We all want perfection, right?
A trope answer to the question “What’s your biggest weakness” when it comes to interviews is often “perfectionism” because it’s so obviously that “fake” weakness – what boss doesn’t want an employee who only turns in perfect work with no mistakes?
But is perfectionism really such a good thing that it makes this cliched answer such a cliché? Let’s start by understanding what perfectionism really is:
Ultimately perfectionism is the desire to be entirely perfect or flawless. This can be applied to all aspects of one’s personal and or professional life. To be “perfect” one must achieve incredibly high standards all the time. Psychologists define it as a personality trait where individuals are self-critical and hold themselves to incredibly high standards.
Perfectionism provides both positive and negative consequences. On the plus side, it can be a contributing factor to both drive and motivation. By wanting to achieve the very best, you are likely to work hard to achieve that perfection. You are unlikely to give up easily and to doggedly work towards a goal. Equally, the quality of work produced is likely to be very high, this is because as a perfectionist you won’t stop or hand in a piece of work until it’s as good as you can make it. At the same time you likely make fewer silly mistakes and this means there’s less of a need for corrections at a future date.
On the other hand, there are some negatives associated with being a perfectionist, the most obvious are that you might not know when to give up. If you’re working towards a goal, you’re likely to keep going until you’ve achieved that goal, even if that goal is no longer necessarily the best place to be. Additionally, striving towards perfection likely slows down the process. Finally, it can also make you overly self-critical which can make you feel negatively about yourself.
Despite these flaws, you might feel that the pros outweigh the cons and that perhaps being a perfectionist is overall better than not. However, there’s one significant negative that we’ve not touched on that researchers have found a strong connection to; the correlation between perfectionism and anxiety.
A study published in Journal of Rational-Emotive & Cognitive-Behavior Therapy in 2004 found that there are direct connections between perfectionist traits and both fears of dyscontrol as well as social anxiety. There have been many studies that have found differences between personal perfectionism, (meaning being perfectionist about oneself), and interpersonal perfectionism, (being perfectionist about other people ), and that these two components are associated with different mental health symptoms.
Out of control perfectionism can be associated with panic and anxiety related issues, including obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), social anxiety disorder and panic disorder. Not only might it lead to these anxiety issues, but it can also exacerbate anxiety and panic disorder symptoms. So maybe perfectionism isn’t such a good thing after all.
If you suffer from anxiety and you are a perfectionist, then it might be a good idea to address the perfectionist traits to help ease your anxiety symptoms. There are several different ways you can do this, including:
Spotting critical self-thoughts: by regulating your internal negativity towards yourself, you can spot when you’re pushing yourself towards an unnecessarily high standard which can just set yourself up to fail. By spotting these negative thought patterns you can stop them developing earlier which helps them result in anxiety
Reprogramming negative thoughts: most negative thoughts that we have about ourselves aren’t actually true, they are usually caused by comparing ourselves to unachievable ideals. So when you spot these thoughts, take some time to rationally counteract them. It might be difficult to do at first so perhaps share them with a close loved one and ask them to help you rationally break them down
Increasing self-positivity and gratitude: spending time thinking positively about ourselves and our personality traits can help to reprogram our brains to naturally think nicer thoughts about ourselves. Again, this can be difficult at first, but the more you try to do this, the easier it will come to you
Setting boundaries: setting yourself some clear guidelines that you can and cannot cross might help you spot when your perfectionism is getting towards the boundary – for example, if you find you tend to work too hard, then perhaps setting boundaries on number of hours a day you should work or a time that you shouldn’t work past.
So try these tips to reduce your perfectionism and in turn help ease the symptoms of anxiety.