Perfectionists obsess over the tiniest imperfections, and are more likely to suffer from procrastination, low self-esteem, and even anxiety. Though having high standards can be a good thing, perfectionism is only going to make your life harder and more stressful.

Today we’re going to have a look at the 11 signs and effects of perfectionism, as well as how to deal with them. If you don’t have time to read the whole article, feel free to skip to the summary at the end of the page.

Let’s begin with the first sign: procrastination.

1. Procrastination

Procrastination happens when you keep postponing a task — you know you need to do something, but you always wait until the last minute, or you don’t do anything at all.

Because perfectionists have very high standards, and feel that they need to excel at everything and anything they do, procrastination can be an issue for them. If you constantly put off your tasks or goals, you will experience a lot of unnecessary stress and anxiety, so let’s have a look at how to fix this.

How to deal with it

When you think of an important task, you may find it overwhelming, so try to break down your tasks in small units or groups. Another thing you can do is create to-do lists: they will remind you of what needs to be done and give you extra motivation. 

If the tips above don’t work, try to set a deadline (e.g. “this needs to be done before…”) and force yourself to work on your task or goal for just five minutes. Usually, the hardest part is just starting, but working on something for just five minutes will get you going.

2. Low self-esteem

Usually, perfectionists base their self-worth on what they are able to accomplish, and other people’s appreciation. Though we all feel happier when we achieve a certain goal and others recognize our efforts, those who suffer from perfectionism are too dependent on this process.

As a result, they may feel empty, unhappy, and unworthy when they are not able to meet their own standards, thus developing a low self-esteem.

How to deal with it

Decide that, from today forward, you are going to love yourself no matter what. As simple as it may sound, it’s the only thing you need to improve your self-worth, even if you are a perfectionist.

Also: develop a daily routine and cultivate habits that make you feel and look good, such as gratitude, meditation, physical exercise, or wearing clothes that compliment your body type. Do things that contribute to your own wellbeing, and don’t focus on other people’s opinion of you.

3. All or nothing thinking

I have written an entire article on this: you can read it here. In short, all or nothing thinking means seeing everything in extremes, with no middle ground. It means failing to see the positive or negative side of a situation, an experience, or a person — including yourself.

All or nothing thinking is usually a problem, because it makes you focus on the negative rather than the positive. So for example, a perfectionist may think that her or she never gets good results, while in reality they excel at what they do; he or she may make a mistake and think it’s the worst mistake, even if it’s clearly not true.

How to deal with it

Again, this is explained in my article about all or nothing thinking. The first thing you want to do to deal with absolutist thinking is to pay attention to the words you say or silently repeat to yourself. If you notice words like nothing, worst, never, all, everyone, that’s a sign.

Once you have identified the words, you then want to challenge your thoughts, because they are probably inaccurate. Ask yourself: is it really true that your mistake was the worst, that everything needs to be perfect, that you need to be the best at something?

4. Being too selective

Perfectionists tend to be very, very selective. This means that they are picky, and that they carefully choose their friends, their partners, their activities, their profession, and everything else.

In general, it makes sense to only spend your time with the people you love and doing the things you enjoy. However being extremely selective can lead you to frustration, loneliness, and missing out on life.

How to deal with it

Be more open to new experiences, and consider trying things you have never done before. Life is short — you can’t wait too long to enjoy it. Some of your experiences will be positive; some will be negative. This is normal.

Also, when you get an opportunity, don’t automatically turn it down because you think it’s not worth your time. Just like anybody else, perfectionists can make mistakes when assessing a situation. You may think that a new potential partner, friend, job, or experience is not good enough, but it could be a mistake, and you could be missing out.

5. Ridiculously high standards

Do you have high standards? In general, that’s a good thing. Usually, when you expect the best from yourself and others, you get to live a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life.

However if you are a perfectionist, and you set the bar way too high for yourself (and constantly fail to reach it), it could be counterproductive. As we’ve seen, those who suffer from perfectionism tend to base their self-worth on what they do, so by having unrealistic standards they make it even harder to develop a healthy self-image.

How to deal with it

Think: would you rather have ridiculously high standards and achieve very little, or have lower, achievable standards and be happier and more productive every single day? Life isn’t about being the best person, or having the best things.

If you are a perfectionist, sometimes you have to lower your standards — it’s the only way to truly enjoy life. Also don’t compare yourself to other people, because we’re all unique: it may be easy for someone else to achieve or experience something, however it may not be the right thing for you.

6. Being too slow

Because perfectionists have incredible attention to detail, and don’t like to rush things, they are able to create amazing masterpieces. Walt Disney was a control freak who obsessed over every little detail; Steve Jobs wouldn’t accept anything that wasn’t perfect; Stanley Kubrick would make his actors perform some scenes over and over again.

Though perfectionism can lead to great results, most perfectionists end up being way too slow and wasting too much time on trivial tasks.

How to deal with it

There is a simple solution to perfectionism induced procrastination: tracking your time. This applies to your job, working out, and anything else. Too often we immerse ourselves in a task and lose track of time: even though we get good results, we may not realize that we are taking too long.

If you are a perfectionist, you may be surprised to find out how much time you waste on some of your daily tasks. Think: if you had lower standards, and you were faster, how much more free time would you have? The last tip to stop being too slow is to create to-do lists. As we’ve seen, they help you stay on track, increase your focus, and optimize your time.

7. Lack of motivation

If you have decided that you are never going to do something unless it’s perfect; if you think you have to excel at your profession; if you avoid anything that doesn’t meet your unrealistic standards, then you probably lack motivation.

Perfectionism makes your life too difficult because even the smallest tasks seem overwhelming. The good news is that this mindset, or rule, is self imposed, so you can learn to change it.

How to deal with it

To put it simply, to deal with lack of motivation you have to “just do the thing”, and keep going regardless of the outcome. Focusing on results is usually the part that makes you self sabotage: as a perfectionist, if you don’t see amazing results fast, you will quit.

So identify what needs to be done (or what you would like to do) and just do it. Don’t think of how great you should perform, how fast you should see results, or how satisfying, pleasurable, or enjoyable it should be. Literally just do it!

8. Fear of criticism

This has to do with the concept of self-worth. As I have explained earlier, perfectionists base their self-worth on what they are able to accomplish, and other people’s appreciation.

This often leads them to fear criticism, and be very defensive, even with their friends. Perfectionists can find it hard to accept advice or be criticized because it puts their self-esteem at risk. They avoid help and guidance, even when it would be very useful.

How to deal with it

In short, you have to learn to link criticism to growth. Just like we become stronger and wiser when we go through tough times, we also become better when we accept feedback.

Though some people will criticize you out of jealousy (and you should cut them off from your life), in general you want to be open to feedback and listen to other people’s advice because, again, it makes you grow. It may be terrifying at first, but eventually your brain will learn it’s a positive thing.

9. Sacrificing your health

Do you often sacrifice your mental and physical health for work, your projects, or your goals? Do you think being successful is more important than being happy? Do your standards make you unhealthy? If that’s the case, you may be a perfectionist.

Unfortunately, perfectionists value… perfection. So much that they often forget about their own wellbeing.

How to deal with it

It’s simple — make your health a priority! Decide that you are going to invest more time on your wellbeing every single day. Cultivate the habits that will improve your health effortlessly, and consider talking to a therapist. Remember, physical health and mental health are equally important.

You can’t be great if you don’t feel great. Make exceptional health your number one priority.

— Robin Sharma

10. Being a control freak

Do you need to have everything under control? Perfectionists tend to meticulously plan everything they do; being spontaneous, letting things go, and living in the present moment can be terrifying for them.

Typically, those who have a controlling personality feel unsafe unless they are able to plan and control things in their life. This could be caused by a painful event in their childhood or a major disappointment as they were growing up.

How to deal with it

Notice how being a control freak affects your thoughts, emotions, and life in general. Chances are, it makes your life worse, not better. By being a control freak, you feel safe, but you also miss out on life.

Also: realize that most things in life cannot be controlled or planned in any way (for example, you can’t control the weather, the traffic, or other people’s thoughts). Once you realize this, you will feel liberated. You also want to tell yourself that you are strong, and that you are able to deal with any kind of unexpected situation.

11. Obsessing over mistakes

The last sign you may be a perfectionist is if you obsess over your own mistakes, or other people’s mistakes, even when they are insignificant. This creates a lot of stress and it usually leads to procrastination.

Though mistakes are 100 percent normal and natural, perfectionists will see them as something to avoid at all costs. We all hate it when we “screw up”, however if it gets to the point where it constantly affects our thoughts and behavior, it’s time to change.

How to deal with it

As we’ve seen, lowering your standards can help. When you accept the fact that you are going to make mistakes no matter what — at work, in your relationships, and in life in general — you will not worry as much.

Besides having lower standards, you can also make mistakes on purpose to trick your brain into thinking that it’s 100 percent normal (it is). Send an email without checking the spelling ten times; take pictures of yourself that aren’t perfect; or go out without knowing which places you will visit.

How to deal with perfectionism: summary

  • If you procrastinate, break down your task into smaller units; use to-do lists to stay on track; or force yourself to work on a task for just five minutes, so it won’t be overwhelming
  • If you base your self-image on what others think of you, spend more time every day doing the things that make you happy and healthy
  • When you fall into the trap of all or nothing thinking, pay attention to words like never, everyone, worst; then, challenge your thoughts, because they are probably inaccurate
  • If you are extremely selective, be more open to new experiences even if you think they are not worth your time or energy
  • If you have ridiculously high standards, don’t compare yourself to others (we are all different) and understand that your standards may actually decrease your levels of productivity, and make it harder to enjoy life
  • If you spend way too much time on your everyday tasks, track your time, and think of how many things you could do if you stopped being a perfectionist
  • If you lack the motivation to do things because you think they need to be perfect, then stop focusing on results, don’t expect any particular outcome, and just do it
  • If you are afraid of criticism, understand that your fear prevents you from growing and becoming a better person
  • If your unrealistic standards tend to make you unhealthy, decide that from today forward you are going to make health and well-being your number one priority
  • If you are a control freak, realize that your personality is likely to make your life harder, not easier; realize that some things in life are impossible to plan or predict
  • If you obsess over the smallest imperfections or mistakes, try to make mistakes on purpose — such as sending an email without checking the spelling first

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