How many clients do we work with who admit to being perfectionists? (Often said quite wryly but we can sense the pride behind the statement.) It’s as if they know they are trying to achieve impossible goals yet are upholding a value that often defines them. So we get this sense of conflict which so often happens with our client. They know it’s unrealistic to expect to be perfect all the time but they’re driven by an internal measure. I.e. their heart dictates the value. Sometimes perfectionism comes described as being an “all or nothing” person. Unless they totally give something up, they can’t cut down, they have to embrace change completely or they won’t bother taking the first step.
Sound like perfectionism? It is
Perfectionism has been linked to a wide array of mental health issues – depression and anxiety being the most common. Instead of thinking it as a virtue, we need to think of it is a form of vice – or a prison that keeps us locked into unrealistic expectations – that we will never fulfill.
There is a better approach. moving from perfectionism to optimalism. Optimalists also strive for success for they are “more flexible, resilient and adaptive in the pursuit of their goals”, according to Tal Ben-Shahar.
So what’s the difference between an optimalist and a perfectionist? Here are a few, Which do you lean towards?
- Perfectionists have a fear of failure – optimalists view failure as feedback
- Perfectionists are defensive – optimalists are open to suggestions
- Perfectionists look for faults – optimalists look for bright spots
- Perfectionists are rigid and inflexible – optimalists are adaptable and flexible
One of the most debilitating characteristics of perfectionists is their tendency to procrastinate – simply because unless they can do something perfectly, they hesitate to begin or to do it at all. They freeze.
“Don’t let great get in the way of good” is an excellent mantra for these people.
So what do we do with clients who are perfectionists?
As coaches when we work with perfectionists we encourage the idea of setting goals as “experiements”. As something they can learn from. If we set them up in this way, they are more likely to enter the journey willingly and with a better attitude. The answer to perfectionism? Be authentic! Be who you are, go after the things you love, use your strengths, accept your weaknesses and learn to get satisfaction from within no just from outside, i.e. other people!