The Disease of Perfectionism

Contrary to popular belief, being a perfectionist is not a good thing. The problem lies in a couple of common misconceptions. 1) That without striving for perfection you will never be as good at anything as you could be. And 2) If you strive for perfection, though you may not get there, it will get you close.

The problem is that striving for perfection usually only serves to make you “tight.” One of the keys to both peak physical and mental performance is the ability to be loose and comfortable. Perfectionism also inhibits action rather than promoting it.

Think of people who don’t want to turn in their paper, submit their script, or try their new move until they have perfected it. Imagine that you are working on perfecting your script, while someone else is submitting ten scripts that are just good enough. Say five of theirs end up getting made into movies and bring in an average of $75,000,000 each; meanwhile your striving-for-perfection script (assuming you ever deem it close enough to perfect to show it to anyone) is produced and makes $100,000,000. Who would you say is having a more successful career?

Since perfectionists never deem anything short of perfect as good enough, they are constantly feeling like failures and thus have nowhere to go but down. In real life, perfection is the enemy of progress and good enough is progress’s best friend. Good enough beats perfection over 99.9% of the time.

As I like to tell my clients, the quickest way to achieve your goals, is to fail faster and more often. When it comes to peak performance, failure is not fatal and if viewed properly can be a springboard to greatness.

In addition, perfection does not exist in reality. If you take the time to examine anything closely you will find imperfections. So in the end, being perfectionistic is about as productive as chasing rainbows.

Yet perfectionism persists in society all around us, costing us who knows how much in productivity every day. I saw a couple of quotes related to perfectionism in an article on a college football game this past week that made me cringe. They were made by a quarterback – who threw an interception to end the game on a losing note in the 2nd overtime period – and his coach.

The first was by the QB: “A good performance can be wiped out by that one bad play. I made a mistake and let the team down.” This is a horrible mindset to grow from. He put a magnifying glass on the one bad play, making it overshadow all the great plays that got them to that point.

Why is that one play more important than any of the plays that put them in contention to win the game? A better mindset would be to evaluate it as one part of a whole. If he looks at it from a scientist’s point of view (what was the problem and how can we fix it), rather than taking it personally, he will likely progress much more quickly.

At least his comment was coherent, as his coach’s comments about him that followed were schizophrenic at best: “He’s extremely hard on himself, a highly competitive guy, extreme perfectionist, which is great, but can be a liability.”

So he’s not only a perfectionist, but the coach goes a step further by calling him an “extreme” perfectionist? Is that supposed to make it better Coach? Sorry, but there is nothing great about perfectionism and that’s why I call it a disease. Until you understand this, it will limit the amount of help you can be to anyone.

The non-medically applied definition of a disease is a particular quality, habit, or disposition that adversely affects a person or group of people. This is precisely what happens in perfectionism. The worst part is that it is erroneously thought of as useful, so you do not even realize you are subverting your own best efforts.

I like to say ‘Losers wait for the right time to act. Winners act to make the time right.’ The word ‘Losers’ in my quote could simply be changed to ‘Perfectionists’ and the meaning would remain the same. So if you suffer from perfectionism and don’t want to be a loser, I highly suggest you work with a professional who can help you lose your perfectionism asap.


You can follow Sam on Twitter @SuperTaoInc




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