoy the humor.
Below, I provide tools to help you manage your perfectionism.
1) List your negative consequences from perfectionism. For example, what have you not spent time on or with due to spending extra time on achieving perfection?
2) Stop using all/nothing language such as "I must always be right." Allow for a gray area.
3) Allow minor errors with small things such as an email to a friend. This allows for evidence that nothing catastrophic happens even when a mistake is made.
4) Observe imperfect performance in others and their subsequent acceptance.
5) Try something entirely new, observing process with non-judgment curiosity and not focusing on outcome.
6) Learn what makes the difference between important and inconsequential tasks and dedicate less time to the latter.
Don't worry. You don't have to engage in these tools perfectly to receive benefit.