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  • amynighbert

The Perfectionist Mindset: What is it, what is it costing us, and how to tame it

Updated: Jun 28, 2021

Many of us are fully aware that we struggle with a perfectionist mindset in some capacity of our lives. We hold ourselves to an unattainable standard, and we spend a lot of energy doing it. But it doesn’t work. In fact, it becomes an obstacle to our success.

Who has a perfectionist mindset?

That’s a good question, and the answer may surprise you. Some perfectionist mindsets are obvious while others are a bit more subtle.

Can you identify with any of these scenarios:

  • You’re constantly dieting. You start a new diet, and you’re all in for a couple of weeks, and then you give up on it.

  • You spend an unreasonable amount of time on tasks, you overthink tasks, or even struggle to get them completed on time?

  • You’re in a meeting at the office working on a group project. You KNOW you could do a better job than the person leading it, but you don’t step up and take initiative.

  • You’ve got what you think is a good idea for your boss, but you don’t ever pitch it to him.

  • You’re a procrastinator.

  • You always have that nagging feeling like you could be a better parent, a better friend, a better housekeeper, a better organizer, a better spouse, etc. and that feeling makes it hard to enjoy life on a day to day basis?

  • Your general expectation of yourself is far greater than what you expect from those around you.

  • Your expectations of those around you are so high that you are most often disappointed.

These are all signs of a perfectionist mindset. It’s not an easy way to live. It’s a mindset that creates inner conflict, causes negative feelings, and prevents you from succeeding.

What’s your perfectionist mindset costing you?

The perfectionist mindset is not a standard, but rather, an obstacle to success. I see this with weight loss clients all the time. There is no middle ground. If they can’t “diet” at 100%, then they quickly give up and do nothing towards reaching their goal. And this is just one example. So let’s dive into some of the things the perfectionist mindset is costing us.

  1. It costs us time. Think about it. When we’re agonizing over the tiniest details, spending hours on an email that should take minutes, struggling to even start assignments, or failing to finish a task because we want to look at it, edit it, proof it one more time to make sure it’s absolutely perfect, we’re using valuable time.

We have a finite amount of time each day, and a finite amount of time here on this Earth. We need to be judicious about how we spend that time.

2. It traps us into negative thinking. Through experience, I have learned that perfectionists have a tendency to become consumed with what they are doing “wrong” instead of recognizing all they are doing right. The negative thought leads to negative feelings which lead to actions that are counterproductive to the goal. And these actions most often reinforce that initial negative thought. And then the perfectionist gives up, which creates even more negative thoughts and feelings.

Here’s an example: Mary is on a mission to lose weight. She is sticking to the plan all week, and then Friday night rolls around and she has dinner plans with friends. She goes out and spurgles on some foods she knows are not on her diet plan. She even allows herself a cocktail or two. Later that night she criticizes herself for her choices. She tells herself she’s a failure. She feels guilty and ashamed because she lacks discipline. What action does she take? She throws in the towel, decides since she “blew it” on Friday night, she might as well “blow it” all weekend and start fresh on Monday. But she doesn’t. Instead she spends Sunday and Monday telling herself what an utter failure she is, how undisciplined she is, and gives up. Does this sound familiar? To learn more about the cycle of negative thinking, click here.

3. It stifles our creativity. Being stuck in the perfectionist mindset takes up a lot of energy in our brain. It can prevent us from being able to free up our minds, because we’re bogged down with all these other things. We need creativity to problem solve, to dream, to imagine. When we are spinning in that mindset of perfectionism, there’s little space left for these things. And these are important. We need the ability and flexibility to create solutions to problems every day. We need to be able to create ideas, to dream of our future.

4. It harms relationships. If we are holding ourselves and those around us to a standard of perfection, we’re rarely going to feel fulfilled. This mindset causes strain on our relationships with our partners, our children, our employees, our friends.

Have you thought about how this mindset may affect your children? Are they learning that if a task is not done to a level of perfection, it’s a failure? Or maybe it’s not even worth trying if it can’t be perfect?

And what about your spouse? Is your standard of perfection causing your spouse to feel like they can never measure up, that he/she will never be good enough to please you?

At work? Does your standard of perfection create an environment that encourages creativity and growth?

Your mindset can be an obstacle to successful relationships where those around you feel nurtured and free to fail.

5. It robs us of inner peace. When we have the underlying expectation of perfection, that creates a lot of conflict and chaos in our brain. We spend a lot of energy battling out our perfectionist side with our human side. We’re in a constant mode of criticism, overthinking things, and often self doubt. That is not a headspace that allows for peace.

Have I convinced you yet that your perfectionist mindset is an obstacle to your success?

Where does the perfectionist mindset come from?

It’s not what you think. It has little to do with being perfect.

The perfectionist mindset is created and maintained to avoid vulnerability. What’s vulnerability? Being vulnerable means putting yourself out there without being assured of the outcome. If you’re afraid of putting yourself in a place where you can’t control how it turns out, adopting a perfectionist mindset is a great way to build that wall of self-protection.

So, let’s start to peel back the layers here…

Why are we afraid of being vulnerable? Because we have an unconscious fear of failure or shame. And why may we have an unconscious fear of failure and shame? Because deep down we have a belief system that limits us. So this is why we give up on our health and wellness. This is why we stay quiet at work instead of jumping in and contributing at the level we know we can. This is why we get blinded by the negatives. This is why we obsess/spin our wheels on tasks and create all this chaos in our brains. This is why we find ourselves critical of our parenting instead of looking at our kids and saying, “you know, I’m pretty darn good at this”.

It takes self-awareness and work to peel back the layers of our own unconscious fears and our own limiting beliefs. This is where life coaching can be really valuable. But never fear! I want to give you some practical tools and some life coaching tools that you can use to start taming your inner perfectionist.

How can we tame our inner perfectionist?

It’s safe to say that we all want to reach our goals. We all want to achieve greater inner peace. We all want to grow and learn. Failing is difficult, but we should all have the freedom to fail, because that’s when we grow. So what can you do to loosen the strings of your perfectionist mindset. Here’s a few tips for you to try:

  1. Adopt a 90% attitude. Things do not have to be 100%. 90% is still excellent work. If you struggle with completing tasks at work, procrastinating assignments, write “90%” on a post-it note and stick it to your desktop. Make it your screen saver. This visual reminder that 90% is excellence may help you finish those tasks.

  2. Try a new hobby. No one is perfect the first time we try something new. So try a new activity and check in with yourself about how you feel about it when it’s over. Just see what happens!

  3. Start a positivity journal. I do this with my weight loss clients, but it can be done anywhere our perfectionism is getting in our way of success. If it’s weight loss, at the end of the day, write down 3 things you did well in terms of your health and wellness. If you are a perfectionist that tends to focus on the negatives, this can be a useful tool to retrain your brain to think of positives. And really write them down. Moving positive thoughts from your mind to paper has power. Writing things down reinforces ideas. We think it, we hear it, we see it. And eventually we feel it.

  4. Change your perspective. When you have a moment that you recognize your perfectionist mindset is getting in your way, stop and pretend you are a neutral observer to what is going on. If you were witnessing a random person behaving this way or watching her think these thoughts, what would you think about her? What advice would you give her? Sometimes looking at an issue from a perspective other than our own can be enlightening.

  5. Dissociate from it. When you are in a moment that you see your perfectionist mindset taking control, stop. Step out of it. Or take those thoughts and feelings and push it out in front of you. Create some distance between you and what’s going on. And start asking GOOD questions. Don’t judge yourself. Be curious. Ask questions like:

What is this really about?

What’s the real fear here?

Is this strategy working for me?

Is this an effective use of my time and energy?

Is there another way I can look at this?

Is there another action I can take to get a favorable result?

Is it even true? Often we let our imaginations run wild, thinking thoughts like “If I don't get this done perfectly, I’ll lose my job, I will lose the respect of those people, my kids won’t turn out well, I’ll never lose weight, etc.” and it’s simply not true.

We all fight against the inner perfectionist on some level in life. It’s only when we become aware of these tendencies, that we can begin to transform our minds. And when we transform our minds, we can transform our lives, in little and big ways.

If you are struggling with that inner perfectionist, and it’s become an obstacle to your success, You can change it. Sign up for a free consultation and let’s see how I can help you.

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