Do you know the difference between high standards and perfectionism?  

One is a healthy attention to detail and the other sets you up for a fall.   But why would we set ourselves impossible targets where nothing is ever quite good enough?  What are we covering up when we insist on perfection and how do we define perfection in any case?

High standards and paying attention to the detail can save valuable time, reduces stress and makes you stand out from the crowd.   But there’s a huge difference between this and expecting perfection, which not only causes huge amounts of avoidable stress.   It also indicates a sense of insecurity and an unhealthy need to be in control.   The problem is that perfection is hard to define and is simply a matter of perspective.   
So here are a few points to bear in mind:

1. What is perfect for me may not be perfect for you and may be different again for someone else.  Therefore it’s all a matter of perspective. 

Think about how you would like things done and be prepared to say why you expect this standard, make sure what you are asking is reasonable and be flexible in recognising other people’s perspective and suggestions.  Someone else may do things differently, but their method may be just as good as yours.    Inflexible things usually break under pressure.
2. High standards and attention to detail are valuable assets, but recognise the difference between high standards and perfectionist tendencies.   Know where to draw the line between what is reasonable and what is tending towards obsessive and over-cautious behaviour.   By all means check the ‘smallprint’ and details, but recognise there are few things we have complete control over.

3. Perfectionism creates standards which are almost impossible to live up to, therefore you run the risk that nothing is ever good enough.   And if that’s the case, then your enjoyment of life is severely restricted.   Allow yourself to ‘go with the flow’ occasionally.   You’re more likely to deal with things calmly and with greater enjoyment.

4. Perfectionist tendencies also create problems for those around you, as this behavioural style tends to be overly critical.  This can result in driving people away and in them being less likely to be willing to help in the future, leading to feelings of isolation.  If you need to point out an error or deal with an issue, do so constructively and invite opinion on how things might be done differently, rather than adopting a dictatorial style. You’ll get a far more positive reaction and will encourage people to think for themselves, which means they’ll be in a better position to help to you in the future.

5. Perfectionism stems from a need to be in control and to cover for insecurity.   However in life there are many things we cannot control.   If lack of control makes you anxious, critical and impatient, that creates a great deal of stress for you and those around you.   Think about it.   What are you trying to make up for?    Perfectionism is often covering subconscious beliefs about ourselves.   Could it be that the reason nothing ever quite lives up to your standards because deep down, you don’t believe in your own worthiness?   Think carefully before you answer that question and start to become aware of your thoughts and language about yourself. 

6. Perfectionism creates situations where we make ourselves feel better by proving to ourselves our subconscious belief that nothing is ever good enough.  This not only makes us anxious and prone to anger and frustration, but is self-sabotaging. 

7. You may not be able to control every situation, but the one thing you always have control over is your reaction.   If you learn to be more accepting and just let go a little, life can become so much easier for you and for those around you.

8. Perfectionism is a Type A character behaviour which means you will be more susceptible to undue stress and all the emotional and physical illnesses which result.

9. Perfectionism and inflexibility restrict innovation.   If everyone did everything the same way, nothing would change and nothing new would ever result.  Be open to different ways of doing things and then add your ‘two penn’orth’ to create new and better methods.

10. Accept that error is a human trait and is often the forerunner to better understanding and greater learning.   Mistakes happen, but the best way to find a solution is to keep a cool head and seek co-operation.

11. Try to practice letting go a little.   When you find yourself feeling frustrated that something is not ideal, ask yourself ‘Does it really matter that much?’   If may be important, but not worth making yourself angry and upset about.   So allow yourself to breathe and let go just a little.   You’ll find life considerably more enjoyable and can even find fun in imperfection. After all, life would be pretty dull if we were all the same and nothing new ever happened.   We’d all be like ‘Stepford Wives’ and where’s the fun in that?!   Try to be flexible, because it’s often our ‘imperfections’ that make us appealing and different and which create innovation.

 About the Author:
Annie Lawler is founder of Breathing Space. Annie empowers clients to get back in the driving seat & to restore calm, clarity & confidence to their lives.

For more information contact, visit

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