Writing about perfectionism feels tricky. On the one hand, I feel like there’s always more to learn about perfectionism and what it looks like in our every day lives. On the other hand, recognizing my own perfectionism doesn’t always solve the problems perfectionism creates, which feels like an endless cycle of discovering problems I can’t solve.
But in that endless pursuit of getting to know myself, I want to share something I learned the other day, that may be able to help you, too. It might seem counterintuitive, but my perfectionism has actually hurt my problem-solving skills and my ability to think critically. Here’s how I became aware of it, and how I’d like to change.
I was having a rough go of it the other day – I didn’t feel healthy in just about every way imaginable. And in that moment, my instinct was to be hard on myself. I got on myself for allowing myself to get into this situation. How could I let myself feel this way? What could I have done to prevent it? How do I make sure I prevent it again?
On its head, I don’t think any of these questions are inappropriate to be asking. When something happens, you try to figure out how you got there, and if it’s something undesirable, how you can prevent it from happening again. But the timing and attitude around these thoughts was all wrong. In the moment, this type of thinking did nothing to help me feel better.
Rather than figure out how to improve my well-being, I was fixated on how I got into the situation in the first place. And that’s when I realized that my perfectionism was creating another problem. In trying to be so perfect and not “allow” things to happen to me (an unrealistic goal, to say the least), I was ignoring other parts of myself – the more positive aspects of my personality that could carry me through this moment.
My perfectionism limits me, and if I don’t change something, it will continue to cause problems on my wellness. When I have a problem, my instinctual reaction is to get mad at myself for allowing myself to get into that situation, and then to figure out how to never get into that situation again. And while that can be helpful in hindsight, that does nothing to help me solve the problem or fix the task at hand.
Understanding how my perfectionism limits my ability to solve problems and think critically is just the latest way I’ve recognize how perfectionism limits me. If I want to be healthy and focus on getting what I need, then I need to be present in the moment and focus on just that – not what I could have done, but what I need to do now. Getting what I need in the moment is the most efficient way to wellness, and putting these thoughts into action could mean big steps toward long-term mental wellness.
I like the quote. My own perfectionism feels never-ending, as I embrace some parts of the things I’m perfectionistic about. Other things, life does get messy and I embrace that. But yeah, I think I am most perfectionistic (in a troublesome way) when it comes to computers and technology. Other ways that I am perfectionistic don’t seem to be problematic. They’re more of an ‘excellence’ thing.
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I think there’s a big part of perfectionism that is geared toward excellence and doing your best – I’m hoping to learn more about those positive aspects of perfectionism you mentioned. I also like what you said about life getting messy, that’s definitely something I need to embrace more.
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