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Perfecting Perfectionism

Those of you with a perfectionistic streak will know that it can be the source of your greatest achievements one minute and your downfall the next.

Our work with the thinking of leaders, and many coaching sessions has shown us that perfectionism can show up in a couple of ways when it comes to the choices and preferences that drive your thinking:

The Perfect Answer

Perfectionism in the way that you view the world can result in highly analytical thinking when faced with new problems and situations. This can be a result of the kind of thinking that values everything equally, which in turn means that making decisions can be hard. To explain this, just think about how you decide between two things you value equally. If you must make a quick choice, you can’t, and the only way forward is to ask more questions and dig a little deeper until some apparent and minute difference comes into play. This kind of thinking can create deep analysis, but often over-analysis of things that don’t really need it and a resultant overuse of time (and overuse of time means missing deadlines, long work days and a lengthening to-do list). It can also create action paralysis as the possible ways forward look equal in value and time is spent working out which way forward is ‘right’.


The Perfect Me

Have you got a high bar for yourself? Do you apply the word ‘should’ in a critical way when considering how you have been/what you do? If that sounds like you it’s also likely that you can be idealistic and stubborn when it comes to the way things are for you and around you. The high bar for yourself is a great driver of high standards and can mean that you stick with things to achieve what you say you should (and who wouldn’t want to employ someone with high self accountability and responsibility), but it can also mean that you put yourself under pressure to achieve perfection.

The desire to achieve perfection can result in lost hours over-analysing how you are going to handle situations followed by self flagellation as you pick over your performance once it’s over. For others it can result in avoidance of difficult decisions where you don’t feel comfortable that you will achieve your own high bar. So risk avoidance creates a form of hiatus and inaction, but the mind is still working the problem.

So in the pursuit of perfection you can often end up being imperfect.


So how do you achieve perfection?

The problem with perfectionism is that it often prevents you from achieving the perfect result. If you’ve analysed it to death but don’t meet the deadline, is the report perfect?

As with so many strengths that can become weaknesses when over-played the answer is in awareness. Awareness that your perfectionism has kicked in and might not be working.

Worrying about your performance? Then treat it is a learning event. Self-flagellating about how you did? Then change it to a short review and reflection with some goals and outcomes. Over-analysis? Give yourself three questions and make a call (you will be right anyway). Can’t take action? Remember what you did last time you got stuck and how you got out of that and do it again.

Most of all, treat perfectionism as a journey, not a current truth. Treat yourself as a work in progress where you are getting more perfect every day rather than worrying that you have not achieved perfection today in everything that you have done. That way you seek learning and use the energy you previously used worrying, to get better tomorrow.


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