According to Alice Domar, successful psychologist and best-selling author of ‘Self Nurture’ and ‘Be Happy Without Being Perfect’, perfectionism is more common in women; and she links the commonality to the nature of women wanting to multitask and try out more things to excel at. A study conducted 15 years ago where married couples were tracked over three months suggested that while men on average worry about three things a day, women worried about 12 things making them more likely to be anxious and wanting perfection.
While doing things well is good practice, attempting to do everything perfectly is stressful on yourself and others. The desire for perfection becomes a self-placed fence that controls all actions and this has several debilitating results.
First, nothing is satisfying. It becomes easy to find problems in what you do, and this in turn causes doubt in all accomplishments. Then comes fear, which can be paralyzing and causes one to often give up doing tasks entirely in the worry that they might perform them incorrectly. Over time, reasonable goals that you were able to achieve as a child become more challenging and your only ultimate goal becomes wanting a perfect life. And finally, perfectionism means you are working a lot more hours than your colleagues and hence your work and life is out of balance.
Bob Sullivan and Hugh Thompson cite perfectionism as one of the biggest obstacles to peak performance and their book ‘The Plateau Effect: Getting from Stuck to Success’ describes it as a form of self-torture, and a nasty cousin of fear and procrastination.
For women, setting high standards for themselves can lead to feeling inadequate when it comes to managing workplace and family commitments. Mixed messages in society about women needing to stay at home to look after children as well as work and build a career is targeted as a likely cause of the higher rate of perfectionism in women but is yet to be extensively researched. In an effort to reduce the pressures of perfectionism, there are several tips and techniques women can adopt:
Being happy with ‘good enough’
Perfection isn’t always achievable and what is perfect for you doesn’t mean it’s perfect for others. Women need to learn to adopt a positive attitude to their own work and be comfortable and confident with their efforts across work, relationships, and family responsibilities and devote some time to good eating and exercise regimens. Strive to do a “good job” not a “perfect job”.
Eliminating the fear of failure
As stated above, perfectionism is intimately tied to fear. Perfectionists are known to feel their worth being judged every time their work is judged. However, it is fundamental to your growth and development to take risks, try new things and make mistakes. Most successful people fail and learn from their failures and mistakes. It helps build knowledge, experience, wisdom and resilience.
Understanding the law of diminishing returns
There are some tasks in your life that warrant superior and extended attention to detail. But many do not – and it’s not worth spending continued effort on them as they produce little or no added benefit. Learn to focus devoting energy to the tasks that genuinely deserve it and give you the best return on your effort.
Combining satisfaction and sufficiency
The goal is not perfection with most things, but rather to perform satisfactory work that is satisfying to you and your customers and clients and at the same time is enough to be sufficient. Understanding this concept is crucial to helping you reduce the effects of perfectionism while achieving new levels of performance.
Humour enables us to see beyond rigid, fixed viewpoints and by having a ready sense of humour, you have the ability to shift perspective quickly when things don’t work out the way you had hoped. Surround yourself with fun, relaxed individuals and learn to laugh at your own mistakes. Intelligent people make silly mistakes as well – it doesn’t make them less smart!
Tell us about your perfectionist stories. We would like to hear from you!