Who does not want to excel in his life or in a specific field? Wanting to excel is not bad in itself. Wanting to do better is not bad in itself. Setting goals and striving to achieve them with great care is not to blame. To aspire to excellence and at best is a good thing. But everything is a question of dosage. This is where perfectionism fits.
We call perfectionism, the excessive tendency to seek perfection, or the tendency to consider unacceptable a work that does not approach perfection.
If the gap between the goals that we set and what we are really capable of doing is too small, there is no challenge, and life is bleak.
But if the gap is too big, the goal is never attainable and one finds oneself in permanent suffering. Good perfectionism stimulates, but must not hurt. This does not mean that you should not aim high! It is thanks to the “want always better” that beauty and emotion are born: dancers, musicians, artists in general, how many hours of work are necessary to reach those moments of perfection which offer us our most intense emotions!
But this same requirement can become a source of paralysis and dissatisfaction. There is a danger when you get to take a lot more time than others to do the same job as you are picky. Or when you cannot delegate so much you think you are the only one who can control events. Or, if you consider yourself a loser when not everything is perfect.
All individuals are called to do their best and to surpass themselves. The person who wishes to succeed must, at this level, be a little meticulous and able to make sustained efforts.
However, we note that many individuals maintain unrealistic levels of expectations and impose extreme personal standards. For these people, perfectionism does not correspond to the pursuit of excellence, it corresponds to the search for the unattainable, the inaccessible.
In this sense, in this article, we want to shed light between a conscientious person and a perfectionist person at first; but above all, it will be a question of treating the subject of the perfectionist. Indeed, when a person practices a healthy perfectionism: she is qualified as a conscientious person. However, when she practices an unhealthy perfectionist, she is an extreme perfectionist. In this case, perfectionism is seen as: “when the best becomes an enemy of the good”.
Sometimes we confuse a conscientious person with a perfectionist. What are the criteria of a conscientious person, that is to say, who practices a healthy perfectionism? And what about extremist perfectionism?
Note: [For information to readers] The majority of the examples in this article are more or less related to the students although we have approached the topic of perfectionism from a general point of view.
Am I a Conscientious or “Extremely” Perfectionist?
The conscientious person sets standards of excellence that are humanly attainable. She knows how to balance her efforts and priorities without neglecting the importance of detail. It remains flexible and can adjust its own requirements depending on the context or the importance of the activity. She is self-critical, accepts her own mistakes and tries to correct them. She experiences pleasure and satisfaction in carrying out her projects and in achieving her personal goals. She sees the future in a realistic way and tries to prevent difficulties. If these arise, she looks for and sets up solutions.
The “extremely” perfectionist sets standards of excellence that are extremely difficult to achieve, if not impossible. It does not know how to dose its efforts, sometimes over-investing in activities of less importance to the detriment of certain higher priorities. For her, the details matter as much as the whole and she remains inflexible in the choice of her priorities and her ways of doing things. The perfectionist is having difficulty working in a team and delegating. She constantly doubts herself and does not accept her limits and imperfections.
Its value as a person depends on its success and success. She judges herself severely and accepts criticism badly. The slightest mistake is experienced as a stinging defeat. The perfectionist is an eternal dissatisfied and very often feels anxiety, shame, and guilt. She apprehends the future and fears failure.
Why Do Some Fall into Such an Excess?
First by narcissism. They value themselves through their performances, which is a driving force as long as it is not the only way to love each other because, when their performances are not so good, these same people find themselves in great difficulty. So this man to whom everything worked rather well and who felt strong moments of blues. His father was a brilliant scholar who had skipped classes and learned several languages. The child began to work hard to hold his attention.
Since then, he thought he had to do a lot to be loved and was desperate for trifles, a class where his students had seemed less interested, a dish missed when he was cooking …
Other people try to be perfect for fear of critics, such as those women who spend hours cleaning their homes and who say, “My house must be spotless … If someone came in unexpectedly, I would not stand that we judge her badly. ”
Finally, there are those who strive for perfection through the desire to master everything and because they have no confidence in their invention abilities. A manager in a company told me about his panic when his supervisor warned him, an hour before a meeting, that he should talk about a project barely sketched out: “I first tried at all costs to avoid this presentation … because I hate being caught off guard.”
How Does One Become a Perfectionist?
Perfectionism would develop under the influence of three factors: genetic, family and cultural. Many studies tend to show that many personality traits, such as perfectionism, are hereditary. We come into the world with a temperament and some people would be more predisposed than others to perfectionism. Subsequently, however, our personality is forged from experiences in our environment.
Many perfectionists are raised or raised by parents who have very high personal demands. These parents can convey, in a direct or subtle way, their way of seeing and their behavior. Their children often grow up in fear of not being able to meet their expectations and disappoint them. In fact, many perfectionists feel that their parents will only love them if they meet their criteria for success.
Finally, we must admit, we now live in a society that loves excellence and values it. The media coverage of the Olympic Games and the Cannes Film Festival, as well as the broadcasting of awards presentations of all kinds, demonstrate this well. We congratulate and admire people who perform exceptionally well. This search for excellence is very present in school environments where success is encouraged and rewarded. However, while it is important to highlight and reward those who, with great effort and hard work, have achieved great things, it seems imperative to question the consequences of this quest and this continual demonstration of excellence.
The Perverse Effects of Extreme Perfectionism
The unbridled search for perfection is fraught with consequences. We commonly see a drop in performance among these perfectionists; some even abandon their studies or activities. Health problems frequently appear. Perfectionists often have depressive symptoms: nothing satisfies them, they withdraw and are no longer interested in meeting people. Since their goals are never attained because they are too high, they cannot develop their self-confidence.
With regard to these students; they can also develop important anxiety problems that lead to difficulties in concentration and memorization. The study becomes more painful and less effective. In the face of this ordeal, many will tend to postpone their study and postpone deadlines. On the other hand, others will stubbornly berate their studies without being able to concentrate properly. They will sometimes develop an anxiety problem in exams that is characterized by attention disorders and memory lapses. These students are no longer able to put on paper what they have learned well and get results much lower than they could have obtained.
In short, when perfectionists realize that their results will not allow them to achieve their dream of excelling exceptionally; they react with feelings of frustration, anger, depression or panic.
How Does One Stop Being Perfectionist?
Perfectionist attitudes and behaviors do not always change easily. However, we believe that some thoughts and actions can help you do that.
1 – Become Aware of the Harmful Aspect of Perfectionism
If one wishes to overcome one’s perfectionism, one must, first and foremost, become aware of the deleterious effects of extreme perfectionism. To do this, we advise you to list the advantages and disadvantages of finding perfection. For example, you may be wondering if you necessarily get better results when you set very high goals. After this exercise, you will most likely find that this research pays very little for what it costs you.
2 – Challenge Your Value System
Perfectionists often adopt a value system based on accomplishment and success. For many, their value as an individual is directly related to the importance of their achievements. Perfectionist students believe that if they produce quality work, it means they are good people. It is important to distinguish our personal value from our actions. Every human being is valuable even though he sometimes experiences failures.
3 – Change Your Way of Thinking
We find at the origin of perfectionism a mode of reasoning that is often incoherent and erroneous. The philosophy of “all or nothing” is very present among perfectionists. Thoughts such as “if my work is not perfect, it is worthless” and “I must excel at everything” are commonplace. The person who adopts this philosophy makes little difference sees himself as a failure and has little self-esteem.
Perfectionists also tend to generalize everything. They see an isolated negative event as an illustration of what is happening to them all the time. All they need is a failed test to conclude as soon as they miss their exams and never finish their studies.
Finally, people obsessed with perfection tend to motivate their actions exclusively in terms of responsibility. Phrases such as “I have to study in all my free time,” “I must be first in class” and “I do not have to get a cumulative average of less than 4.0” become their leitmotif. These different deformations of thought are very harmful and it is important to fight them if one wants to overcome one’s perfectionism. To do this, we recommend that you write down your thoughts, identify those that are wrong, and replace them with more nuanced, more objective, and more rewarding thoughts.
For example, you can replace the idea that you need to get 90% on your next exam by the idea that you will try to give everything you can to bring out the maximum of knowledge gained.
4 – Set Realistic Goals and Remain Flexible
As we mentioned earlier, perfectionists pursue unrealistic goals and refuse to derogate from them. This pursuit is generating anxiety and leads them to postpone their school tasks. We strongly recommend that these people review and modify their goals to make them accessible. Rather than requiring yourself to write a final draft of your work in one stream, you could, for example, set a goal for you to make a draft that you would review later.
A person who pursues achievable goals and adjusts his or her own requirements based on circumstances will accumulate gains, gain more self-confidence, and thereby increase motivation. The more moderate goals you set, the more your performance and satisfaction will increase.
5 – Establish Your Priorities
Perfectionists often dwell on what is not essential. They will invest, for example, as much time and effort in the preparation of an exam that is worth 10% of the final grade as in the preparation of another that is worth 50%. In order to spread your time more profitably, list the things you need to do and prioritize. Follow this order and make sure to balance your efforts.
A task deemed less important should not be performed first and should not take longer than another considered a priority.
6 – Valuing the Meaning of Effort
Perfectionists mistakenly believe that everything is easier for others. For them, having to make efforts becomes proof of their inefficiency. It is time to revitalize the meaning of the effort, as it is the sustained efforts and not the possession of exceptional intelligence that is the key to academic success. Behind any accomplishment, resident are many hours of work and perseverance.
7 – Recognize Danger Signals
When you feel dissatisfaction, frustration, depression, anxiety, or exhaustion, ask yourself, try to identify what puts you in this state. Check, for example, if you are not asking for the impossible or if you do not want to get a perfect score. Stay alert to the various signals of perfectionism.
8 – Pay Attention to the Pleasure Felt
We also recommend perfectionists to imagine and carry out activities according to the potential for pleasure and satisfaction that they represent and not according to their result. Getting an excellent grade is neither necessary nor sufficient for a person to feel satisfied and confident. We, therefore, advise you to evaluate your success not only in terms of what has been achieved but also in terms of the pleasure felt in the pursuit of this goal.
9 – Learn from Your Mistakes
Perfectionists forget that failure is normal and that making mistakes is a necessary evil. Many learning can only be done if mistakes are made. It becomes imperative to give you the right to make mistakes and accept your imperfections. As such, we suggest the following exercise: retrace a recent error and list what you have learned from this experience.