Perfect Your Perfectionism.
An article by Jennifer Considine.
Perfectionism vs Resilience
How perfectionists can adapt their thinking and embrace failure.
A perfectionist is somebody who strives to be perfect in everything they do; often, this shows up as a need to get the best grades in school, to complete every work assignment to the highest possible standard, to live a life others would deem as successful, and to maintain flawless relationships. Somebody with a perfectionist mindset has many positive qualities but can struggle to face up to life’s challenges and overcome adversity. The need to be perfect the first time gets in the way of the necessary learning from failure required to foster a growth mindset.
The Growth Mindset
Healthy, resilient people who can approach and solve problems with a positive attitude possess a growth mindset. Somebody with a growth mindset sees every problem as a challenge to overcome rather than an obstacle. They address problems head-on, consider every option they have, and work hard to overcome the issue and learn any necessary lessons. A healthy person is unafraid to ask for help and guidance and can detach any human errors they make from their perceived sense of self, making them hardy and resilient.
Perfectionism and Ego
A perfectionist tends to struggle to see issues objectively. They typically have ‘all or nothing’ thinking, so if they make a mistake, they don’t just see that one error for what it is; they see themselves as a mistake, a bad person, or a failure. Essentially, the perfectionist’s ego gets bruised every time they mess up, so rather than take risks and learn from failure, they avoid making mistakes and can even run from challenges.
Perfectionism and Independence
Perfectionists are often very independent people in part because they don’t want to ask for help. Part of the perfectionist mindset tends to be a compulsive need to be able to do things unaided, as though accepting help makes the person less perfect.
Perfectionism and Accountability
Most perfectionists struggle with anxiety to some degree, and the pervasiveness of this anxiety can affect their ability to take accountability. Somebody with a terror of making mistakes might deal with an error by blaming someone else, quitting, or simply ignoring the problem and pretending it hasn’t happened. This deflection of responsibility can become habitual over time.
A Resilient Perfectionist
Perfectionists who develop a resilient growth mindset must address the way they perceive failure. This means challenging their resistance to accepting help, learning to be accountable even when it triggers an anxiety response, and separating mistakes and problems from their perceived sense of identity.
Developing Cognitive Flexibility
Cognitive flexibility refers to the ability to see things from different points of view in a mindful way, without casting judgement on any point of view. This skill is useful for anyone with a perfectionist mindset; being able to mindfully step back from a situation and consider how other people might view it can help perfectionists to challenge their thought patterns and give them the confidence to try a new approach. This skill is acquired through practising mindfulness and then applying mindfulness techniques to real-life situations.
For example, if a perfectionist gives a presentation but realises halfway through that they are using the wrong slides, they might initially be triggered to panic, over-explain themselves, apologise profusely, or even melt down in some way.
A perfectionist using cognitive flexibility in this situation would stay mindful and grounded, recognise that even though they are now perceiving themselves as a failure, the people listening to the presentation have other viewpoints, for example, just wanting to learn, feeling amused by the disconnect between slides and speech, or possibly even not thinking about the situation at all because they are pondering lunch. From here, they could take appropriate steps to fix the problem and carry on with the presentation.
Perfectionists tend towards ‘all or nothing’ thinking, which makes it hard to imagine anything other than total success or complete failure. Practising dialectical exercises can help somebody to challenge this ‘all or nothing’ attitude.e project alone without help.’
In a dialectical exercise, a perfectionist would note down their view in a situation, for example, ‘I missed this deadline, so I am a total failure,’ and then think of the polar opposite way of thinking about the problem, e.g. ‘I missed this deadline, so I am a total success.’ Then they should write down every single way of thinking that falls between the two extremes, for example, ‘I missed one deadline, but I am usually punctual, so it probably won’t be held against me,’ ‘Everyone misses deadlines sometimes,’ or ‘I missed this deadline because I opted to do the project alone without help.’
Writing down every possible way of thinking about the situation can help a perfectionist see beyond their initial fear response and see that not only are there multiple ways of looking at the situation but that solutions are often found in alternative viewpoints. In addition, writing things down can help somebody who is spiraling with anxiety put an issue in perspective.