How To Recognise And Stop Perfectionism From Stressing You Out
The other day I asked a client of mine how many hours he had spent on a presentation he prepared for a company´s event. After a moment of hesitation he said ''too many''. This point came up during our usual update at the beginning of the session, which started with a simple question ''how have you been?'' and was followed by a simple answer: ''busy and stressed''.
He then added he stayed up till 4am to work on it.
I totally empathise with that because it happens to so many of us. I also know how, despite feeling tired and stressed, we can find ourselves resistant in front of the idea of not spending more time on whatever piece of content or task we are working on. This happens because we care, we strive for the best, we are detail oriented, we like to challenge ourselves, and we are afraid that if we don't do so, it might not be good enough for our audience. We set our standards high and almost don´t accept to deliver anything less than ''perfect''.
Ah! There it is. Perfect. The ideal end goal. That almost intangible thing, that can sound beautiful or arrogant, because it depends on our own definition of perfection. What´s perfect for me might not be for you and vice versa.
While we usually tend to focus on the more obvious reasons for stress, perfectionism can get overlooked. That is exactly the reason why my client spent so many hours on his presentation (and not only on that one) and this (in addition to other things) has been causing him stress.
To some extent, I experience perfectionism myself, so I recognise it and understand it even better when my clients share their own experience and feelings with me. To give you an example, I've been working on a video for Step Up with V's home page on and off during the last few months (yes months!), and I cannot tell you how many times I've drafted the script, tried the piece in front of the camera, thought about the setting.. way too many times. Do I have a problem with talking in front of the camera? Do I feel I'm a better writer than a speaker? Do I not take this project seriously? Nope, none of that. But in my tests, it never seemed to be good enough. So, there is the problem, which has created procrastination, fear of not achieving the results I hope for, and delay in adding a visual material that would connect with my audience better and faster. The good news is that
I´ve finally come to terms with it, I´ve asked for help, and the day of the video shooting has finally happened. Now I'm working on the editing and my perfectionism is starting to be a challenge again. Just so that I´m not too hard on myself, it is my very first video for Step Up with V (and my first time using iMovie!), so I'm sure I will get better at this task going forward. Since I've been talking about this video for months, I shall pour myself a glass of Campari Orange when I´ll finally see it published on my website!
Before we even talk about how you can stop perfectionism from stressing you out, we need to recognise it, so here are 7 common signs:
You think stuff like ''either I do it perfectly or I don't do it at all'' or ''yeah, it's fine but it's not good enough yet''.
You find yourself setting extremely high (sometimes unachievable) standards for your current situation / with your current experience and resources.
You have very high expectations, not only towards yourself but towards others too. It's difficult for you to give praise and compliments unless it's about something that you consider really outstanding. On the other hand, it can be quite easy for you to categorise something or someone as ‘not up to your standards’.
You spend a lot of time on a task / project that could be done in less time (and it´s not even among your top priorities).
You tend to focus on what's 'still not perfect' and the end goal, not recognising the steps in your journey, and celebrating what's great and has been achieved already.
You are very hard on yourself if you don´t obtain the results you were aiming at, at times becoming upset or sad.
You get caught up in how things should be done in order to come out as per your idea of perfection.
You might find a bit of yourself in all or just some of them. Don´t worry, you are not alone! If perfectionism (alone or in addition to other factors) is the real cause of your stress, becoming aware of it is a great first step. It's also important to identify in what measure it´s showing up for you (one thing is spending some extra time on your task to deliver good quality work, another is staying up till 4am because you are reviewing the same details over and over again).
I'm a firm believer in striving for the best, working hard to achieve your goals, and always looking for possibilities and ways to improve. Nevertheless, that is a mindset that is part of a continuous process, it´s a way of thinking, working, creating your day to day life, yet recognising it is a process and a journey. It takes time, commitment, the right attitude, and embracing each step along the way.
Perfectionism can also become the very same cause of not getting things done, increasing your stress furthermore. If you always wait for things to be perfect, you are missing out on the opportunities that actually getting started can lead you to. Additionally, even after tons of experience, practice, and all the resources and right circumstances, you might still not reach the perfection you are seeking. But you know what? That's also fine, because it doesn't have to be perfect to be great and produce the desired outcome.
Having (hopefully) made my case by this point, I can now suggest you 5 strategies to stop perfectionism from stressing you out:
Look at the bigger picture. Is this top priority? Is it one of those things that you absolutely need to get right no matter what? If the answer is no, maybe it's time to relax a bit and review the way you prioritise your work as well.
Give yourself a timeframe or deadline. Do you really need so much time to get it done? What if you had no other choice but doing it in less time? Try to allocate specific times for specific tasks in your calendar and stick to them.
Use your energy and time well. Do you get distracted by emails, social media and so forth when you are working on your task / project? Do you start something, and 3 more things at the same time, not fully concentrating on any of them? If the answer is yes, you need to train yourself to keep away distractions and dedicate yourself to what you are doing in that moment.
Give yourself permission to make mistakes, learn from them to improve, and recognise the good work done so far. Do you get annoyed if you don't get it right on the first try? Think of Thomas Edison and what he said about his light bulb invention (which took thousands of tests) ''I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work''.
Ask for help. There's no shame is looking for support and guidance (starting by asking our knowledgeable friend Google!). Great if you can also get a Coach, Mentor, or Teacher. Even the most brilliant minds of all times didn't do it all on their own.
At the end of the session with my client, I suggested him to create a presentation in a limited amount of time, which we agreed on based on the level of content and importance. I haven't seen his presentation yet but I'm pretty sure it will be just as good (if not better!) than if he had spent countless of hours on it.
To conclude, I’d like to quote one of my favourite sources of inspiration, Marie Forleo, who on this same topic said ´´progression no perfection´´.
Don't let perfectionism stress you out and hold you back from reaching your potential. Time to step up!