Perfectionism is commonly defined as continually striving for standards beyond our reach or reason and measuring our own worth entirely in terms of our levels of productivity and our accomplishments.
Internally it shows up as the “tyranny of the shoulds”.
Perfectionism is the trait that makes us highly critical of ourselves and it never shows up alone. Perfectionism goes hand-in-hand with other destructive feelings such as shame and guilt and it stands alongside fear of failure and fear of rejection and in some cases, perfectionists will often report higher levels of anxiety and depression.
However, most perfectionists will say that they hold on to perfectionism because it has worked.
Letting go of perfectionism might mean letting go to a part of them that has helped them succeed or motivate themselves to perform their best. It can be the part of people that helps them set and achieve higher goals, and to move forward towards greater and better ambitions.
So, the big question here is: How can we harness the positive aspects of perfectionism while making sure we don’t fall into the negative thinking and self-criticism that come with perfectionism?
Challenge your negative thoughts
Perfectionists are more inclined to making judgements about themselves, and there is a constant inner voice telling them how things could be done differently and better (i.e. inner critic). Learning methods of challenging or ‘unhooking’ from your negative thinking will be important. Next time you see yourself getting stuck in your negative thinking take a step back and identify your triggers. You will notice that there usually is a pattern of events or people that set off the negative thinking. You can start to prepare yourself differently for those types of moments when you realise they are triggering. You can also use grounding techniques such as bringing your attention to your five senses and counting (i.e. 5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste). This will help you unhook from the rumination that often accompanies negative thinking. And if all else fails, “distract” your mind with a simple practical task that is cognitively absorbing. This could be playing a timed game on your phone, or calling a friend who can cheer you up.