September 27, 2021

Claude Monet once said, “My life has been nothing but a failure.” The serial perfectionist would often destroy paintings in an erratic fit of pique, including those meant for an exhibition, because he felt they were inadequate. Sounds dramatic? Well, perfectionists think striving for perfection is a good thing, but they don’t realise that it is a toxic mindset—one built on procrastination and limitations. Often, perfectionism hinders more than it helps.

We see this in business too; certain external factors are simply beyond our control—and insisting on perfection leads to more frustration and unnecessary stress. Furthermore, an unhealthy fixation with perfection can prevent us from being our most successful self as we may get mired in self-blame and criticism for coming up short. While it’s important to have standards, don’t beat yourself up over slip-ups. Here is why perfectionism can be a destructive force.

Perfectionists are too rigid

Like it or not, we are still in a pandemic. And with uncertainty surrounding us, the only way to move forward is to be flexible and adaptable to change. Unfortunately, this doesn’t sit well with perfectionists as they are often obsessed with doing things “right.” They fail to realise that there are many (other) different paths that can lead to the same outcome as their mind is fixated on only one. This close-mindedness stifles creativity and innovation, attributes that are essential for professional growth. As a leader, you might have given your team a detailed set of instructions, but if things go wrong due to unforeseen circumstances, do you still want them to stick to the script? Having a predetermined view of what the end product must look like can be a stumbling block in a hyper-competitive, ever-evolving landscape.

Perfectionists tend to procrastinate

Perfectionists usually scrutinise everything incessantly to make sure all the moving parts are in order before tackling the next task. It is a time-consuming process that kills productivity. When we concern ourselves with minor details (that might not even really matter), our level of efficiency decreases. Decisions cannot move and people remain stuck in an impasse. The irony is that in the pursuit of perfection, many don’t get much done at all. Instead of obsessing over the specifics, shift your own mindset to reframe what an ideal yet realistic outcome looks like.

Perfectionists are risk-averse

Since perfectionists hold themselves to unrealistic standards, they are generally unable to accept the idea of failure. As a result, they tend to remain in the status quo, becoming so paralysed by their fear of failure that they cannot find alternative solutions. They never take risks if they know there might be a chance of failure, which is why they never move beyond their comfort zone. Some wouldn’t even try unless their conditions are met. Ultimately, to achieve anything great requires risk-taking and experimentation.

Perfectionism harms your health

According to the World Health Organisation, there has been a surge in the number of young people suffering from mental illness these past few years. Research has shown a clear link between perfectionistic tendencies and anxiety. Since performance is intertwined with their sense of self, perfectionists can experience humiliation when they don’t perform up to their own standards. And being overly self-critical can lead to depression and even suicide. Interestingly, the reverse is true as well: mental issues can drive perfectionism. For example, American college students who had social anxiety were more likely to become perfectionists. This could be due to the lack of self-compassion—a condition most perfectionists suffer from.

Apart from anxiety, perfectionistic tendencies have been linked to other clinical issues like self-harm, agoraphobia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, binge eating, post-traumatic stress disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, insomnia, hoarding, dyspepsia and early mortality. According to Sarah Egan, a senior research fellow at Curtin University who specialises in perfectionism, the higher the level of perfectionism, the more psychological disorders an individual could be afflicted with.