The Double-Edged Sword of Perfectionism

Perfectionism, often seen as a commendable trait, can also be a relentless taskmaster in both our professional and personal lives. In this blog post, we’ll delve into how to manage perfectionism effectively, drawing insights from the Amy Gallo’s 2011 article (in the Harvard Business Review online) “How to Manage a Perfectionist” and Shirzad Chamine’s perspective on the ‘Stickler’ saboteur from his 2016 book “Positive Intelligence.”

Recognizing the Signs of Perfectionism

The Harvard Business Review outlines characteristics of perfectionism in the workplace. Let’s turn this inward and recognize how these traits manifest in our own lives, whether it’s in setting unrealistically high standards, having a fear of failure, or exhibiting a tendency to micromanage our own tasks.

The Cost of Perfectionism

While striving for excellence can be positive, the relentless pursuit of perfection can lead to stress, burnout, and strained relationships. Understanding these costs is the first step towards recalibrating our approach to work and life.

Perfectionism can exact a significant toll on an individual’s well-being, encompassing emotional, physical, and social costs. It often leads to heightened stress and anxiety due to unrealistic self-expectations and a persistent fear of failure, which can also contribute to mental health issues like depression and anxiety.

The constant striving for flawlessness can result in physical symptoms, including sleep disturbances and stress-related health problems. Perfectionism may also impair relationships, as the individual’s rigorous standards can lead to isolation or conflict with others.

In terms of career and personal growth, it can foster procrastination, hinder creativity, and limit opportunities due to fear of imperfection.

Overall, the pursuit of perfection can lead to a significant loss of time and enjoyment in life, overshadowing genuine achievements and the ability to appreciate and learn from one’s experiences.

Exposing the Lie of the Stickler

Chamine’s work on the ‘Stickler’ saboteur sheds light on the inner critic that demands perfection. Recognizing this saboteur is crucial in beginning to address its impact on our mental well-being and productivity.

Shirzad Chamine describes the ‘Stickler’ as a perfectionism-driven saboteur characterized by an intense need for order and organization. This saboteur can lead to irritability, tension, and a critical attitude towards oneself and others.

In Appendix you can find more details on “the Stickler” profile according to the Positive Intelligence Framework.

Recognizing the ‘Stickler’ and understanding its deceptive justifications is vital in preventing it from leading to rigidity, anxiety, and ongoing frustration.

The Stickler’s Deception

The Stickler lures us with the promise of order and excellence but often leaves us in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction. Understanding this lie helps us to challenge the unrealistic standards we set for ourselves.

Observing and labelling the Stickler

Chamine suggests that weakening the ‘Stickler’ involves exposing its lies and observing and labeling its thoughts and feelings. This process reduces the saboteur’s power, transforming it from a source of anxiety and frustration into a strength. The transition from being pushed by the ‘Stickler’ to being pulled by the ‘Sage’ allows for success without sacrificing happiness and peace of mind.

Strategies to Weaken the Hold of Perfectionism

Setting Realistic Goals and Expectations: Inspired by the Harvard Business Review’s advice on managing perfectionists, we can apply similar principles to manage our own perfectionism. This includes setting achievable goals, focusing on progress over perfection, and valuing the learning process over flawless outcomes.

Cultivating Self-Compassion and Resilience: Chamine emphasizes the importance of self-compassion in overcoming the Stickler’s influence. By practicing self-kindness and recognizing our shared humanity, we can build resilience against the harsh self-criticism that perfectionism breeds.

Mindfulness and Reframing Thoughts: Engaging in mindfulness practices helps us become more aware of our perfectionistic tendencies and the thoughts that fuel them. Reframing these thoughts to be more balanced and realistic can significantly reduce the pressure we put on ourselves.

Embracing Imperfection for a Fuller Life

In conclusion, while perfectionism can drive us towards excellence, unchecked, it can also lead to a life of constant stress and self-doubt. By understanding and managing our perfectionist tendencies, inspired by the insights from Harvard Business Review and Shirzad Chamine’s Positive Intelligence, we can transform our pursuit of perfection into a healthier, more balanced approach to life and work. Let’s embrace imperfection, not as a flaw, but as a path to genuine growth and fulfilment.

Sincerely yours,

Dr Sophie




Appendix: Stickler Description

Overview: Perfectionism and a need for order and organization taken too far.

Characteristics:  Punctual, methodical, perfectionist. Can be irritable, tense, opinionated, sarcastic. Highly critical of self and others. Strong need for self-control and self-restraint. Works overtime to make up for others’ sloppiness and laziness. Is highly sensitive to criticism.

Thoughts: Right is right and wrong is wrong. I know the right way. If you can’t do it perfectly, don’t do it at all. Others too often have lax standards. I need to be more organized and methodical than others so things get done. I hate mistakes.

Feelings: Constant frustration and disappointment with self and others for not living up to ideal standards. Anxious that others will mess up the order and balance I have created. Sarcastic or self-righteous overtones. Suppressed anger and frustration.

Justification Lies: This is a personal obligation. It is up to me to fix whatever mess I encounter. Perfectionism is good, plus it makes me feel better about myself. There is usually a clear right and clear wrong way to do things. I know how things should be done and must do the right thing.

Impact on Self and Others: Causes rigidity and reduces flexibility in dealing with change and others’ different styles. Is a source of ongoing anxiety and frustration. Causes resentment, anxiety, self-doubt, and resignation in others, who feel continually criticized and resign themselves that no matter how hard they work they will never please the Stickler.

Original Survival Function: The Stickler offers a way of quieting the constant voice of self judgment and fear of others’ judgments through trying to be perfect. If you do what is right, you will be beyond interference and reproach by others. Perfection and order brings a sense of temporary relief. Might have generated a sense of order in the middle of a chaotic family dynamic, or earned acceptance and attention from emotionally distant or demanding parents by standing out as the irreproachable perfect kid.