How to Move to the Bright Side of Perfectionism
By Sandy Schroeder
Perfectionism can be maddening, or absolutely brilliant. If you are a perfectionist, or know someone who is, you know what it means to always try to be perfect. New achievements can be stunning, but finishing them can be a struggle.
Ana MacDonald, Harvard Health contributor and former editor of Harvard Mental Health Letter, captures it thusly: “Perfectionism has a dark side -- often seen as obsessive and sometimes pathological. But it has a bright side, too, with traits of conscientiousness, endurance, satisfaction with life, and the ability to cope with adversity. This helps explain why some perfectionists become corporate leaders, skilled surgeons, or Olympic champions.”
Looking Closer at The Struggle
If you are a perfectionist, or are close to one, you know how this works. I have watched this up close with a perfectionist who does brilliant work, but often drives friends and family wild as the work process absorbs many hours. Staying on track and creating an end product can happen, but it may take some nudging.
Perfectionists can spend hours rethinking, rewriting or re-doing work. In the process, they may miss project deadlines, simply drive everyone around them crazy, or become discouraged about their work.
'Making the Most of Mistakes'
Finding the magic balance between perfect work and ongoing deadlines is the goal. MacDonald suggests advice from The Perfectionist’s Handbook by Dr. Jeff Syzmanski: “Learn how to turn mistakes into strategic experiments.”
Perfectionists want to do things well and they have a fear of making mistakes, but the solution may be to try different strategies.
Dr. Syzmanski talks about a writer who is trying to improve. As a perfectionist, he or she may repeatedly rewrite material or spend a lot of time on a single sentence. In the process, deadlines are missed and confidence wilts.
In contrast, Syzmanski reommends stepping back from the project to find different ways to accomplish it. He suggests writing for 10 minutes without editing, which may build confidence and skills. The writer might also move from one writing project to another, returning with a fresh perspective. Meanwhile, everything moves forward, keeping the writer involved and less frustrated.
If one way does not work, try another approach. Instead of dwelling on mistakes, become a problem solver using different strategies. As Syzmanski says, “Make the most of your mistakes.”
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