perfectionism produces paralysis

As Voltaire said, perfect is the enemy of good. In our hunt for perfection, we wear ourselves out, make ourselves sick, and usually have a pretty grim time of it.

This article is a solid look at how to recognize and dial back perfectionism.

You don’t have to give up on excellence when you let go of perfectionism. The challenge is to identify the moments when you really do want to strive for excellence, choose a few places where that very high standard genuinely matters and then let go of it in other arenas of your life. Perfectionism is both about holding unrealistically high standards on any on thing as well as holding a standard of excellence for everything, including where it’s not needed or may get in the way of other values (like connection or relaxation).

Get in the habit of noticing the cost of aiming for excellence on too many fronts at once. There’s no secret reward for expecting yourself to do everything excellently all the time. That kind of constant striving is often driven by anxiety or feelings of unworthiness, and those issues are better addressed at their root than through compulsive self-pushing.

Both perfectionism and striving for excellence across the board have the effect of keeping us stuck in a critical mindset. In that frame of mind, we constantly measure the gap between how things are and how we think they could or should be. It’s in that gap that chronic dissatisfaction lives.

We may want our critical faculties awake if we’re trying to hang a picture straight or perform heart surgery. But when it comes to receiving a gift from a beloved, it’s better if we put our critical faculties down and receive their kind intention. We may want our critical faculties for that final edit of a piece we’re writing for publication, but not when we’re admiring our child’s artwork. It’s not healthy to go through the world looking for pictures to straighten; we need to spend equal time sitting back and appreciating things as they are.

Perfectionism as a default mindset is like a hand in a perpetually clenched state — it’s hard to express love, appreciation, gratitude, warmth, tenderness, and a lot of other valuable human sentiments with our hands clenched. Learn to unclench. Practice imperfection and aim for excellence in a few specific tasks that you intentionally choose.