There’s nothing wrong with wanting to do your best, whether it’s a project at your job or a game of tennis with friends. It feels good to accomplish a goal, and often other people benefit from your efforts, too.
Problems creep into our lives when we feel that everything we do must meet strict, often self-imposed, standards. Behind the compulsion to always perform perfectly is fear—fear of not being accepted or loved by others if we fail. For some people, the addictive compulsion is to achieve a perfect weight or meet a physical beauty standard. But the underlying factor is the same: a belief that we are not good enough.
One of the results of perfectionism is procrastination. For example, high-achieving students sometimes put off their school projects until the last minute, or miss the deadline altogether, because they are afraid if they produce inferior work, their parents or teachers will become angry and withdraw their love and acceptance. The risk of disapproval paralyzes them.
Another problem with perfectionism is that perfectionists can start expecting other people to be perfect, too. These perfectionists might miss out on fun and fulfilling relationships with others because they are always finding fault with others.
When perfectionists fail to meet their own standards, their alleged failure is followed by feelings of dissatisfaction and self-criticism. These feelings permeate all aspects of their lives, eroding relationships and their chances at achieving any tasks that require a sense of self-competence. In general, perfectionists can simply be chronically unhappy people.
Perfectionism is habitual thinking, and the way to break the habit is to change your thinking patterns. Each day, give yourself permission to make three mistakes or to have three physical faults. Whatever area your perfectionism affects, allow yourself to “fail” in that area three times a day. By relaxing your standards and realizing that people will still like you when you are not perfect, you can conquer your fear and be happy.