The Perfection Trap with Thomas Curran

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We love when we get the opportunity to bring this community information to help their businesses and lives straight from the source. And today, we’re doing just that. Thomas Curran is an associate professor at the London School of Economics. He’s also the author of The Perfection Trap.

Perfectionism is something that a lot of people struggle with. And from what we see among the entrepreneurs and high achievers of our Pivot: Shift Ahead group, a lot of you experience it. It’s a common character trait. The problem with perfectionism is that it can create a lot of worry and doubt over if we are doing enough. In other words, while it can push us to do more in the short-term, it’s not a long-term performance strategy.

As Thomas explained, perfectionism exists on a spectrum that measures how much we possess. Rest assured, it’s not a case where you are a complete perfectionist and your partner lacks all perfectionistic qualities. We all have some level of it.

There are three main types of perfectionism:

1. Self-oriented perfectionism: When someone sets high goals, puts high pressures, and sets unrealistically high standards for themselves.

2. Social-prescribed perfectionism: When someone feels high social pressures because they feel others expect a lot of them, believes that others expect them to be perfect, and thinks that others are watching and waiting for them to make a mistake.

3. Other-oriented perfectionism: When someone projects their perfectionism onto others, has unrealistic expectations of others, and are bothered by their mistakes.

One of these types of perfectionism may sound more like you or less like you. But we all exist somewhere on the spectrum on all three of these core dimensions of perfectionism. It’s through these measurements that we can better understand how perfectionism shows up in each of us and its impact on mental health and performance.

After all, at its most basic description, perfectionism means never being satisfied. And it’s an unsustainable way to go about life, both professionally and personally. If you always feel like you are never accomplishing enough and are never good enough, it can seriously – and negatively – impact your overall wellbeing.

So how can you clamp down on your own feelings of perfectionism?

There comes a time when you simply have to dispense of some of the self-critical talk. Look back on what you are doing and remember why you are on this journey. Take a look at what you’re leaving in the world and contributing to others and let that be the motivation you need. You’ll find success is likely to follow when you know the “why” behind what’s driving you. Knowing your “why” will also better allow you to be content because it can help you dispense of some of your concerns about being good enough. Being able to satisfy your “why,” therefore, will help you to rid yourself of some of the perfectionism that has been plaguing you.

Create an environment that allows you to make mistakes, encourages experimentation, and supports trial and error. In other words, embrace imperfection.

If you read those words and don’t know how to start, a little planning can go a long way. Consider the following approach:

· Acknowledge your fears and write them down. Why don’t you want to take on a particular challenge? Feel that fear.

· Think about the strategies you can employ to help you to avoid the problems you’re afraid of from actually arising.

· Now, consider the possibility of that catastrophe you’ve been avoiding actually happening. What’s your plan to get through it?

· You’ve thought it all through. Go ahead and get started!

Remember, we all have some level of perfectionism within us. But it doesn’t have to hold us back. When we recognize it and exposure the fears that exist because of it, we can lessen its impact on our wellbeing and outcome. What do you do to prevent the need for perfection from hindering you?

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