This book subtiteld, 18 simple steps to silencing your inner critic, overpowering perfectionism and embracing your imperfect life, is another book waging a mental war against the mindset of perfectionism. The author, Damon Zahariades, confesses that he is a recovering perfectionist so this book is both a combination of his life experience and how he has learnt to overcome the perfectionist mindset.
The book is divided into three distinct parts but before that Damon tells us why perfectionism is a recipe for unhappiness and part of his story. He also describes the different types of perectionism which are:
- Adaptive perfectionism: endeavouring to meet high standards, but recognising that true perfection is an unreasonable expectation. Adaptive perfectionists are driven by the satisfaction they experience when they apply extreme effort toward accomplishing their goals.
- Maladaptive perfectionism: striving to meet unrealistic goals, and expecting to accomplish them every time. Maladaptive perfectionists aggressively maintain unreasonbly high standards and are highly critical of themselves when they fail to meet them. According to Damon, this type of perfectionism is universally considered unhealthy. All experts agree on this point. It is this type of harmful perfectionism that Damon deals with in this book.
He also briefly discusses some subtypes of perfectionism which are:
- Self-oriented perfectionism: imposing extremely high standards on oneself.
- Socially prescribed perfectionism: beliving that others expect perfection from you.
- Other-oriented perfectionism: expecting others to be perfect.
- Neurotic perfectionism: striving for perfection because you believe it will earn you the approval of others.
- Principled perfectionism: struggling to achieve one’s perception of moral flawlessness.
- Hyper-attentive perfectionism: focusing on the object of one’s attention to the point that every detail must be closely scrutinized.
- Narcissitic perfectionism: showing off your abilities to reinforce others pereption of one’s ideal self.
- Emotional perfectionism: believing one should be in total control of one’s emotions.
All these do sound scary but a good list to check yourself and ask a honest reflective question – do I have perfectionist tendencies?
After that Damon describes the mindset of a perfectionist and tries to answer the question, why are perfectionists driven to achieve perfection? The quotes below are part of his attempt to answer that question.
It turns out there are many potential reasons. All of them stem from fear, anxiety, unhappiness, and/or an unfair conviction regarding how one’s worth should be measured.
...many perfectionists fear failure. They see everything in black and white, and view the results of their actions through that inflexible lens. They either succeed or fail. There’s no middle ground.
The possibility of failure makes perfectioniosts miserable. They attempt to squash this fear by striving harder to be flawless.
Another trigger is shame. Many perfectionists feel inadequate in one or more ways.
There is also a section which summarises what you will learn from reading the book. It’s a good section to read if you want an overview of what the book focuses on.
Now to the three parts of the book. I have briefly summarised them below.
PART 1 – 12 WAYS PERFECTIONISM NEGATIVELY IMPACTS YOUR LIFE
This part of the book deals with the downsides of perfectionist behaviour. It outlines 12 negative impacts of perfectionism. Here is a summary of them:
- It makes you less adaptive to changing circumstances: perfectionists are more resistant to change because change gives them less feeling of control. Because they can’t control it, they would rather avoid it.
- It encourages an all-or-nothing mentality: this is the, “if I can’t do it perfectly, I may as well not do it at all”.
- It discourages you from taking risks: perfectionists don’t like risks because of the prospect of failure. They will rather stick to doing things that guarantee success. Such people don’t grow or develop because they stay in their comfort zone
- It allows negative self-talk to gain a foothold: they beat themselves up when things don’t go well and engage in negative self-talk.
- It impairs your ability to make decisions: perfectionists struggle with indecision because uncertainty about the outcomes of what they are doing prevents them from moving forward.
- It makes you prones to procrastination: procrastination is a common feature of perfectionism because it is linked to indecision and the all-or-nothing mentality.
- It increases your stress levels: perfectionist behaviour places people under constant pressure because you believe everything you do is being judged by others and you need to achieve flawless results. That is a lot of stress.
- It hampers your creativity: creativity requires risk and it is unpredictable, not something perfectionists are comfortable with. This prevents them from being creative.
- It makes you unprepared for unanticipated problems: perfectionists want things to always go according to plan and we know that is not realistic. When things don’t go the way they want, they get frustrated. Such behaviour makes it difficlt for such people to deal with unexpected situations.
- It can lead to frustration, anxiety and depression: when we think about all the previous downsides, it’s no suprise that people with perfectionist tendencies are prone to frustration, anxiety and depression.
- It can harm your relationships: perfectionists are intolerant of mistakes in themselves and others. This makes it difficult for others to want to be around them because they can easily become stressed, fearful and angry and take it out on others.
- It makes you susceptible to the people-pleasing habit: perfectionists have difficulty saying no to people. They not only put constant pressure on themselves to meet unreasonable standards but also aim to please others.
PART 2 – 10 SIGNS YOUR PERFECTIONISM IS OUT OF CONTROL
If part one helped us identify the negative impacts of perfectionist behaviour, then this part goes even further by helping us check whether or not our perfectionism is our of control, that is of course if you consider yourself to be a perfectionist. Damon dicusses 10 signs. Summarily, here they are:
- Failure to achieve your goals causes you to be depressed: while failure is part of life and we all get disappointed when we don’t meet our expectations, if you can’t learn from failure but see it as a sign of inadequacy and let it affect your sense of self-worth, then your perfectionism may be out of control.
- Success rarely, if ever, brings you joy: you achieve something well but would rather focus on the tiny aspect of it that did not go as well as you wanted. This is perfectionism out of control.
- You’re always looking for things you did wrong rather than celebrating things you did right: this is a strive for flawlessness which will lead to a downward spiral and it is unhealthy.
- You become defensive when others highlight errors you made: while none of us particular welcome criticism, we understand it is necessary to help us develop. But out of control prefectionists will always find a defensive excuse for their errors. They see criticism as an allegation of impotence.
- You consider asking for help to be a sign of weakness: it is quite serious when a person sees their admission that they need help as a sign of weakness. Definitely, perfectionism out of control.
- You refuse to delegate or outsource because you must be in control: perfectionists like to stay in control, handing over the reins of control to someone else makes them feel vulnerable.
- You’re unable to move forward after making mistakes: We all mistakes, but if you view mistakes as fatal and a sign of inadequacy and in order to avoid making them refuse to take action then your perfectionism may be out of control.
- You’re paralyzed with indecision or inaction: on this one acrroding to Damon, “the perfectionist puts off making a decision or taking action until circumstances align in a way that guarantees success.”
- Others find you difficult to work with because you want things done in a particular way: a similar point to this was discussed in the previous section. If people find it difficult to work with you because you always want to be in control to minimize uncertainty then that is not a good thing. According to Damon, “…in some cases perfectionists insist on doing everything him/herself. That way he/she can ensure flawlessness.” Of course, we know this isn’t possible.
- You have diifculty finishing projects: Damon wrtes that, “perfectionists have a tough time completing their work. They aim for flawlessness, which seems admirable to the casual observer. But we know better. The pursuit of flawlessness is a constant obstacle to project completion.”
In between this part of the book and the next part is a questionnaire to help us assess our level of your perfectionism. It has 10 questions and a description of how to score oneself.
PART 3 – 18 SIMPLE STEPS FOR OVERCOMING PERFECTIONISM
This is the main focus of the book, how to overcome perfectionism. Damon provides 18 steps you can take and here’s a list of them all. At the end of the chapter for each solution is an exercise showing you how to implement the solution.
- Realize perfection is an illusion
- Acknowledge that pursuing perfection is harmful.
- Get used to deconstructing your inner critic.
- Give yourself permission to make mistakes.
- Give yourself permission to be wrong.
- Lower your unreasonably high standards.
- Reevaluate your expectations. If necessary you may need to readjust them.
- Remove yourself from the competition (or the need to seek for the approval of others).
- Remind yourself that no one is paying that much attention.
- Be willing to explore outside your comfort zone.
- Commit yourself to an 80/20 way of life.
- Make deliberate mistakes.
- Do something at which you’re unskilled.
- Reframe how you perceive criticim.
- Commit yourself to being an optimalist.
- Set time limit for tasks and projects.
- Gamify your to-do list.
- Seek inspiration via connections with other people.
This is a simple book which helps us to first understand the challenges of perfectionism and take actions to overcome it. While some of the solutions may not seem that effective (at least that’s what I think), Damon provides 18 of them so you will definitely find something you can use.