10 Signs You Are a Perfectionist

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This is part 1 of my 3-part series on perfectionism: 10 signs of a perfectionist, the negative effects of perfectionism, and how to overcome them.

10 Signs You Are a Perfectionist

Are you a perfectionist? Do you often seek to achieve a perfect standard in your work? Do you feel a need to perfect every single thing you do, even at the expense of your health or well-being?

A perfectionist is someone who refuses to accept anything less than perfection. In psychology, perfectionism is a personality trait characterized by “a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high-performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.”[1]

To a perfectionist, anything less than perfect is unacceptable.

Are You A Perfectionist?

Here are 10 telltale signs of a perfectionist:

  1. You have extremely high standards. You set very high targets for whatever you set out to do. Sometimes, these targets stress you endlessly. You may spend many late nights and sacrifice your sleep just to achieve them.
  2. There is no room for mistakes. Whenever you see a mistake, you are the first to jump on it and correct it. Just knowing that there is a mistake that has not been fixed yet irks you.
  3. You have an all-or-nothing mindset. This is also known as black-and-white thinking. Either you do something well or you don’t do it at all. If something is not done perfectly, that means it is a disaster. There is no in-between.
  4. You are highly self-critical, even on little things. Whenever something goes wrong, you become really hard on yourself. It doesn’t matter if it’s your fault or not — you’re quick to beat yourself up and feel bad about it.
  5. You have a very specific way of doing things. People don’t get you because you’re so particular about how things should be done. Because of that, you find it hard to find the right people to work with.
  6. You become depressed when you don’t achieve your goals. You often mull over outcomes that don’t turn out the way you envisioned. You wonder “What if?” and if things could have turned out better if you just did X or Y.
  7. You are very ambitious and always aiming for greater heights. No matter what you accomplish, you will always have a greater height to aim for. You are rarely content with the status quo and are always ready for the next goal.
  8. You procrastinate just to do things at the “right” moment. You wait for the “right” moment just to do something perfectly. This leads to procrastination as you keep waiting for the right moment to work on something, rather than doing it imperfectly and refining it along the way.
  9. You spot mistakes when others don’t see any. You can spot mistakes and issues from a mile away because you are very detail-oriented and have a much higher standard than others.
  10. You spend a large amount of time perfecting something. Perfection is the end goal. It’s not uncommon to sacrifice your sleep, rest, and personal time just to bring your work to the highest level. To you, it is all part of achieving the goal.

Can you recognize any of these traits in yourself? How about your loved ones?

My Experience With Perfectionism

I used to be a highly neurotic perfectionist. All the 10 signs fit me to a tee — and in fact, many of them still apply to me today. The difference is that I’ve learned to dial down the negative aspects of my perfectionism and turn it into a healthy form of perfectionism (more in Parts 2 and 3).

The reason for my perfectionism is my inner drive for betterment and giving my best in whatever I do. One of my core values is Excellence — I think that when we decide to do something, we should do our best without compromising or giving excuses.

I’m also a highly sensitive person and notice little details that others don’t. While I used to think that this was normal and that everyone else observed the same things I did, I realized this isn’t the case when I grew up and worked with a large number of people in school, work, and life.

Hence my inner drive for excellence, along with my high innate sensitivity, make me super meticulous in everything I do. This meticulousness extends beyond studies and work, to every area of life.

For example, when I was making websites as a teen, I was relentless in perfecting every single aspect of my sites. I was constantly editing my graphics and checking my HTML code just so everything was “perfect.” I would spend hours ensuring that my sites looked great at every resolution and on every browser while making tiny tweaks like constant one-pixel changes. I was always very particular about how everything looked and the content I was putting out there, even though I wasn’t getting paid for this work.

When I was an avid gamer as a child, I was always perfecting my playthrough in every game. As a kid, my brother would criticize me if I executed moves wrongly or made mistakes that resulted in the game character’s death.

Hence, I learned to be very precise in how I executed each move and achieving 100% perfection. I remember how I broke all the top scores in Crazy Taxi (a racing game) and completed every bonus challenge. I played and replayed King of Fighters ’95 for months, perfected my moves and attacking strategies for my favorite characters depending on the opponent, and completed it countless times on the hardest difficulty. In total, I completed at least 100 games from RPGs to action games to racing games throughout my childhood!

In project groups in school, I often had to take over the project work due to teammates slipping on their deliverables or just to improve the overall standard of our project. Even though it was at the expense of my time and rest, even though I often ended up doing a lot more work than some teammates, the end result was worth it as we would get the best grade.

With my daily work at Personal Excellence, I’m very meticulous in everything I put out. For example, with each PE course, I spend many months creating, editing, and refining my course materials before launching them. After I conduct a live course, I would spend another few months improving the course material based on the participants’ feedback for that run. Every article, podcast, and video is always thoroughly thought through before publishing. After the content is published, I continue to tweak and improve it over time.

Being a perfectionist has helped me achieve very precise standards and become an overachiever in school, work, and many life areas. It has helped me do well in college, perform well in my job, and excel in many goals and projects.

However, as I grew older, I realized that (neurotic) perfectionism has serious negative effects as I share in the next part. Read Part 2: 6 Negative Effects of Perfectionism

Get the manifesto version of this article: 10 Signs You Are a Perfectionist [Manifesto]

This is part 1 of my 3-part series on perfectionism: 10 signs of a perfectionist, the negative effects of perfectionism, and how to overcome them.