I believe that the intention of most perfectionists is to do things well. To excel. Recent research shows that those scoring high on perfectionism scales have higher standards, and under certain circumstances have better outcomes. That’s certainly what I strive for, as do the patients I work with. So I’m not giving up my perfectionism. I just need to make it to work for me, not against me.
The key is to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy perfectionism. Let’s start with an example of perfectionism with good intentions that goes awry (unhealthy perfectionism):
As VP of legal affairs, Jen is in charge of writing the annual report for her division. Her boss asks her to show him rough drafts so he can review the content as it is being compiled. But Jen doesn’t like to show people her rough drafts; she worries that people will think that is the best she can do, and that her boss will think she’s careless if he sees mistakes. As a result, she tells herself that her boss really doesn’t want to be bogged down with each iteration of the report and only brings him into the process at the last minute, right before it is supposed to go to print.
Jen is shocked when her boss criticizes her, especially since she’s received excellent reviews about her department and her past reports. From her perspective, the task got done, it was done well, and her boss should not be angry because she saved him a lot of time and energy by keeping him from reviewing drafts.
Jen starts with the intention of putting out a superior product. The problem is that she confuses an excellent product with a mistake-free product. In Jen’s case, she did not trust that her boss would review her rough drafts as just that: rough drafts. Instead she tried to keep him from seeing her “mistakes,” overlooking the fact that he was more interested in content than typos. If she had stuck with the intention of putting out a great annual report, and collaborated with her boss, her perfectionism would have worked for her rather than against her.
Here are some ways to separate healthy perfectionism from its unhealthy version:
Striving for high but achievable standards that result in feelings of satisfaction and increased self-esteem
Matching your time and energy to tasks that match your strengths and interests
Having a sense of what you value and what your priorities are and devoting the lion’s share of your time and attention to these areas
Reaping payoffs from your efforts that are greater than your costs
Repeatedly setting goals for yourself but never achieving them
Constantly competing to be the best at everything in order to avoid feeling like a failure
Giving in to the feeling that all mistakes are catastrophic
Getting stuck in believing that one particular strategy must pay off, instead of trying others
Unhealthy perfectionism can be a hindrance. Healthy perfectionism, by comparison, can pay off for you and your business. Putting perfectionism to work for you means knowing when to flex, shift strategies, and adapt, always keeping your eye on what actually works rather than what you think should work.
Author: Jeff Szymanski, HBR Blog Network