4 Risks Of Perfectionism That May Be New To You ─ And You Can Transcend

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The Risks Of Perfectionism: 4 Self-Sabotaging Ways Being A Perfectionist Causes Low Self-Esteem & Negative Self-Talk

For some people, striving for perfection feels like a good thing. After all, as a perfectionist, you give everything your best, most concerted efforts.

However, perfectionism doesn't mean your work will be great, and in some cases, trying to be perfect all the time can actually become a self-sabotaging habit.

Perfectionists often don't just want their work to be perfect — they feel like it needs to be, to prove their value to themselves and others. That can lead to an endless inner cycle of self-criticism that lowers self-esteem over time.

RELATED: Zodiac Signs Who Are Obsessed With Being Perfect, Ranked From Most To Least

Although I generally avoid being a perfectionist, I am not perfect! In fact, I admit I am suffering from the self-sabotaging effects of perfectionism right now as I edit a challenging, long chapter in my seventh book.

Losing count of the endless iterations, I find the whole process very humbling. It also exposes how closely my ego is entangled with this process, even though I should be able to let go after less obsessive experiences with previous books.

Yet, in this situation, I realized my issue is tying the chapter topic too closely to who I am, believing its perfection could avoid possible failure.

This is just one way that perfectionism can contribute to low self esteem, negative self-talk and actually limit your joy over time.

Here are 4 self-sabotaging risks of perfectionism that can contribute to negative self-talk and low self-esteem, plus how you can transcend them.

1. You tie your work too closely to your identity.

Confession can help release this. So, take a moment to step back and identify how the underlying reasons you're striving for perfection affect your self-esteem. For me, the reasons for chewing my book material to death dwell in my vulnerable pride and hope to avoid criticism.

Instead, I decided to share what’s “good enough” for now, taking my colleague up on her generous offer to read and comment on the chapter. That put some distance between my ego and the project.

2. Your request for feedback does not feel controllable.

Until admitting that some projects bring out my perfectionism, I was disdainful of others' perfectionist tendencies. Though often important in some situations, this habit benefits from using good judgment to identify when it’s automatic, rigid, inappropriate, or an excuse for avoiding something else, such as completion.

The challenge is to find the useful boundary between having high standards for oneself and self-flagellation for missing the mark as a routine reaction. Another aspect of that is even knowing what the mark is! That vagueness is where problems breed.

To make progress, decide what’s a realistic level of effort, time, and energy for each major activity before starting and then again after some experience with it. For additional good judgment, consider the context and other main priorities. Invite feedback from people you respect and enjoy for other points of view and balance in your thinking.

Good humor and leaving time between continuing attention to the task help you transcend the self-sabotaging trap of perfectionism, as well.

3. You avoid new experiences for the "safety" of perfectionism.

Until now, I thought perfectionism was other people’s ways to avoid endings, possibly a form of escaping the “death” of a project or effort through completion.

As long as the work stays in process, the sense of loss from its ending is avoided and the dream of great outcomes remain possible. They include self-esteem, confidence, and possible success.

Issues, such as the following, may also be avoided:

  • Having to deal with a more difficult project or person better avoided
  • Untying the complex knot of fear of success and fear of failure
  • Preferring the comfort of the known and predictable

4. You favor perfectionism predictability over challenges.

In an interview with the New York Times, cartoonist and author MacArthur Fellow Gene Luen said, “There are so many contradictions and so many potential hazards. But you just have to run directly at what you’re scared of.”

Actually, what challenges or intimidates you is often key to choosing worthwhile paths. Actor Taraji P. Henson noted this about how she decides on parts to play in a recent interview: “If the role does not scare me, I won’t take it, because it’s not going to change me. I won’t be transformed, therefore the audience won’t benefit from the transformation. There’s nothing for me to do."

Perhaps ask yourself, does focusing on the “perfect” distract from identifying and addressing what’s truly worthwhile? Does it mute the guiding clues and creative energy from positive emotions and ideas for taking sensible risks that will encourage further development?

RELATED: 9 Signs You're A Perfectionist (And How To Let It Go)

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To continue moving beyond limiting habits, your answers to the following questions could help you assess or possibly dismantle at least one of them.

Whenever useful, ask yourself:

  • How do perfectionism and related habits, such as negative self-talk and self-criticism, limit professional progress and possibilities at work?
  • Do these tendencies keep me from taking timely action related to other opportunities?
  • How will I feel about myself if I avoid dealing with what’s holding me back?

Often related to perfectionism is the habit of negative self-talk. How would you use and improve on the following suggestions to have a productive internal conversation that turns your negative thinking — that contributes to low self-esteem — around?

Suggestions to limit negative self-talk that's tied to your perfectionist tendencies:

  • Distract yourself by taking a ten-second trip in your mind to a pleasant place, activity, image, or experience. That immediate visual adventure can lead you to new, fresh associations and insights, or at least away from negative self-talk. Then, building neural pathways of positive thinking in your brain will replace the old, limiting routes and ruts.
  • Remind yourself of your strengths by starting an open-ended list of all your positive qualities, especially related to work. Aim for a minimum of twenty words and short phrases that describe your capacities. Examples are leader, learner, imaginative, intelligent, integrity, and empathetic. Keep appreciating yourself by adding to your list. Identify ways to exchange such information with several people who know you well in a range of situations, especially focusing on soft and transferable skills rather than work content knowledge. They could include critical thinking, learning, and collaborating.
  • Limit negative thoughts with a quota of no more than ten minutes a day that you time. When you go beyond that, write down everything that comes to mind as catharsis. Doing that may avoid continual repetition as you see patterns of ideas and phrases and/or become bored with the same thoughts. Or the requirement to capture your stream of consciousness will turn off your spigot of stinky thinking right then. If you do this, write no more than one page. You might even see some patterns and get insights right away that help let go of distractions and associations that block better outcomes.

As you know, berating yourself and aiming for often impossible (and possibly boring) “perfection” wastes time and energy ─ unless you ask yourself one question: “What can I learn from understanding and weakening this habit of perfectionism?”

Use your responses to free yourself further from any related limiting, self-sabotaging tendencies that thwart your progress.

Instead, be as kind and generous with yourself as I hope you are with others. Keep building those positive habits of kindness as you reach for the adventure of new experiences and growth.

To stimulate good shifts and steer away from the pitfalls of perfectionism, hit the reset button by using the Danish concept of pyt (sounds like pid), which will help you derail stress. Also related and accessible is James Clear’s recent book, Atomic Habits, which shows how small daily, positive actions will accrue over time.

RELATED: Why Being 'Perfect' Won't Make You As Happy As You Think (And 6 Things That Actually Will)

Ruth Schimel, PhD, is a career and life management consultant and author of the Choose Courage series. Email Ruth to request a bonus chapter one of her forthcoming book, Happiness and Joy in Work: Preparing for Your Future, or visit her website for a free consultation offer.

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