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The Problem with Perfectionism: How to stop perfectionism from ruining your productivity?

Updated on November 2, 2018
Filip Stojkovski profile image

I'm a computer programmer and game developer who is also deeply curious about the arts, philosophy, health, and psychology.


A lot of people say about themselves that they are perfectionists. Many view that as a positive thing, but a lot of people also know that being a perfectionist can make life and success more difficult that it already is. What does it mean to be a perfectionist? Perfectionism means having high standards for yourself and other people, and trying your best not to make mistakes. So what is the problem with perfectionism?

Having high standards is a great thing. But having overly high standards and rigid expectations brings a lot of frustration and hinders productivity. We can talk about two types of perfectionism: adaptive and maladaptive. Adaptive perfectionism is characterized by high standards, but also persistence and strength. Maladaptive perfectionism however is mostly characterized by excessive anxiety, preoccupation with mistakes, and rumination about past mistakes. It lowers your motivation and productivity, because it has all of those characteristics. So, what are the mistakes that perfectionists make?

1. They Have High Exceptions at the Right Beginning

Every beginning is difficult. No matter what you are trying to achieve, chances are in the beginning you will make a lot of mistakes and feel frustrated. Perfectionist often forget this, or are so preoccupied with avoiding mistakes that they don't want to accept it. So they may easily give up and procrastinate.

2. They Procrastinate Because of Anxiety

Nobody finds anxiety pleasant. That feeling of dread, uneasiness and insecurity, that makes us feel all tense and on edge. Perfectionists have it a lot of anxiety when they are working on something. So they often procrastinate and avoid work because it gives them too much anxiety and makes them feel too uncomfortable instead of motivated and enthusiastic.

3. They Are Often Unwilling to Adapt to Change

Perfectionists usually focus too much on planning things out from the beginning. Planning is of course important in order to achieve a goal but it's important to remember that our plans will most likely never work out 100%, and that sometimes we may need to adapt our actions to changes in our environment. Plans are just small parts of a bigger goal. Perfectionist are more likely to get frustrated with changes in their environment and are less flexible.

4. They Have Difficulty Celebrating Their Sucess

Often, perfectionists have trouble internalizing their success and feeling good about their accomplishments because they feel that they are 'not good enough'. A small mistake or a failure may ruin their perception of success and a job well done.

How do you deal with it?

So how can you change those limiting beliefs if you are a perfectionist? How do you get rid of your excessive anxiety and preoccupation with mistakes? Here are a few tips that may work:

1. Don't Have Very High Expectation in the Beggining

Accept that at the beginning you may not have a clue what you are doing. But if you don't give up too easily soon you will be better at what you do and you will see genuine results. At that point you will feel more motivated and less affected by anxiety and fear of failure.

2. Allow Yourself to Accept ''Less Than Perfect''

Even if you have high standards, be mentally prepared to accept that the results that you may produce may not live up to your standards. However, that doesn't mean you shouldn't feel like you did a great job. Tell yourself: I may not achieve this 100 % according to my standards, but I will at least reach 90%.

3. Remember that mistakes are almost inevitable

Nothing in life goes smoothly. We all make mistakes, every single day. We are human with limited abilities, we can't always predict and plan out things the best way. And when it comes to complex projects and meaningful goals mistakes and difficulties are even more likely to occur. In fact, they are unavoidable.

4. Remember That Nothing Is, nor Should Be ''Perfect''

Remember that perfection is often just an idea in our minds. An idea that changes all the time, but also an idea that can pressure us and cause us anxiety. It's important to adopt the philosophy that nothing is perfect, and that a person should not be aiming to please an obscure idea of perfection, but to learn from mistakes and become better every day instead.

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