Two types of perfectionism

Learning to do things differently is a funny old business.

I imagine it’s slightly different for all of us, but here’s how I think it works:

  1. Make conscious effort to change behaviour
  2. Make progress
  3. Think you’ve cracked it
  4. Out of the blue, old behaviour sneaks up when you’re looking in the other direction and hijacks things for a bit
  5. Enter Vale of Despond
  6. Lick wounds and return to 1
  7. Notice that actually you’ve made lots of progress – it was just a blip
  8. Laugh at the ridiculousness of it all

It’s happened so many times now that I’m beginning to recognise the pattern much quicker than before, which makes it a great deal easier to manage. Even so – old behaviour still takes me by surprise on a pretty regular basis.

This week it happened with perfectionism. There I was, happily imagining that I didn’t do ‘perfectionism’ any more. Skipping along cheerily.

And, exactly on cue, like a wily cartoon villain tiptoeing up behind me, came a debilitating attack. Kapow.

It was only when I found myself sitting in the Vale of Despond, thinking that I would never do anything again because it wouldn’t be ‘good enough’, that I realised.

I’ve been here before.

I know this feeling.

And I know not to trust it.

At which point, the feeling seemed to evaporate. On turning around, there was no cartoon villain. Just a cloud of dust.

So rather than never doing anything again because it won’t be ‘good enough’, I decided to do a bit of reading about perfectionism.

I discovered that it’s on the rise. That there are two types: adaptive (or excellence-seeking) and maladaptive (or failure-avoiding). That, if you’re going to be a perfectionist of either kind, the former is the one to go for – but that neither kind actually results in better performance.

It can be tempting to use perfectionism as a badge of honour – a sign of how hard we’re trying, how much we care – but research suggests that it doesn’t actually help us do things better. More often, it simply slows us down and leaves us burned-out and miserable. On reflection, I’m not sure that’s a badge worth wearing.

So, having done enough wound-licking for now, I’m back off to learn a bit more. Laughing – definitely laughing – at the ridiculousness of it all…

This is a great article, if you’d like to explore the subject further…

(Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay )