Overall, perfectionism is viewed as a positive thing, but it can prevent us from making our dreams come true. Like all things, there are two sides to every coin. In this blog you can read all about how perfectionism actually stands in the way of what we long for and, most importantly, what you can do to fix it. Skip the theory and tell me how to fix it.
The negative side of perfectionism
Scientists distinguish positive from negative perfectionism, referencing the effect it has. It defines positive perfectionism as having high personal standards and being an organised person. Kanten & Yesiltas‘ research (2014) indicates that positive perfectionism has a positive effect on work engagement and psychological wellbeing. Psychological well-being includes presence of positive emotions, absence of negative emotions, and having self-confidence, self-efficacy and a positive global judgement about one’s whole life. It defines negative perfectionism by being concerned over mistakes, having doubts about taking action and feeling perceived pressure from parents or coaches (from both parental criticism as parental expectations). Negative perfectionism has a bad effect on psychological well-being, and thus on emotional exhaustion as well.
Proportion of negative and positive perfectionism
It is not that we, individuals, always possess both kinds or always possess just one kind of perfectionism. The proportion between the two actually defines which way it goes. A study showed that when athletes have a high positive perfectionism score, they often have a low negative perfectionism score (Terry-Short, Owens, Slade & Dewey, 1995). While people with eating disorders with a high positive perfection score often have a high negative perfection score as well (Terry-Short, Owens, Slade & Dewey, 1995). It confirmed that having high standards for yourself is fruitful, while being concerned over mistakes, feeling high pressure and having doubts about taking action is not that helpful.
I personally think that very many people possess the two traits, leading to the high burn-out rate in Western Europe. Although research gives us hints, this is not investigated yet (Madigan, Stoeber & Passfield, 2019).
Fear of failing prevents us from achieving our dreams
I don’t really feel the pressure of others and concern myself over past mistakes less and less. Nevertheless, I also experience the negative kind. , I sometimes still doubt instead of taking action immediately to achieve what I want. But why? Sagar & Stoeber’s study (2009) showed that the more positive perfectionism a person has, the less fear of experiencing shame and the more positive affect after succces he or she feels. And when a persons scores higher on negative perfectionism, the more fear of experiencing shame and embarrassment and the more negative affect he or she feels after failing. Perfectionism makes us fearful of failing and that is why the most of us doubt our actions and don’t achieve our dreams.
Is viewing mistakes as feedback the solution?
Negative perfectionism makes us hard workers and pleasers. It makes us critical, think in back and white, and take things personal. The most cripling conviction we have is that set-backs mean failure. All the glass-half-full people happily tell us that we shouldn’t view mistakes as unwanted results, but as feedback. And that we should really strive to be optimalists instead of perfectionists, as they practise relative perfectionism. We shouldn’t look for the best solution, but the most optimal one compared to the time, energy, money, people, space and other resources that are available. That’s what would get us ahead in life. Easy for them to say, don’t you think?
The solution: fear-setting
Tim Ferriss has come up with a great strategy that does help us perfectionists to stop procrastinating and start achieving what we want. This is what you need to do:
- First define which action you’re doubting to take in making your dreams come true.
- Define your fears: what are you most afraid of?
- Think of ways to prevent those things from happening while taking action.
- Think of ways how to repair it if it still happens.
- What might be the benefits of an attempt or partial success?
- What is the (emotional/physical/financial/..) cost of inaction in 6 months, 1 year and 3 years?
Watch Tim Ferriss’ Ted Talk here. It is a very good idea to write the answers to the steps down. It will calm your mind everytime you read it.
The ultimate question
Ask yourself the ultimate question: what are you waiting for? After doing the exercises from this blog, you should know the answer to this and schedule your first step. Remember that “Good timing” is never the right answer anymore when it comes to achieving your dreams! All that rests me to say is “Go for it, if anyone can do it, it’s you!
As music lifts your spirit and gives you the energy for a headstart: Here’s an inspiring music playlist. You can do it!
PS please help others: when you hear them dreaming, sit them down and have a serious conversation going through the exercises above. They will be tremendously thankful for it!