The High Costs of Perfectionism

Perfectionism, the relentless pursuit of flawlessness, can often be a double-edged sword. While striving for excellence can drive achievement and success, an unchecked desire for perfection can hold you back in significant and often unexpected ways.

As an emotional intelligence and leadership coach, I have seen firsthand how perfectionism can derail even the most promising ventures. This blog post explores the hidden costs of perfectionism and offers insights and strategies to manage it effectively.

Mental Health Costs

  • Increased Stress and Anxiety: Perfectionists set unrealistically high standards for themselves. When these standards are not met, it results in heightened stress and anxiety. The fear of not being “good enough” can be paralyzing.
  • Risk of Depression: Constantly feeling like you are failing to meet your expectations can lead to feelings of worthlessness and depression. The cycle of self-criticism and unmet standards is mentally exhausting.
  • Burnout: Perfectionism can lead to overworking as individuals strive to meet their impossible standards. This often results in burnout, where they feel emotionally and physically drained, unable to maintain their usual levels of productivity.

Physical Health Costs

  • Sleep Issues: The stress and anxiety associated with perfectionism often lead to sleep disturbances, impacting overall health and well-being.
  • Chronic Health Problems: Prolonged stress can contribute to various health issues, including cardiovascular problems, digestive issues, and a weakened immune system.

Relationship Costs

  • Social Isolation: Perfectionists may avoid social situations for fear of being judged. They might also be so preoccupied with their own standards that they neglect their relationships, leading to isolation.
  • Conflict in Relationships: High standards set by perfectionists for themselves are often extended to others, leading to conflicts and strained relationships.

Career and Productivity Costs

  • Procrastination and Avoidance: Fear of failure may lead perfectionists to avoid starting or completing tasks, resulting in procrastination.
  • Diminished Creativity: Perfectionism stifles creativity, as the fear of failure prevents taking risks or trying new things.
  • Impaired Performance: The stress and anxiety associated with striving for perfection can impair overall performance at work or school.

Opportunity Costs

  • Missed Opportunities: Perfectionists might pass up opportunities they feel unprepared for, leading to missed experiences and personal growth.
  • Time Loss: The time spent over-preparing, re-checking, or redoing tasks to achieve perfection is significant and could be used more productively elsewhere.

Overcoming Perfectionism: Five Steps

In my quest to help others overcome perfectionism, I came across Sigrun’s content, which resonated deeply with me. Sigrun, an entrepreneur who faced perfectionism when launching her own business, shared practical steps that have helped her break free from the paralyzing grip of perfectionism.

She highlights the crucial practice of getting what she calls the “lizard brain” (I call it “the negative brain chatter”) under check. Her personal journey and actionable advice offer a refreshing perspective and valuable tools that align perfectly with my coaching approach.

Step 1 – Realize It’s Not You

Understand that the negative brain chatter fueling your perfectionism is not truly you. Taking a break and recognizing this can be the first step to separating your true self from the perfectionist mindset.

Step 2 – Recognize the Chatter

Sigrun suggests setting an alarm to periodically check in with your thoughts. Write down what your brain is telling you at these moments. This exercise helps in recognizing and understanding the irrational fears and pressures you place on yourself.

Step 3 – Start Ignoring the Chatter

As you identify the negative self-talk, begin to ignore it. By consciously choosing not to listen, you take away its power. Start with small tasks, pushing through despite the negative chatter. This builds resilience and diminishes the chatter over time.

Step 4 – Face Your Fears

Pursuing your dreams will inevitably trigger your perfectionism. When this happens, acknowledge the fear and push through it. The more fear you feel, the more important the dream likely is to you. Show courage and continue despite the fear.

Step 5 – Accept Its Persistence

Understand that negative brain chatter won’t completely disappear. It will come and go, but learning to live with it without letting it block your actions is key. Sometimes, starting before you feel ready is necessary. Perfection is an illusion; progress is real.

Personal Insights and Support

As an emotional intelligence and leadership coach, I have seen firsthand how perfectionism can derail even the most promising ventures. Entrepreneurs, in particular, face significant challenges when launching businesses. With their names on the line, the pressure to be perfect can be overwhelming. This often results in paralysis, where the entrepreneur is unsure of what they are selling or who they are selling to.

Managing your mind is crucial when facing these challenges. Creating a business or any project will inevitably bring up unhelpful thinking patterns. This is where self-coaching comes into play, helping you navigate through these mental barriers.

Practical Tools and Resources

To help you address and manage perfectionism, I have developed the Time Mastery Toolkit. This toolkit ensures that your essentials are covered, helping you streamline your efforts and focus on what truly matters. The world needs your unique talents and contributions; don’t let perfectionism hold you back any longer.

Conclusion

Perfectionism can have far-reaching effects on various aspects of your life, from mental and physical health to relationships and career. Recognizing these costs is the first step towards mitigating them. By following the strategies outlined by Sigrun and utilizing tools like the Time Mastery Toolkit, you can overcome perfectionism and unlock your full potential. Remember, the world needs your magic, imperfections and all.

Sincerely yours,

Dr. Sophie

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Inspired by:

Brown, B. (2012). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Hazelden Publishing.

Sigrun. (2023, October 25). Is Perfectionism Holding Your Business Back? Try This… [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rtkht_XtFf4

Williams, A. (2018). The high cost of perfectionism: What you need to know. Journal of Mental Health and Wellbeing, 27(3), 197-210.

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