A dartboard with a dart in the inner bullseye. The bullseye is a metaphor for perfectionism and the constant striving to hit the centre of the target every time.
You can’t score a perfect bullseye every time

What is wrong with being a perfectionist?

The problem with perfectionism is that it drives you to strive relentlessly for an idealised, unachievable standard for yourself and others.

As a perfectionist, you may not be satisfied with anything less than a bullseye every time. That’s a great goal for an elite marksman. But have you stopped to think how that person became so successful at that one particular thing? Through discipline, training, aiming to exceed personal bests and learning from mistakes.

The problem with perfectionism is that it doesn’t allow you to make mistakes or to be satisfied with anything less than a perfect result in every aspect of your life. Even if you hit your target in certain areas, are you 100 percent satisfied with the result? And how satisfying was the process of achieving it? Were you plagued by fears of it not being good enough, or perfect?

Paradoxically, in striving to attain an unrealistic standard perfectionists often sabotage their own success. So, if you’re a perfectionist, this may mean you often fail to begin a task that may appear too daunting. You may have also procrastinated about completing the particular task to avoid failure in meeting your own standards. Instead of feeling satisfied with a job well done perfectionists may feel disappointed, angry and frustrated.

Where does perfectionism come from?

Why is it not okay for something to be done simply to the best of your ability or to an excellent standard? Whose voice do you hear saying, “that’s not good enough,” – a critical parent, harsh teacher, or your own judgmental self repeating something you’ve been told? At some point your efforts were deemed not acceptable so it’s how make sense of that early experience that can predict the standards you hold for yourself and others as an adult.

It is important to prioritise the things that are important to you and to set about doing these things in a balanced way.

What to do about a problem with perfectionism

Here are some questions you can ask yourself in order to keep your perfectionism in check.

    1. What is your desired alternative to perfectionism? Describe it. How does it start, continue and end?
    2. Can you give your alternative a name, such as Realism, Personal Best, Getting it Done, Calm Focus, Realistic Standards?
    3. What feelings accompany this new approach?
    4. Why is it important to you to have this approach? 
    5. What gets in the way? What can you do about those things?

Address your problem with perfectionism. Make a start. Don’t put it off.

“Have no fear of perfection—you’ll never reach it.”—Salvador Dali

Contact Linda Magson, Sydney Life coach and counsellor for help with perfectionism. Email Linda. Call or text: 0402 073 086

Links to other articles by Linda Magson that may help

Some further strategies to help with perfectionism

For others, follow this link for other steps to help you overcome perfectionism.

For a detailed workbook approach to understanding and overcoming perfectionism, follow this link to access the 9 modules.