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VOL. 126 | NO. 45 | Monday, March 07, 2011

Chris Crouch

Dysfunctional Perfectionism

CHRIS CROUCH

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Perfectionism is yet another form of dysfunctional behavior often disguised as a positive personality attribute.

Before the majority of the perfectionists reading this tune me out, let me clarify my position on this:

  • The pursuit of excellence and mastery is a noble activity. I’m for it!
  • Perfectionism is an irrational, illogical and potentially neurotic activity. I’m against it!

Being a perfectionist and being productive are not compatible. Perfectionism can paralyze people and keep them from starting on important projects and tasks. It is hard to get organized and be more productive if you are paralyzed.

One of the primary sources of perfectionism is criticism. It could be that you grew up in an environment where your parents, teachers, peers or other people important to you were, shall we say, slightly overcritical. But don’t be too quick to lay the blame on others. It could be that a part of your psyche took on the role of mental parent and criticized yourself. You decided to develop your own little internal voice to provide all the criticism you needed. You may have decided to play the children’s version of “keeping up with the Joneses.” You picked a big brother or sister, or a high-achieving peer, and decided to be like them...or be better than them. You began living your life by comparison. If you didn’t always measure up, your little voice was quick to let you know about it. Think about it. People who are frequently criticized pay a high price for mistakes. Therefore, they respond by vowing to get it right the first time or not doing anything unless they do it exceptionally well.

First of all ... chill out! Lighten up! Go ahead and take a chance every once in a while. Make a few mistakes. Won’t it feel good not to always take on the role of propping up the business, family, relationship, project or world? Then look for the birth of your critical voice. Where did it begin? Was it someone else? Was it you? Turn that voice off!

As with most forms of dysfunctional behavior, discover the source and you have much of the problem solved. And if you decide to find out the source of your perfectionist behavior, don’t look for the perfect answer. Look for an excellent answer and live with it.

There is a huge difference in perfectionism and the pursuit of excellence or mastery. Perfectionists never feel satisfied. They always feel somewhat restless and disappointed in their performance. In short, their activities generate more negative feelings than positive feelings. Although masters also know they can improve their skills or performance, they feel a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment when they perform their work. In short, their activities generate positive feelings and enhance self-esteem.

Pursue excellence and stop being a perfectionist.

Remember, a true friend is someone who really knows you and still likes you. Learn to be your own true friend. This may not be a perfect idea, but it’s a pretty good idea!

Chris Crouch, author of “Getting More Done” and other books on improving productivity, can be contacted at cc@dmetraining.com.

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