I’ve been called a perfectionist by a lot of people, and they are probably right. I tend to obsess over things and push for perfect all the time. Case in point: It took me way too long just to write this question. What is perfectionism, and how can I do less of it?
Perfectionism isn’t about getting it right or being perfect; rather, it’s a perpetual quest to find what’s wrong with something. For example, one may look at what others consider a beautiful piece of art and find flaws in it. Ultimately, a perfectionist needs to embrace the concept that there’s no such thing as perfect. Things can be just good or just OK.
Early on, a perfectionist may have been given mixed messages from parents: “Good job … but you can do better.” Or “Getting a B is good but an A is better.” This simultaneous criticism and praise sends a mixed message to the child and there’s a drive to satisfy the parent and do better, even when things by most standards are fine. Over time, a person becomes mired in this thinking. Depression and anxiety develop, and relationships can take a hit.
Here’s how to be less perfect:
Change your narrative. Rather than looking at something’s negative aspects and perceived deficits and shortcomings, look at the positive traits and what you know to be fact. Lower your standards and come up with new and acceptable ones.
Revaluate your goals. Make them reasonable and be flexible.
Kill the dichotomous thinking. Accept the notion that there are more options than just perfect and imperfect. By seeing the countless shades of gray between black and white, you’ll expand your thinking; this can benefit you.
Ask yourself: When is enough, enough? Embrace and normalize being OK.
Go ahead and get really messy and dirty — make mistakes, loosen up your thinking and prove to yourself that you’re still fine.
– Jonathan Alpert is a licensed psychotherapist. E-mail him your questions at firstname.lastname@example.org
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