Perfectionism and anxiety often go hand in hand. It is ok to have goals and strive for excellence, but not if it comes at the cost of your peace of mind.
“My own perfectionism never let me rest. I spent decades frustrated with myself that I was not doing enough, not good enough at anything, not fast enough & that I did too much of what I called; “nothing”.
All of this led to chronic anxiety which is why Perfectionism & Anxiety go hand in hand.” 😔
The truth is, I didn’t even think I was a perfectionist. I thought I was “just a high achiever.”
Perfectionists are similar to high achievers, but there are differences. People who struggle with perfectionism discount “being a perfectionist” without examining the cost of it. They may think they are high achievers who “just really like being busy & striving for greatness.”
This is why many of us struggle with perfectionism & don’t even know it – we don’t realize the important differences between being a high achiever & being a perfectionist. Here’s how it might be affecting your life & how perfectionists differ from high achievers.
Signs You May Struggle With Perfectionism:
1. All or Nothing Thinking.
Do you often hear from others that you are “too hard on yourself,” yet you disregard their opinion? You might reason that you strive for excellence.
Like high achievers, perfectionists set high goals & strive for excellence. However, high achievers are different from perfectionists. High achievers can be satisfied with getting close to the mark or not even hitting their goal.
On the other hand, anything less than the original standard & goal is a failure in the eyes of a perfectionist. For the perfectionist, it’s all or nothing.
2. Depressed by Unmet Goals.
You might feel like you can’t do enough or achieve enough, OR that when you do achieve something, it wasn’t as good as you could have done. Perfectionists are not easygoing about their goals.
Whereas other people may see them as an exciting challenge, goals create anxiety for a perfectionist. They hang onto them as if for dear life. When they don’t reach their goals, perfectionists can ruminate on negative feelings and thoughts about themselves.
Perfectionists attach more to a goal than just getting a goal; they attach their value to it.
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I’ll teach you more about setting goals you CAN meet in this article: Healthy Daily Routines You Won’t QUIT!
3. Intense self-criticism from perfectionism & anxiety.
When a perfectionist doesn’t reach their goals, they don’t look to environmental factors as a partial cause (circumstance, timing, luck, preparation, etc…). Instead, their focus is solely on themselves as the reasons for the “failure.”
They tend to focus on all the mistakes or ways they could have done better. They are more judgemental of themselves & others. This is yet another reason why perfectionism and anxiety go hand in hand.
4. Impossible Standards = Unreachable Goals.
Perfectionists expect an immense amount of production, speed, efficiency & ability of themselves & set their standards for goals equally high. They often fail to meet their standards because the goal was set far too high.
Even when they achieve a goal, they don’t celebrate themselves for long, if at all. The thrill of accomplishment is short-lived, and they move quickly on to the next goal.
Thus the Perfectionist is constantly chasing an ever-moving goal post. Every time they reach one goal, they have to reach another; thus, what they do feels like it’s never enough, not because of lack in them, because of the lack of fairness they put on themselves.
5. Perfectionism’s Anxiety and Fear of Failure.
A perfectionist is much more afraid of failure than most people. They put an immense amount of pressure on themselves to perform well in life.
They often self-shame and blame in such an intense way that the perfectionist fears not just failure but the amount of criticism they will inflict upon themselves if they fail. Failure is much scarier when intense criticism is the outcome.
6. Chronic Procrastination.
Because of the intense pressure perfectionists put on themselves, they often will procrastinate on tasks. The reason for their delay is that our minds resist any activity that causes us stress; thus, we delay it, consciously or not. Self-criticism is the stress the perfectionist is avoiding & the reason they procrastinate.
The perfectionist is so scared they won’t do well on a task; they immobilize themselves in fear and do nothing instead.
7. Goal Focused – The View of Perfectionism and Anxiety.
Often over-attachment to a goal is linked to a sense of unworthiness. You may have been told that before but written it off because you think so well of yourself in what you have accomplished.
You know you are capable of great things. That’s why you push yourself and are proud of all you’ve achieved. How can I say that is a lack of worthiness?
But that’s how insidious perfectionism is. It tricks you into believing that you think well of yourself, but listen closely to what you are saying when you describe your virtues.
If this phrase: “I’m proud of myself” always ends with “because of my accomplishments,” that is the tell.
That’s the clue that perfectionism might be a struggle for you.
All that being said: wanting to achieve high standards is very different from perfectionism, as you’ll see below.
HIGH STANDARDS ARE NOT THE SAME AS PERFECTIONISM
You can set high goals & strive for excellence, but that doesn’t make you a perfectionist. The pursuit of goals is a fun process for high achievers. They don’t always hit the mark, but they always learn & grow on the journey.
THE HIGH ACHIEVER’S main objective (generally) is to learn & enjoy the journey.
THE PERFECTIONIST, on the other hand, is all about the goal. Getting the goal, keeping the goal & then getting the next goal. This is where self-value plays a part.
The high achiever sets a goal but accepts that they don’t have total control over whether they reach it. They accept that things happen in life & just because they don’t reach the finish line every time, that isn’t a reflection on their own personal worth.
On the other hand, the perfectionist sets a goal &, if it’s not met, considers him/her/themself a failure for not meeting it.
Perfectionists have a hard time separating reaching a goal from their own worth. Like the high achiever, the perfectionist wants to achieve excellence. But unlike the high achiever, the perfectionist’s value is rooted in the goal.
In contrast, the high achiever’s value is rooted internally – their self-worth is intrinsic & independent of what they achieve.
Putting their worth in things that are variable & not in their control is what can lead the perfectionist to depression, chronic frustration, anger and anxiety.
SO WHAT DO WE DO?
1. Thought Distortions to challenge perfectionism & anxiety.
Start to ask yourself about your thoughts and begin to challenge them. Our thoughts are not truths, and in fact, they are often distorted versions of reality. Here are a few thought distortions common to perfection & anxiety that would help you to look into:
- Black & White Thinking,
- Catastrophic Thinking,
- “Shoulding” on Yourself,
- Fortune Telling, etc…
2. Look at the Big Picture.
In the big scheme of things, we aren’t really in danger. Unless a physical presence of threat is imminent, most of life’s challenges are not life-threatening, even if they feel like it at the moment.
To get perspective, you can ask yourself some “big picture” questions:
- “What is the worst that could happen? Is this going to cause death or harm to anyone?”
- “What do I need right now that would help myself?”
- “What is one step that I can take that would get me to the next step?”
- “Will any of this matter next month, year, or two years from now?”
3. Ask Questions about your perfectionism & anxiety.
The next time the tendency to self-criticize comes up, hit it with a question:
- Is that true? Is it really true that if I don’t finish this project on time or well that I am a loser?
- Are there other things happening around me that could’ve impacted whether or not I finished that project on time or well?
Things that we have no control over happen all the time (hello Coronavirus) & impact our ability level. If our value is attached to that ability, we put ourselves at risk of an ever-vacillating sense of self-worth.
4. Learn to celebrate small things you do well.
Break down the projects you’ve tackled into sections that were finished instead of looking at the project as a whole. Reward yourself for the parts you completed or tried to complete, even if they weren’t entirely finished.
Recognize areas that you’ve tried or learned something. Acknowledge that learning something new is an accomplishment in itself.
Our minds need regular rewards as an incentive to keep going: our job is to provide them with that reward.
5. REPLACE A+ BEHAVIOUR WITH B+ BEHAVIOUR.
- Just skim a chapter of a book instead of absorbing every word.
- Leave the bed made without smoothing the sheets or fluffing the pillows.
- Show up 5 minutes late for a meeting.
- Purposely allow a few moments of silence during a conversation.
Reduce your expectations one small step at a time. If you try to “not care” about your outcome at all, your mind won’t handle such a big jump in expectations & it will put up resistance, which will feel like anxiety.
Our brains like small steps, not BIG, sudden change. If you take small steps, your mind won’t fight you quite as much. At first, it will be uncomfortable, but let your mind know you’re going in a different direction now. You’ll reduce your perfectionism tendencies & anxiety with it.
Exercises like these allow you to see that when you are not “perfect,” nothing bad happens. The world doesn’t implode & all the terrible outcomes you thought would happen – don’t.
Our brains don’t like change, but they are also adaptable, so change is possible in small steps if you keep taking them. Your brain will stop fighting you on it after some small-step practice & you’ll feel less anxious about the changes you make.
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If you want to stay connected with me & learn more ways to produce thoughts that heal, not hurt you, click the link here to: Unravel Your Negative thoughts: An 11 Step Guide to Direct Your Limited Thinking. 🎁