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5 Tips from a Recovering Perfectionist

Updated: Jul 26, 2022

I remember how I used to be. The panic when I felt I was going to receive even a sniff of negative feedback. The fight or flight reflex would take over and I normally either physically removed myself from the encounter or shut down emotionally.

As a recovering perfectionist, I was so hard on myself when it came to criticism: the last thing I needed was an outside voice coming down hard on me too. This victim mentality persisted for years until I realised how unsuccessful I was in my career and personal life. I established some rules for myself to follow as I navigated the shift away from perfectionism.

1) Understand the difference between perfectionism and high standards

How do you know if you are a perfectionist or simply have high standards? They come from a different place. Perfectionism stems from fear: fear of failure, fear of judgement and so on. On the other hand, high standards derive from pride in excellence that comes from within. A perfectionist focuses on the external question: what will they think of me? A person with high standards asks, how can I improve?

2) Take control of feedback

Rather than waiting to receive dreaded feedback, be proactive. In his book, The Miracle Morning, Hal Elrod suggests reaching out to people you love and trust and ask them for feedback. I did this myself a year ago and I was surprised how honest and kind my friends and family were in their responses. I learnt a lot by doing it and also it made future career feedback much easier to take. If you are uncomfortable asking in person, write an email to them allowing more time for a thoughtful reply.

3) Learn who to listen to

When I used to receive any judgement, I would curl up into a ball emotionally to avoid the sharp pain it caused me, no matter who delivered it. One tactic I learnt was to ask myself these questions to decide how much weight the feedback should have:

1) Why is this person giving me this feedback?

2) Do I trust their opinion?

3) Is this feedback about me, or about them?

4) Can I learn from this feedback? If yes, how?

5) Do I need further information to understand their feedback? Where can I get this from?

Asking myself these questions, helps remove some of the emotion from the situation and allows me to better understand how the feedback can be valuable to me.

4) Perfectionism is a myth

It is not possible to be perfect. When I consider some occasions when I came close to perfection in the past, the result was not always as I had hoped it would be. For example, in my 20’s I used to host large parties for visiting friends which I would plan to perfection. On the day of the event, I would have a miserable time rushing around and overly planning the details. How was this perfection? Yes, outwardly it appeared to be flawless, but I barely enjoyed the experience. Interestingly, the day after the party, when everyone was hungover and relaxing all day with no plan, I would have the time of my life. I laughed until my face hurt and lived more presently. I had no expectations, which led to no fear of failure, which led to fun.

5) Use the B- mindset

On The Life Coach School Podcast, Brooke Castillo says that a big cause of procrastination is due to perfectionism. She argues that, once you produce a piece of work to a B- standard, release it into the world and wait for feedback. If you do not get asked to revise your work, let it go. I found this concept to be revolutionary. The idea that I would do any work that was less than A+ was so alien to me. I needed to understand that by trying to do everything to an impossibly high standard, nothing actually got done, or I worked 70-hour weeks. Neither of which sounded perfect to me.

If you want to explore perfectionism further, sign up for a free coaching session to start getting unblocked.

Sally Fazakerley is an International Executive Coach with 15 years' experience in learning and development. She uses a no-nonsense approach to get you where you want to go. She specialises in international clients who want to gain clarity, take action, and get results.

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