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Perfectionists: Listen Up!

By Linda Sapadin, Ph.D

Take this quiz to see if perfectionism is in your DNA.

  • Do I have a “black or white” mentality, paying scant attention to the shades of gray between?
  • Do I have difficulty completing a project because my own high standards haven’t been met?
  • Do I find it tough to maintain a sense of humor while struggling to do a task I’m not very good at?
  • Do I get preoccupied with details, rules or schedules that others don’t seem to care much about?
  • Am I reluctant to delegate tasks or participate in a group project unless others do things my way?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, read on.

As you probably know, being a perfectionist is a more perplexing matter than simply striving for the best. The way you deal with tasks is neither ideal nor pragmatic. For despite investing considerable time and effort in whatever you do, you’re frequently upset with yourself and your work. This is no way to live. You deserve better.

It’s time to create a future for yourself that doesn’t drive you crazy and doesn’t hold you back from being all you can be. Here are three ways to do so:

1. Aim for Excellence, not Perfection
Perfection demands that no matter what you do, it should have no flaws, no mistakes, no second-best, nothing less than a perfect “10.” Tough mandate! Perfect makes sense only with a simple task, like getting a perfect score on a multiple-choice test. But being a perfect spouse, having perfect kids, developing a perfect career, living a perfect life, sorry it just doesn’t fly.

So aim for excellence in whatever is really important to you - not perfection. Aim for an excellent mark on your test. Give an outstanding speech. Whip up a delicious meal. Grow a first-rate relationship. Establish a satisfying career. And entomb your desire for perfection.

With matters that aren’t particularly important to you (i.e. tidying up, writing an e-mail), it’s okay to forget even excellence. Just do it in a run-of-the-mill manner. That way you’ll have time and energy to devote to the important things in your life.

2. Make Your To-Do List Short and Practical
As a perfectionist, it’s likely that your to-do list is too long, too detailed, too intricate. Have a massive to-do list and you’ll guarantee that you’ll be disappointed with yourself, despite accomplishing a great deal.

To prevent this from happening, make your list short and practical. Guard against including every possible task you’d like to do. Concentrate, instead, on what’s highest priority for you. Resist the impulse to fill up every hour. That way you’ll give yourself unscheduled time to cope with the unexpected or simply to relax without any agenda. Remember you’re a human being, not a human doing.

3. Quit “should-ing” yourself
“I should have done this; I should have done that.” My, how you torture yourself! The word “should” connotes the “right” way to do something. And who decides what the right way is? It’s an authority—could be your parents, your religion, your super-ego, your peer group, your mentor.

If you’re a perfectionist, you’ve probably adopted a whole bunch of harsh and burdensome “shoulds.” Eventually, you may come to believe that you have no choice in much of what you do. Instead of spurring you on to higher achievement, “shoulds” drain your energy. Hence, minimize the use of the word. Try substituting the word “could.” And notice what happens.

While “should” implies you must do it the “right” way at the “right” time, “could” is empowering, carrying the mature message that you have the right, capacity, and obligation to choose what to do and when to do it. After reflecting on potential options, you can then commit to what you think is best, without guilt and doubt being your constant companions.

Perfectionists, ease up on yourself. Enjoy life! Give yourself credit for all you do!

How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age
Copyright © 2012: Linda Sapadin, Ph.D
Linda Sapadin, Ph.D. is a psychologist and success coach who specializes in helping people overcome self-defeating patterns of behavior. If your life is one long disconnect between what you intend to do and what you actually get around to doing, check out my new book, How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age.

At my website, you can take a personality quiz. View a chart that describes the thinking, speaking and acting modes of each procrastination style. Read inspirational quotes just for procrastinators. And if you're pleased with your accomplishments but recognize how much easier it would be with a tailwind at your back, explore my coaching services.

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