Personal Finance

Five steps to avoid perfection that slows you down

procastinatin
scottbellows

Summary

  • Perfectionists tend to think that reality is worse than what it really is.
  • Psychologist Tom Curran notes that perfectionists tend to be highly sensitive and susceptible to significant demotivation from extensive critiques and failures.
  • Perfectionists can become anxious and worrisome, which actually can harm performance and progress towards goals instead of helping.

Let us today delve into how to correct harmful perfectionistic tendencies and become more productive as a follow-up to the March 18, 2021 Business Talk article in the Business Daily titled “Perfect is the enemy of the good; change tack” that addressed the dangers of perfectionism on work teams.

World-renowned organisational psychologist Adam Grant highlights that perfectionists spend inordinate amounts of time self-critiquing and badgering themselves over details that are really of no consequence or minimal importance. Perfectionists tend to think that reality is worse than what it really is.

Psychologist Tom Curran notes that perfectionists tend to be highly sensitive and susceptible to significant demotivation from extensive critiques and failures.

Therefore, perfectionists can become anxious and worrisome, which actually can harm performance and progress towards goals instead of helping.

Holding up an unrealistic view of one’s idealistic self can prove harmful instead of, in its place, thinking of a realistic view of how one can be that is good enough. Sadly, perfectionists often do not succeed over time.

Curran further delineates that some people feel that others expect them to be perfect.

Such feelings are growing in society. These types of perfectionistic feelings correlate with greater depression. Unlike personality traits such as agreeableness and conscientiousness, perfectionism does not naturally improve with age.

It can stay fairly constant throughout one’s life and, unaddressed, can serve as an anchor weight that chains down and inhibits progress.

How can we all overcome the detrimental drain of perfectionism? Adam Grant suggests five main techniques. First, instead of only pointing out what is wrong in situations and with your own performance, also spend intentional time making notes about what is right and what you did well.

Regularly and intentionally sit down, clear your head, and focus on making lists of positive things regarding your tasks, achievements, and quality of your work. It can break the negativity spiral effect going on in your brain.

Second, understand and own the reality that excellence, brilliance, quality, and distinction all do not require flawlessness or exacting precision.

Researchers Ivana Osenk, Paul Williamson, and Tracey Wade recently uncovered that having high standards, discrepancy, and doubts about one’s actions correlated with lower performance.

Instead, the best performance comes from intending to achieve good results rather than obsessing over obtaining perfect results.

Third, measure your success and quality in terms of how you are progressing towards your end goal instead of fixating about your image and how your work-in-progress looks.

Psychologist Timothy Hanchon recommends focusing on how well you master a skill or task rather than high standards for how it should look at the end result.

Fourth, recognise that given the human tendency to view oneself accurately, get trusted friends or colleagues to help you judge your performance.

Your chosen informal evaluators will likely have a more realistic wholesome view of your performance and abilities than you do for yourself.

Fifth, do not obsess and focus on every mistake and error made. Do not make long lists of your wrongs.

Ask your friend or colleague judges to give you only one thing each that you can improve upon. Or when you complete something and reflect on how you did, only focus on a small number of improvement areas.

Chak Lama, Scott DeRue, Elizabeth Karam, and John Hollenbeck found that more and more feedback does not help fine-tune the recipient and get them to perform and learn better.

Instead, frequent negative feedback, even if meant to be constructive, can overpower the brain’s cognitive resource capacity and therefore lower the amount of exertion and determination one puts into tasks. Essentially completely demotivating someone.

In Kenya, our academic feedback for masters and doctoral dissertation students often lists dozens and dozens of errors but without much specific directions on how to improve. So, our dropout rate, especially for doctorate learners subsides as staggeringly high.

The British Council and the German Academic Exchange Service published a report that 89 percent of Kenyan PhD candidates do not graduate as compared to 40 percent to 50 percent in North American nations.

Instead, when giving feedback of any kind, follow Adam Grant’s advice and identify just a few things for someone to improve or list just a small number of improvements for yourself and work to progress on those each day.

Follow the above five steps and break the hurtful chains of perfectionism’s counterproductive effects.

Dr Scott may be reached on [email protected] or on Twitter: @ScottProfessor