Is Perfectionism Gnawing Away at Your Success?

Is your perfectionism standing in the way of your ideas? Where do you draw the line between a healthy sense of accomplishment and an unhealthy obsession with being perfect? Finally, a study has come out that can help those of us who fall along the perfectionist spectrum. Many of my clients are very competent, creative, and full of great ideas, but they falter when making steps towards turning their ideas into actions or even sharing their ideas at the workplace. Their biggest fears lie in making mistakes that they believe will lead to criticism. A mistake, whether big or small, equals failure in their mind. Their perfectionism is literally holding them back.

Is holding a high standard of excellence bad for everyone? Apparently not. A new study has revealed that it is the motivation behind perfectionism that can make it a positive or negative experience. Psychologist Robert J. Hill of Appalachian State University has been researching perfectionism and making distinctions between a healthy and unhealthy form of perfectionism. The research, done by Hill and his colleagues has revealed what they refer to as “adaptive and maladaptive” perfectionism. “Adaptive perfectionism is an internal standard for achievement,” he notes. “Maladaptive perfectionism is an external concern – wondering what other people are going to think. It’s kind of a thinking habit: ‘I made a mistake there.’ ‘Someone will notice I didn’t do that right.’**

If you have a strong internal drive and are setting specific standards because they feel good to you and what you want to accomplish, you will also be creating a greater level of satisfaction in your career and life as well as a more positive attitude. If your drive is external, and dependent on approval from others, you will be dissatisfied with most outcomes and this will affect your sense of well being.

Obviously we all want to feel good about the work we do. If you want to change your perception and create a healthy internal drive, here are some suggestions:

  • Focus on your mission. Ask yourself, what is it you are trying to accomplish? Make sure this accomplishment comes from you, not what you think will be impressive to others.
  • Create daily routines/habits that bring you closer to achieving your goal.
  • Ask yourself what you did each day to reach it.
  • Focus on what actions felt good to you. Your mind may start chattering about the funny look someone gave you or the spelling error your boss found; just let the thoughts come and go. Come back to the parts you feel good about.
  • Choose how you want to see yourself; we are all given that choice. It can be as simple as creating three adjectives to describe the quality of work you will produce each day. Frame your intentions and actions around those words and what you produce will reflect the thoughts you put into it.

If you have been weighed down by perfectionism fueled by external forces, it will take some time and practice to make the shift. Allow flexibility and space to create an internal drive that reflects who you are and what you need to be successful, happy, and fulfilled.

**Source: Miller-McCune Article, January 28, 2010

Laura Tirello is a Career and Life Coach. Her company, Core Life Design, works with people who are looking to find their highest potential both in their careers and personal lives. Are you looking for ways to turn your ideas into goals? I am offering a free teleclass, “Shifting from Thinking to Doing: Creating a Mission Statement for Your Ideas”. Email Laura at to sign up or visit   for more information.

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One Comment on Is Perfectionism Gnawing Away at Your Success?

  1. thanks for this fantastic Post. Nice topic to write about on my site. I may set a bookmark to your blog.

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