• Do you fear making mistakes more than those around you do?
• When you do make a mistake, do you overreact with anger, defensiveness and self-criticism?
• Do you remember critical remarks more than you remember praise?
• Do you operate from a belief system that says there is a right way to do everything, including folding socks, loading the dishwasher, writing a paper, reading a book?
• Do you have difficulty relaxing because there is always something more to be done?
• Do you drive yourself with such statements as “you should do this” and “you ought to do that”?
• Do you avoid starting a job because your standards are so high that you don’t have time to complete it?
If you answered yes to five of these questions, more than likely you are trying to be too much of a perfectionist.
It’s fine to want to do your best and even to excel in certain areas, but to continually measure your self-worth by how much you get done and how well you do it can be self-destructive. Not only are you a more difficult person to live with (you secretly have the same high standards for everyone), but you are more likely to suffer from depression, performance anxiety and anxiety in social situations.
One thing you might do is observe how others who are not perfectionists live. You don’t have to pick someone whom you view as a slob. Choose a person who seems to be more middle-of-the-road. Someone, for example, who takes pride in her work but whose desk is never in good order.
Once you’ve picked out your less-perfectionistic brother or sister, find one thing the person does that you admire. If she can leave her desk with things still to do, allow yourself the same privilege. And see it as a privilege, not as a weakness.
Another thing you might do is to adopt a favorite phrase that you can chant in your head while taking a shower or driving your car. You can say something like, “I count more than my accomplishments” or “I’m a good person just for being.”
One fellow was able to give up some of his compulsive drive for perfectionism when I explained that if he were perfect, no one could possibly add anything to his life. His need to be perfect was actually a way of keeping people at a distance.
Having high standards and pursuing excellence is a fine goal, and it does give people a great deal of satisfaction and joy when they do well. But having too high of standards can be self-defeating.
Check out Doris’ latest books, “The Boy Whose Idea Could Feed the World,” “The Parent Teacher Discussion Guide,“ and “Thin Becomes You” at Doris’ web page: http://www.doriswildhelmering.com.
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