10 Ways To Tell If You Are A Perfectionist

This is part one of a three-part series on why being a perfectionist isn’t so perfect and how we should deal with it.

Perfectionism

How can you tell if you are a perfectionist? A perfectionist is someone who holds the underlying belief that perfection can be attained and it should be. Many people in our world today are perfectionists or have been perfectionists at some point in our lives. Personally, I’m quite the perfectionist, always setting the highest standards for myself and never expecting anything less. In fact, if you are reading this article, you are probably a perfectionist too, being drawn to the word “perfectionist” in the title and all!

Are You A Perfectionist?

You can usually spot a perfectionist a mile away, simply because of the extremist behavior that is exhibited. Here are ten tell-tale signs on whether you’re a perfectionist or not:

  1. You are highly conscious and hyper-critical of mistakes. Hence, you have an extremely sharp eye toward details.
  2. You aim to be the best in everything you do, even if it is something that you are not interested in.
  3. You spend copious amount of time, right down to the last moment, to perfect something. You would rather sacrifice your well-being (such as sleep, eating time, etc) than let something be less than it can be.
  4. You set absolute ideals. There is only black and white, no grey.
  5. You are the harshest critic of yourself. You would beat yourself up over the smallest thing that went wrong, to the extent of being neurotic.
  6. You mull over outcomes if they did not turn out as envisioned. You wonder why it wasn’t a different outcome, and whether you could have done anything to prevent that.
  7. You are defensive toward criticism and have a fear of failure because they suggest imperfection.
  8. You only have the end goal in mind. If you don’t achieve the goal, it really does not matter what happens in the process.
  9. You have an all-or-nothing approach. If the situation does not allow him/her to achieve the standard he/she laid out, he/she will abandon the task because it does not make sense to spend time on something that he/she is not going to conquer.
  10. You are very conscious of any situation which might give others the perception you are not perfect.

If you are a perfectionist, you will find the above traits highly familiar to you.

My experience with perfectionism

I used to be quite a neurotic perfectionist when I was younger, because of my passion toward becoming the best that I can be. All of the 10 traits you just read above applied me to a tee. My motif in life was (still is) ‘As long as you set your mind and heart to it, nothing is impossible in this world’. Whenever there was any flaw or mistake that came in my sight, such as grammatical or spelling errors, typos, etc, I would flinch. I was always the harshest critic of myself.

When I started developing websites as a teenager, I would spend late nights, sleeping just 1-2 hours some days, tweaking my sites to perfection, from the content, graphics, right up to the syntax itself. My sites had to look perfect on all different browsers and resolutions. The works I produce had to be the best conceivable. It was a unbendable, personal standard I set for myself.

When I was in university, I usually ended up taking over everything in project work because I wanted everything to match up to the idealized state I envisioned. I spent a lot of time perfecting tasks, right down to the little nitty gritty. If it was a presentation, everything had to be synchronized to a common look and theme, right down to matching font types, font sizes, colors. If it was a report, all the content, flow and formatting had to be seamless. There was hardly a time to stop doing work because it seemed that they could always be improved upon.

Whenever things did not go the way I wanted, I would overcompensate it by targeting a higher bar the next time round. Whenever I hear people making statements like ‘humans are not perfect’ or ‘to err is human’, I would cringe. To me, that was just trying to find an excuse to make mistakes. My philosophy was that perfection was possible and as long as we put in all our effort and energy, we would achieve it. If we did not, it simply meant we did not try hard enough.

It was later on in life that I found that perfectionism was being a disabler, not an enabler, in my life, as you will find in part-2 of the series.

What leads to perfectionism?

In general, there are three underlying motivations for perfectionism. Perfectionism may result due to either one or combination of any of the three reasons. If you are a perfectionist, you may be able to relate to one or more of the following.

1. Fierce desire for growth

They expect perfection of themselves. Their perfectionism is the result of an insatiable thirst and desire for growth and to be the best that one can be. To come anything short would be not to live up to one’s true potential, which defeats the purpose in living.

2. Social expectations

Their perfectionism comes about because it is socially expected of them. Family, teachers, coaches, managers and leaders with authoritarian, dictatorial styles induce perfectionism by drawing a high standard of benchmark we need to reach and reciprocating failure with forms of punishment. Failing is equated to being worthless. Schools and workplaces with a fierce culture of competition and strong emphasis on performance and achievement are common breeding grounds for perfectionism. Society and media perpetuate untainted, flawless, virtual, perfect end states which are subsequently brought to life in the form of imagery, verbal and sensory cues in advertising, marketing and idol worship. They create the aspiration toward unrealistic ideals and instill the belief that such ideals are in fact achievable.

3. Sense of insecurity

For some people, perfectionism may arise out of insecurity of one’s own worth. People who have faced discrimination of sorts or sidelined since young develop a sense of inadequacy or void in themselves. This abyss in turn manifests the desire or need to overtly prove themselves through their actions and accomplishments. They desire to make a statement about themselves, whether for themselves or other people around them.

To you, the reader – Are you a perfectionist? What drives you to be one?

This is part one of a three-part series on why being a perfectionist isn’t so perfect and how we should deal with it.

Get the manifesto version of this article: [Manifesto] 10 Ways To Tell If You Are A Perfectionist


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  • http://delightfulwork.com Tom Volkar / Delightful Work

    Thanks for a very thorough and well-written look at this disease. I call it that because the perfectionists that I have worked with and coached are far from taking life easy.

    I have a couple of the tendencies but gratefully I am not a perfectionist. Good enough is often good enough in my book.

    “1. Fierce desire for growth
    They expect perfection of themselves. Their perfectionism is the result of an unsatiable thirst and desire for growth and to be the best that one can be. To come anything short would be not to live up to one’s true potential, which defeats the purpose in living.”

    I found this very interesting. I hope this new insight for me helps me to help those I coach.

  • http://personalexcellence.co Celes

    Hi Tom! :) Thanks for your kind comment :) Indeed, perfectionists make their life the hardest for themselves – so much so that they are just taking the joy out of living. The worst thing is when they are kept in their own world and there is no one to knock on their door to shake them out of their tendencies – it is important to let them know that perfectionism is a mindset in itself and it can be changed.

  • http://goodlifezen.com Mary@GoodlifeZen.com

    Hi Celes!
    I enjoyed this post. Perfectionism is a two-edged sword. It can make people unhappy, and it can help people to achieve and improve. I wrote an article on perfectionism here:
    http://goodlifezen.com/2008/05/30/are-you-an-all-or-nothing-person-here%E2%80%99s-how-to-change/

    Keep on writing, Celes!

  • http://lovingpulse.wordpress.com Davina

    Hi Celes. “I used to be quite a neurotic perfectionist when I was younger.” Hey girl, you’re only 24 years old! :-) You are a wise soul.

    I’m a recovering perfectionist. What I’m learning is that it’s not the details I’m trying to perfect, they come naturally… I want to be clear about what the real message is that I want to share.

  • http://personalexcellence.co Celes

    @Mary: Thanks and glad you like the post! :D
    @Davina: Thanks for your comment :) I do the same thing as well – focus on the message, and let the details worry themselves :) And they always fall in place in someway or another!

  • http://www.gayosoart.com Juan Carlos Gayoso

    Thanks, my nice and dear friend :))

  • e

    Your article reminds me so much of my current self.
    I’m trying to learn how to quit being a perfectionist, which is the main reason why I’m here right now.
    Thanks for the article! =D

  • http://personalexcellence.co Celes

    Hey e, no problem! :D Welcome here and I’m glad the article is helpful for you! :) Hope to see you around soon! :)

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