Striving for perfection can instill within you an unrelenting drive to excel.
At one end, the pursuit of perfection encourages you to exceed your personal horizons.
But at the other end, it carries a burden of frustration, disappointment, fatigue, and stress.
The perfectionist, feeling far from her goals, resorts to working harder, sleeping less, and sacrificing the balance between her work and life.
For when you demand perfection from yourself, you pursue an ideal that is forever elusive, forever beyond your grasp.
Perfectionism presents as unrealistically high standards accompanied by the tendency to be overly critical in the evaluation of yourself or others.
Perfectionism affects all areas of our life: career, academia, parenthood, physical appearance, relationships.
But this unrelenting drive often conceals a deeper longing—a yearning to be liked, accepted, and valued.
Psychologists recognise that perfectionism has complex roots.
They see perfectionism as a tapestry woven from the threads of personality, childhood experiences, demanding expectations, and the ceaseless clamour of perfection blasting from society and the media.
In my book, The Flea Circus, I discuss some questions you might like to consider to see if you have any perfectionistic habits or tendencies that you might want to work on:
- Do you set exceptionally high standards for yourself, and also for others?
- Do you downplay your achievements and feel inadequate despite your achievements?
- Do you delay or ignore certain tasks out of fear you might not do them perfectly?
- Do you engage in self-criticism or negative self-talk for any flaws, faults, or mistakes?
- Do you frequently dwell on what you ‘could’ or ‘should’ have done differently?
If you’ve answered ‘yes’ to one or more of these questions, chances are you might have a perfectionistic streak.
Consequences of Perfectionism
Although not always negative, perfectionism can exert a powerful influence on all aspects of your life with far-reaching consequences.
Yet, while there’s nothing wrong with hard work and high standards, the irony is that perfectionism can undermine your effectiveness.
There is a vast bank of research that underscores the problems of perfectionism, which can overwhelm your life if you do nothing about it, so we will now discuss some examples of the negative effects that perfectionism can have on your:
- Mental health.
- Career and work.
- Attainment of goals.
#1: Mental Health
The relentless pursuit of perfection, combined with the fear of failure, can create a cocktail of emotional distress.
Perfectionists tend to set impossibly high standards for themselves, leading to chronic dissatisfaction and constant self-criticism.
For instance, studies have shown a strong link between perfectionism and mental health issues, in particular elevated levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.
Perfectionism has also been linked to rumination, a repetitive focus on your mistakes and shortcomings, which can intensify symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Because perfectionists can struggle with the challenges and complexities of interpersonal dynamics, both socially and professionally, perfectionism can significantly impact personal relationships.
The relentless pursuit of perfection can lead to unrealistic expectations of yourself and others, resulting in strained relationships.
Partners, friends, and family members may feel inadequate or fear being constantly criticised, which can erode trust and prevent intimacy.
The fear of rejection or abandonment because you believe ‘you’re not perfect or good enough’ can also make you overly cautious in forming new relationships.
Which means your perfectionism can result in social isolation and loneliness if you allow it to go unchecked.
While perfectionism may drive individuals to achieve high levels of success, it can also hinder your career progression through impaired job performance and job-related stress, what’s known as maladaptive perfectionism.
This is because perfectionists often engage in procrastination, have a fear of taking risks, and excessively ruminate about work.
The pursuit of unattainable standards can also prevent collaboration with others and sabotage teamwork, further isolating you and hindering your productivity and efficiency.
#4: Attainment of Goals
Researchers have also revealed a negative association between perfectionism and goal attainment.
This happens when the relentless pursuit of perfection leads to procrastination as you wait for the ‘perfect’ conditions to act.
When you feel that everything has to be perfect in order for you to do your work, you risk missing the opportunities that present to you whilst at the same time delaying the achievement of personal and professional goals.
To paraphrase Winston Churchill:
Perfectionism spells paralysis.
Strategies for ‘Letting Go, and Letting Good’
While perfectionism is sometimes viewed as a trait that drives success, there is no doubt about its damaging consequences for your mental health, relationships, career, and goal attainment.
It is therefore essential to understand the nuanced nature of perfectionism and to strive for a healthier balance, where the pursuit of perfection does not come at the cost of well-being, relationships, and your effectiveness.
Not everyone who is trapped in the flea circus is a perfectionist, but every perfectionist is trapped in the flea circus.
Recognising the signs of maladaptive perfectionism and seeking support when needed is a crucial step in nullifying its consequences and achieving a more balanced and fulfilling life.
The key to finding balance is self-reflection. You need to investigate the origins of your perfectionist tendencies and understand the adverse effects they have on your life.
Then you need to stop using your productivity and achievements (what you do) as unrelenting standards with which you judge your self-worth and form your self-image (who you are).
In other words, you need to let go of the belief that you have to be perfect in order to be ‘good enough’, valuable, or acceptable.
You already are good enough. You already are valuable. You already are acceptable. You don’t need to be perfect; in fact, it just gets in the way.
It gets in the way of everything.
What you need to do is start prioritising good over perfect, what I call ‘Letting Go, and Letting Good’.
Only when you let go of the need to be perfect and accept that good is good enough will you begin to unburden the heavy weight of perfectionism and enjoy the positive benefits in your mental and emotional well-being, your relationships, your career, and the achievement of your goals.
We will now discuss four strategies to prioritise good over perfect:
- Recognise your need for perfectionism and/or your perfectionistic behaviour.
- Be curious as to why you need to be perfect.
- Observe the effect of your perfectionism.
- Challenge yourself: The 90% Rule.
#1: Recognise Your Need for Perfectionism
Perfectionism is often a significant roadblock on our journey to achieving personal and professional goals.
The first step to ‘Letting Go, and Letting Good’ and learning how to prioritise good over perfect is recognising the various dimensions of perfectionism in all aspects of your life.
This is crucial for understanding how perfectionism hinders your progress and well-being and overall effectiveness.
#2: Be Curious
Next, be curious to the reasons why you need to be perfect. This is crucial if you truly want to be more effective.
Understanding the compulsion to be perfect will help you to develop strategies to shift from rigid perfectionism to a balanced and more flexible approach to your tasks.
- Unrelenting High Standards
Is the relentless pursuit of perfection stemming from a deep-seated desire for exceptional achievement?
While high standards can be motivating, they can also evolve into an inflexible pursuit of perfection that cause frustration and demotivation when unattainable objectives are not met.
- Self-Judgement and Self-Worth
Is the need for perfection driven by the tendency to be exceptionally self-critical?
Although learning from your mistakes is important and vital for your overall success, self-criticism that associates self-worth with accomplishments builds immense self-imposed pressure that dampens your personal and professional effectiveness.
- Inability to Start/Finish Tasks
Is the compulsion for perfection a manifestation of an overpowering fear of initiating or completing tasks?
The perceived magnitude of the task and the fear of falling short of perfection can often lead to procrastination.
This delay, in turn, hinders productivity and goal attainment.
- Seeking Perfection vs. Excellence
Are you pursuing perfection or pursuing excellence?
It’s vital to know the difference between the two.
Perfectionism can drive you to seek an unattainable ideal, whereas aiming for excellence involves a more constructive approach to continuous self-improvement by allowing mistakes and imperfections to become integral components of your journey to success.
- Need to Belong/Be Accepted
Is the quest for perfection intertwined with a need for external validation and acceptance?
This may be driven by a fear of rejection or judgement from others, leading to the belief that only perfection can guarantee your place within a group or community.
In the long term, this need for external validation can diminish your authenticity and impede your personal and professional development.
- Risk Aversion
Is perfectionism manifesting as an aversion to risk-taking?
This can be due to a fear of failure or success, an obsession with order and control, or an intense dislike of criticism or disapproval.
Each of these facets can hinder your journey toward achieving personal and professional goals and impede your overall effectiveness.
#3: Observe the Effect of Your Perfectionism
The next step to ‘Letting Go, and Letting Good’ is to be aware of the effect that perfection has on all areas of your life.
Self-awareness is key. Acknowledging the presence of perfectionism within yourself and the effects it has is an essential component to releasing its hold over you.
So take the time to reflect on the areas of your life where you may have unrealistic expectations or an intrinsic fear of making mistakes.
Recognising the pervasive nature of perfectionism and observing its effects allows you to begin the process of freeing your thoughts and actions from its influence.
Perfectionism can manifest in various forms—setting impossibly high standards, relentless self-criticism, and chronic procrastination.
By observing these dimensions, you gain insight into how they may be impeding your personal growth.
It enables you to pinpoint specific areas where you need to let go of perfection and embrace a healthier approach to self-improvement.
Perfectionism can exact a toll on your mental and emotional well-being.
Psychologists tell us that the need to be perfect is often accompanied by heightened stress, anxiety, and a constant sense of inadequacy.
Observing the emotional strain that perfectionism imposes on your well-being underscores the urgency of adopting a more balanced perspective.
Prioritising ‘good’ over ‘perfect’ means prioritising your well-being, so use this as a driving force to let go of the relentless pursuit of perfection.
- Professional Effectiveness
In your professional work, you may notice that perfectionism undermines your productivity and hinders opportunities for career development through procrastination, a fear of taking calculated risks, and substandard job performance.
By identifying the manifestations of perfectionism in your working life, you can develop a strategic plan to address these barriers and enhance your overall effectiveness and career progression.
- Balanced Living
Perfectionism is not confined to one area of your life but in fact permeates every aspect of your 7 Life Segments, from personal relationships to health and well-being, to learning and education, to career and work.
Observing its impact across these areas will motivate you to create more balance and harmony in your life.
Letting go of the need for perfectionism and embracing ‘good’ allows you to allocate your energy and time effectively, enhancing your overall quality of life.
#4: Challenge Yourself: The 90% Rule
Recognising, understanding, and observing the many and varied ways perfectionism affects your life and keeps you trapped in the flea circus is vital to increasing your effectiveness and guiding you toward a more balanced and fulfilling life.
As you become more aware of the negative influence that perfectionism has upon you, you begin to take more proactive measures to lessen its effects, cultivate resilience, and prioritise ‘good’ over the unattainable ‘perfect.’
This shift in perspective ultimately enhances your progress, well-being, and overall effectiveness in every facet of life.
One shift in perspective is to embrace the 90% Rule and to accept that ‘good is good enough’.
As productivity coaches like to say:
Done is better than perfect.
The 90% Rule states that something completed to 90% satisfaction is far better than striving for unrealistic 110% perfection.
The 90% Rule represents a paradigm shift that can profoundly impact each and every segment of your life.
By accepting that perfection beyond a certain point is neither feasible nor beneficial, you grant yourself the freedom to be more efficient, reduce stress, promote creativity, embrace growth, maintain relationships, and advance in your career.
Efficiency and Productivity
The 90% Rule acknowledges that there comes a point where the additional effort invested in achieving perfection yields diminishing returns.
Striving for that 110% perfection (because perfectionists don’t just do 100%, do they?) can be incredibly time-consuming and resource-intensive, often without a proportional improvement in the final outcome.
Embracing the 90% Rule allows you to channel your efforts more efficiently, promoting productivity and saving your most valuable resource—time.
- Reduced Stress and Anxiety
Perfectionism can be a significant source of stress and anxiety because the incessant pursuit of flawless results can lead to unrelenting self-criticism and the fear of making mistakes.
By acknowledging the 90% Rule, you grant yourself the gift of reduced stress. You let go of the unrealistic demands for absolute perfection and replace these demands with a more forgiving and compassionate approach to your work and life.
- Increased Innovation and Creativity
The pursuit of perfection can stifle creativity and innovation because when you’re fixated on achieving an unattainable standard, you may become risk-averse and reluctant to explore new ideas.
In contrast, accepting the 90% Rule provides room for experimentation and the freedom to take creative risks. This mindset can lead to breakthroughs and novel solutions.
- Enhanced Learning and Growth
Recognising that 90% satisfaction is an acceptable achievement, you become more open to learning from your experiences.
When mistakes and imperfections are viewed as valuable opportunities for growth rather than as failures, this perspective promotes resilience and adaptability, enabling you to grow personally and professionally.
- Maintaining Relationships
Perfectionism can extend to interpersonal relationships, where excessively high standards and a critical attitude can strain intimacy with loved ones and weaken connections with friends and colleagues.
Embracing the 90% Rule can lead to healthier, more balanced relationships by allowing you to appreciate the imperfections in both yourself and others, which nurtures greater understanding and acceptance.
- Career Advancement
The 90% Rule can also be a catalyst for career advancement. Rather than obsessing over unattainable perfection, you can focus on excellence instead, delivering consistently reliable work, and regularly meeting deadlines.
This approach can lead to greater recognition from superiors and fellow workers, and enhance your career opportunities.
Here are some everyday scenarios of the differences between striving for 110% perfection and the implementation of the 90% Rule.
These examples illustrate how perfectionism can lead to delays in various aspects of you life, hindering your progress, and that aiming for 90% is a practical alternative to perfectionism.
-> “I won’t find the perfect time to start, so I’ll delay it.”
-> Perfectionistic Belief: Delaying the house cleaning because you need to find the perfect moment for it to be done spotlessly.
-> 90% is Good Enough: Accept that there’s no perfect time, aim to complete 90% of the cleaning now, and set realistic standards.
-> “It has to be absolutely impeccable, so I’ll do it later.”
-> Perfectionistic Belief: Delay organising or decorating your home because you insist on achieving perfection, leading to inaction.
-> 90% is Good Enough: Start organising or decorating with the goal of 90% satisfaction, recognising that it doesn’t have to be absolutely impeccable.
-> “I must perfect every detail, so I’ll finish it eventually.”
-> Perfectionistic Belief: You procrastinate at work completing tasks because you believe you must perfect every detail, which can result in missed deadlines.
-> 90% is Good Enough: Focus on achieving 90% completion within the given time frame, allowing for minor imperfections.
->“I need to make the best choice, so I’ll decide later.”
-> Perfectionistic Belief: Delay making decisions for fear of making the wrong choice, leading to delays in both personal and professional life.
-> 90% is Good Enough: Recognise that decisions can be adjusted if needed, and aim to make choices that are 90% in line with your goals.
The principle aim of the 90% Rule is to enhance your effectiveness in navigating the complexities of modern life in a balanced way and without the stress of perfectionism.
So now you how to ‘Let Go, and Let Good’. As John Steinbeck’s character, Lee, tells Abra in his bestselling novel, East of Eden:
And now that you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.
So focus on ‘Letting Go, and Letting Good’ and prioritise the 90% Rule at home and at work to reap the benefits of being good enough.
- Perfectionism presents as unrealistically high standards accompanied by the tendency to be overly critical in the evaluation of yourself or others.
- While perfectionism is sometimes viewed as a trait that drives success, there is no doubt about its damaging consequences for your mental health, relationships, career, and goal attainment.
- Not everyone who is trapped in the flea circus is a perfectionist, but every perfectionist is trapped in the flea circus.
- Understanding the compulsion to be perfect will help you to develop strategies to shift from rigid perfectionism to a balanced and more flexible approach to your tasks.
- Recognising the pervasive nature of perfectionism and observing its effects allows you to begin the process of freeing your thoughts and actions from its influence.
- Done is better than perfect.
- The 90% Rule represents a paradigm shift that can profoundly impact each and every segment of your life.