Dealing with Perfectionism by Meggin McIntosh, PhD

Nov 3rd, 2013
A+Perfectionism runs rampant through the professorial world.  Let me acknowledge up front that I am perfectly familiar with this, having lived with it for 55 years at this point, but having learned a great deal in the last 25 about how to deal with it so that it’s not debilitating.  Here are ten tips for you, just in case you are a perfectionist.

Note:  I am not a psychologist, but I recommend that you seek help from a psychologist if you are a perfectionist.  It really isn’t something we can just “fix” ourselves.  These tips are just to support you in changes you want to make.

  1. Know the definition of perfectionism.  One definition is that perfectionism is a belief that work (of any type) that is anything less than perfect is unacceptable.
  2. Know the cost of perfectionism.  Perfectionism costs you (potentially) your health, your relationships, your peace of mind, money, tenure, and much more.  Be very aware that being excellent and striving for high standards can be beneficial but being debilitated by perfectionism is detrimental and quite costly.
  3. Figure out one place in your professional life (or personal life) where the cost is too great and it’s time to do something about it. Just pick one.
  4. Notice the very next time you are tempted to do something “perfectly” in whatever area you have decided is the place where you need to do something about your perfectionism (see Tip #3).
  5. Go ahead and do whatever it is….and stop before you get to perfect.  You can stop just shy of it or you can stop well back from the “perfect mark.”
  6. Another way to think about this is to take something that you have done “perfectly” (if you forgot to stop yourself before it got to “perfect”) and on purpose mess up one aspect of it.
  7. Pay close attention to the consequences of having done something less than perfectly.
    a. Did your reputation suffer irreparable damage? b. Did your primary relationship end? c. Did you lose your job? d. Did anyone die? e. Did anyone except you notice that whatever you did was less than perfect?
  8. Decide if you can live with the consequences.
  9. Notice if there were any benefits to stopping prior to perfect.  Acknowledge those and decide if the benefits are the kind you would like to extend.
  10. Make a list of all the places each day (as you notice them) that perfectionism (the belief that you MUST DO THINGS PERFECTLY or not at all) are interfering with your overall productivity.  Then go talk to someone about it.  I mean it.

Meggin has been seeking ways to be more productive as a faculty member since her second year as an assistant professor.  And, she has been “battling” perfectionism since she became aware of its tremendous cost in graduate school.

My belief is that we all have more control than we think we do…at least over those items that I’ve listed above. Be thankful for the control you have and use it in a productive manner.

And to help you with your productivity learn a simple system to finish your unfinished business. Experience the relief of confirming, carrying out, and completing your personal and professional commitments with the teleseminar Finish Your Unfinished Business, available for immediate download!

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