By Natalie Boudou
Executive coach & Trainer, Resilience Expert, PEPIT consulting
Letting go of perfection is a common theme that we come across during our leadership coaching at PEPIT consulting. It is always surprising to meet high- achieving and outstanding individuals, who are terrified of under-performing or not being “good enough”. Perhaps it is a sign of today’s highly competitive society where people feel that they have to be at their very best all of the time? Most people have their reasons for pushing themselves so hard. It may be linked to a lack of affection or recognition in their early years or as a result of them having had to cope in a difficult situation
The drive for perfectionism can push you towards your goals but more than often it leads you to create unrealistic expectations, procrastination and even burnout. Our company works with many successful executives whose drive to be perfect can be draining and counterproductive. It can lead them into a downward spiral where they stagnate, are frightened to initiate projects and have feelings of doubt and anxiety as they thrive to achieve the unachievable. They are plagued by self-limiting beliefs such as “I have to be perfect to be worthy” or “Everything has to be perfect for me to be happy”. Many will believe that this trait or behaviour leads to the best results and that perfectionism serves them well but the truth is that is often leads to self-sabotage at the workplace. Here are a few examples of how perfection gets on the way:
- Struggling to take action. Perfectionists want to make the best possible choice even if this isn’t always important and the wait to find the best can lead to procrastination and even paralysis.
- Avoiding challenge to avoid failure. Perfectionists need to feel completely ready before taking on a challenge and this can hold them back from leadership roles or other work opportunities
- Expecting too much from others. Perfectionists have high standards and often expect their colleagues and team members to live up to their expectations. This will be particularly so if the end result will reflect on their perfection. This can lead to strained relationships.
- Ruminating about failures and mistakes. Perfectionists are prone to negative thinking about past situations which can lead to anxiety, irritation and feelings of depression.
Strategies to manage and overcome perfectionism
Here are a few strategies, which I have shared with my clients over time to help them let go of perfection and build resilience:
- “Embrace good enough”. This is really about reducing your control and in some cases delegating where you can. Putting your trust in others and accepting that things will be done differently will help enormously.
- Trying new things and getting messy. This could be taking up a new language or even learning to cook. Whatever the activity, it should be new and will encourage you to make mistakes and experience what it is like to fail. To learn by trial and error is really ok and you might gain a new perspective on failing.
- Setting priorities and deadlines. Perfectionists tend to procrastinate. They are so afraid of failing that it stops them from achieving. Setting priorities and deadlines will get you into action and will force you to move forward. Having a structure will ensure that you get the task finished even if it is not perfect.
- Be compassionate to yourself and accept your shortcomings. Perfectionists tend to be harsh critics of themselves and this can provoke frustration and anxiety. Coming face to face with your shortcomings and learning to live with them will be liberating.
- Recognise and observe your inner critic. We ask our clients to transform their self-limiting beliefs into more empowering ones such as “Perfection doesn’t exist but I can achieve excellence” or “Imperfection allows for uniqueness and continuous improvement”. Our clients are asked to observe their self-talk and to counter negative beliefs with logic and what they know to be true This takes practice of course, but it is worth keeping track of your thoughts By increasing your awareness of your inner critic you will be able to diminish its impact.
- Develop strategies to enable faster decision making and action. Thus could be prioritising or accepting to make a choice on fewer criteria. For example, if you had to book a hotel for a work event you may have 5 criteria to pick the place but could pick the hotel that meets at least 3 of your criteria.
For more information on this topic please contact PEPIT consulting: firstname.lastname@example.org