Recognizing Perfectionism: A Productivity Destroyer

People work hard to strive for excellence. And when you think of ‘perfectionism,’ you might think the same as striving for excellence, which is a healthy way to achieve many things. However, that is ultimately the opposite. Perfectionism is not healthy and is a harmful way to achieve goals.

So, what is perfectionism? American Psychological Association defines perfectionism as the tendency to demand from others or oneself an extremely high or flawless performance over what is required by the situation. In other words, perfectionists have such brutally high standards that anything less than perfect is unacceptable. 

Perfectionism then becomes harmful because perfectionists do not seek personal development and advancement. Instead, perfectionists create unachievable success standards and are frustrated when they fail to meet them. Furthermore, setting excessive standards for yourself and feeling unable to reach those standards may result in recurring feelings of unfulfilled expectations, which, if unresolved, can lead to depression

How to recognize perfectionism

You can start with a question:

Have I ever wished for everything to be correct or perfect because I perceive anything less than perfect as a failure?

If your answer to the question is “yes,” you might want to know more about recognizing extreme or obsessive striving for perfection.

You set unrealistic achievement standards

Perfectionism is a misguided attempt to gain the acceptance of others and repair feelings of worthlessness and shame through displays of high achievement. As a result, perfectionists feel forced to establish their worth, set more ambitious and unrealistic standards, and begin to define themselves only in terms of personal achievement. In other words, they view themselves as worthy only if they have met their unrealistic standards. 

You are overly concerned with mistakes, and you have a fear of failure

Perfectionists are so concerned about mistakes — even little ones — that lead to the idea that their standards have not been reached. People who are perfectionists tend to overgeneralize their mistakes and failures. They take one mistake and use it to label themselves as a failure. 

Perfectionists are afraid to disappoint or displease others and are unwilling to expose their struggles, shortcomings, and vulnerabilities for fear of being judged. Perfectionists have a strong desire to be liked, accepted, and valued. Fear and anxiety lurk behind the surface of all these efforts to establish their worth.

Why perfectionism is destructive to productivity

Perfectionism is easily assumed to be something productive. However, this harmful way of thinking, behaving, and feeling destroys productivity. Harari et al. (2018) have documented how perfectionism damages productivity in the workplace. 

Perfectionism leads to job burnout

Job burnout is a chronic psychological condition marked by emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and decreased personal efficacy. Employees with greater degrees of perfectionism are likely to face higher levels of emotional exhaustion and reduced effectiveness at work. This is due to severe expectations they set on themselves and their tendency to doubt their capacity to satisfy job demands. 

Perfectionism causes poor performance

Individuals with a high level of perfectionism are likely to have lower motivation since they are concerned about performing poorly, which might be counterproductive. They may place significant demands on themselves, affecting a variety of mental well-being indicators. They are also likely to experience higher stress levels since they are more likely to have questions about the quality of their work and a reduced ability to cope with perceived job problems. 

Perfectionism reduces work engagement

Individuals with higher degrees of failure-avoidance perfectionism may have lower levels of work engagement due to a greater tendency to have concerns and doubts about their behavior. On the other hand, employees without this failure-avoidance perfectionism are likely to have higher levels of engagement due to their rigid concentration on achievement and equivalent expenditure of energy on their job.

In conclusion

Being a perfectionist is not simply doing your best but doing even better than an unrealistically high level of performance, leaving you feeling that even your best efforts are lacking. Perfectionism will make people continually pursue perfection, but perfectionists will never find it because perfection is impossible. Understanding that failure is not a weakness is critical because failure is only an occurrence, not an identity. Furthermore, there are always benefits to embracing flaws and learning from mistakes.

If you would like to learn more about perfectionism, the Personal Productivity Science Labs produces courses, certifications, podcasts, and videos. Based on the research of the Institute for Life Management Science, the lab aims to shed light on the multifaceted subject of productivity and help people struggling with it. Visit the Personal Productivity Science Labs today.

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