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6 Downsides of Perfectionism

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6 Downsides of Perfectionism
by Celes on Dec 18, 2008 | ShareThis Email This Post This is part-2 of a 3-part series on why being a perfectionist isnt so perfect and how we should deal with it. Part 1: 10 Ways To Tell If You Are A Perfectionist Part 2: 6 Downsides of Perfectionism Part 3: How To Overcome Perfectionism: 8 Simple Steps

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6 Downsides of Perfectionism

Perfectionists are their own devils. Jack Kirby Perfectionists vary in their behaviors: some strive to conceal their imperfections; others attempt to project an image of perfection. Flett, York University Perfectionism is it really all good or does it have its downsides? On the surface, being a perfectionist appears to be aspirational. Many renowned and accomplished sports athletes, celebrities, singers and professionals in their field are self-professed perfectionists. After all, a perfectionist is synonymous with being an overachiever. You are constantly driven to visionary goals, turning your life into a blazing trial of accomplishments. You push yourself to be the best you can be and unlock potential that is previously untapped, that nobody knew was present. You achieve goals which people previously thought were not possible. You seem to have unlimited strength and motivation to move forward and persist regardless of the adversity of the situation. You have such a sharp eye for details that no mistakes are left unturned. Your presence ensures that everything will get done the way they should be done, and even better. You are a source of inspiration for people around you that ideals are possible to achieve. No one would intuitively see any downsides of perfectionism.

Downsides of Perfectionism
There are two types of perfectionism the healthy form, and the neurotic form. A healthy perfectionist is positive and lets ideals and visions drive them forward. The neurotic perfectionist is an extremist, going overboard with idealized visions and letting these visions take over himself/herself. Many perfectionists end up being neurotic perfectionists. The downsides of perfectionism come about as a result of neurotic perfectionism. Neurotic perfectionism is a form of obsessive-compulsive personality disorder (OCPD) associated with many emotional, psychological and interpersonal issues. In being a neurotic perfectionist, you might think that you are getting the best of yourself and your life. In actuality, perfectionism hinders you from becoming the best that you can be. The idealization of a certain perfect vision and the continuous obsession toward being that vision limits your true ability from shining. Below is a list of 6 downsides of perfectionism. As you read this list, try to see if any of the below applies to you!

1. Lower productivity.
By being a perfectionist, you impede on your productivity levels. By the 80-20 principle, 80% of results in an activity is typically associated with 20% of the efforts put in. The remaining 20% of the results can only be achieved via spending 80% of your efforts. You spend excessive time fussing over minute details and getting the remaining 20% of the task right, when you can be more effective by moving on to other tasks.

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6 Downsides of Perfectionism

At the same time, your meticulousness toward details turns you into a workaholic who sacrifices personal rest and social life for work, which makes you even less efficient given the law of diminishing returns. Instead of sharpening the saw which allows you to cut more wood in the future, you push it beyond its point of optimal performance. It becomes dull and ineffective in the long-run.

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2. Procrastination.
One of the downsides of perfectionism is ironically, procrastination. Have you ever had a time where you intentionally put off doing something because you are waiting to find the best solution, the right time and right context before tackling it? By being a perfectionist, you end up over-complicating a task and making it seem bigger than it actually is. You develop fantasy-level expectations for the end result to the extent where you end up avoiding it altogether because you think it is impossible to achieve.

3. Myopia.
As you get caught up in the little details, you miss the bigger picture and scheme of things. You are too busy pruning a particular tree to recognize that you have a larger and more important role to play in overseeing the entire ecosystem. Your myopia prevents you from becoming the real visionary leader that you have locked inside of you. You are too busy overexerting your left brain rather than letting your right brain come into the forefront. If you are a manager, you may be recognized as a micro-manager rather than the leader. You also develop a tendency to get caught up in end result rather than the process. For example, prizing the wedding day itself over the course of the relationship. Graduation day over your schooling life. Being promoted over the length of your career. Recognize that the process you undertake to achieve your goal is actually the longest period in the path of goal achievement. The end result is just that one point, that one day when you achieve the goal. Shouldnt you try to enjoy the longest stage where you spend the most time in?

4. Stagnation of growth.
Stagnation comes as one of the other ironic downsides of perfectionism. As a perfectionist, you tend to be stuck in regimenting things to be done in a certain way which you have identified as the best. Your all-ornothing approach means you avoid situations which you cannot conquer. By not opening yourself to alternative contexts, you rob yourself of all the opportunities to grow. Embracing differences is the key to growth, simply because it exposes you to such a wide variety of new ideas and situations that you can learn from. Since you regiment yourself to a certain style and approach, it does not allow you to get new inputs to process and it does not open you up to learning opportunities. You already know everything in your mind; what you need to do is open yourself up to things you do not know rather than crippling yourself in your pursuit of growth.

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6 Downsides of Perfectionism

5. Poorer health and mental well-being.

An ill-mental and physical health is one of the common downsides of perfectionism. Your health suffers because you neglect your well-being and you are constantly subjecting yourself in a warp of negative emotions (whether you noticed it or not). You sacrifice your sleep and recreation in the name of work. You bear the brunt of responsibility for everything that happens you constantly wrap yourself in anxiety, worrying about the outcome and things that can go wrong. When things do not turn out as expected, you suffer a backlash instead. You start beating yourself up over the minutest of mistakes. You swirl in a sea of guilt and self-depreciation and obsessively work toward working on your flaws to address them or even dissociating yourself from them. You might even start sinking into a state of depression and unhappiness. When things do not go wrong, you undermine and downplay on the success of what has been achieved because it can always be better. Either way, it seems that you cannot win at all. This is why research has shown that perfectionists are prone to stress, clinical anxiety, depression, or in the severe cases, even suicide.

6. Sub-optimal relationships.
Because of your anally retentive nature, you start alienating people around you. Your rigidity and inflexibility throws them off. They find it hard to connect with you because you are guarded emotionally and you do not let your walls down. Your unrealistic ideals result in dissatisfaction in your relationships with others and end up cutting you off from them instead your co-workers, your peers, your friends, your partner, your family, kids.

How perfectionist limited myself

When I was living life through my perfectionist persona, I observed many things on the sideline. These things came through starkly as downsides of perfectionism.

Productivity and effectiveness

Perfectionism was getting in my way of being more effective. I was investing too much time on little things that did not seem to play a role in the bigger scheme of things, instead of focusing on the things that do matter. This only became prominent when I started working. Where in school I could get away with taking control of everything right down to the nitty gritty, at my job the breath and depth of the projects were so colossal that it was no longer humanly possible for me to be so intricately involved everything and nail everything to perfection. I was spending a lot of late hours and weekends working and there was no end in sight since work would never end. It was not sustainable.

Mental health
I was also extremely hard on myself for any mistakes or things. In my mind, there was always an ideal scenario for everything. If presentations, tests, exams, etc ever went against my expectations, I would mull obsessively over it for a period of time and constantly beat myself up over it. If things went right, I would always be thinking about how it could have been better. I would frequently forget about the accomplishments I have achieved before because it was in the past and no longer relevant I was always looking onward on how I can be even better.

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On the social front, I noticed that I was unwittingly alienating some people around me. By being dictatorial, rigid and inflexible, I had developed a hard edge around myself which was intimidating people. I was up in my ivory tower and emotionally inaccessible to people around me. It was unintentional because deep-down, I always held people relationships to be more important over material success. (Read my Emotional Generosity article for more on emotionally stingy behavior.) I started to work on turning things around, which you will see in the last part of the series. In the last installment, we will discuss how you can consciously overcome the downsides of perfectionism and turn the neurotic perfectionist in you into your ally. This is part-2 of a 3-part series on why being a perfectionist isnt so perfect and how we should deal with it. Part 1: 10 Ways To Tell If You Are A Perfectionist Part 2: 6 Downsides of Perfectionism Part 3: How To Overcome Perfectionism: 8 Simple Steps






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Filed in: Awareness & Growth, Emotional Mastery | Written by Celes on Dec 18, 2008 Tags: depression, perfectionism, procrastination, stress 14 Responses to "6 Downsides of Perfectionism" | Share Your Thoughts


Keith says: December 18, 2008 at 12:21 pm Wow, this is a really fantastic article! Ive read about perfectionism many times before, but when you bring your own personal experience as a perfectionist into this it really takes on a human form rather than just some arbitrary minutia. Seeing it from the point of view of someone living it is pretty powerful. Im looking forward to the final part in the series, thanks for writing this!

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Like: 2.

Celes says: December 18, 2008 at 1:07 pm Thanks Keith! Im glad you enjoyed the article I share my experience hoping that someone can benefit from it and apply to their own lives. The next article will be out tomorrow! Like:


Daphne says: December 18, 2008 at 3:09 pm Hey Celes, This post and the last one, about 10 ways to tell if youre a perfectionist (I am one too, by the way, though Ive learned to take it easy), were excellent pieces of work. At this rate your blog is going to be a big success. Keep up the great work! Like:


SHIMURE says: December 19, 2008 at 9:27 am Perfection is an ideal which achieved only in dreams and visions. In the WAITE RIDER deck of tarot cards, a particular card, the 8 of pentacles shows a man, who is so bent on perfection of his work, that he neglects his own appearance and the appearance of his estate. His works may become perfect, yet he would appear as a person who is dressed in rags Van Gogh is a perfectionist. Da Vinci is a perfectionist. I agree that it impedes production.. yet the finest creations in the world are done by perfectionists. However perfect your plans are or visions may be. bear in mind the following.. Everything can go wrong, will Go wrong! Murphys Law. Like:


Celes says: December 19, 2008 at 1:40 pm @ Daphne: Hi again! Thanks for your kind comment! Youre too sweet and Ill surely continue to do my best! @ Shimure: Thanks for leaving a comment! There is a thin line between healthy and unhealthy perfectionists and being a healthy perfectionist (getting all the upsides, without the downsides of being a perfectionist) is the series is gunning for. The last part of the series covers that and its up, so do check

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it out when you are free! Like: 6.


Relax says: December 20, 2008 at 4:06 pm I dont want to be perfect, I want room for improvement and growth. Hey, its nice to find a self improvement blog from Singpore. Im also writing self improvement stuffs and live in KL, Malaysia. Maybe we should keep in touch. Thanks for spreading positivity in the blogsphere see ya! Like:


Celes says: December 21, 2008 at 12:48 pm @Relax: Thanks, and ditto to yourself too! Like:

You have a great blog there keep up the great work!


Blog for Beginners says: December 23, 2008 at 2:34 pm Hey Celes I can relate pretty much to what you have said above. There are times when I sweat over minute details and miss the bigger picture while on some occasions, Im less productive than I shouldnt be in the first place. But with each passing day and personal experience, I begin to realize that perfectionist isnt an asset after all. Thanks for such a wonderful and insightful article. I second Keith that its one of the best article Ive read on the subject. By the way, you have a great writing skill, Celes. If you are keen, Id like to invite you to make a guest appearance on my blog. Yan Like:


Celes says: December 23, 2008 at 10:38 pm Hi Yan, Thanks for the invitation; Id honoured to write for your blog! Currently, my plan for the first couple of months is to focus on content creation for my blog. However, if you would leave it as an open invitation, I would be more than happy to write a guest post a few months down the line. Let me know!

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Like: 10.

Blog for Beginners says: December 23, 2008 at 11:44 pm Lets just say my door is always open for you so as and when youre done with your priorities, send it my way. Anyway, its been nice knowing you, Celes. Happy holidays Yan Like:


caventou says: December 26, 2008 at 2:04 am In my humble opinion, perfectionism leads to expectations and expectations create fear and hope. Let me give my view on this from a very different perspective: In the financial market/gambling environment which is a zero sum game, the person who have no expectations from the market will emerge as the winner simply because the market is imperfect. The fact is, he/she MAY or MAY NOT profit from the next opportunity given to him/her in the market, thus the best thing to do is to be in harmony with the market by using a set of rules or having a strategy in mind. Some time ago, I watched the movie 21. How did the MIT students manage to win so much from the casino? Well, you may say that they learned the tricks of card counting, but arent emotions involved as well? Do you think they win all the time? No, thats impossible and there is absolutely no need to achieve that. The MIT students know they already have the statistical edge in beating the casino using a set of rules. But we know that fear and greed would ruin everything because the person punting expects more money to be make from the market and punted more, disregarding the rules. There are definitely some cases in the movie or even in the book written by Ben Mezrich. Well, the fact is expectations from a perfectionist can cloud the logical judgment of the mind which would inevitably affect ones performance. This is the same in life as well. Humans would definitely make mistakes, the more you want something to be perfect, the possibility of fear of failure and hope of doing very well overwhelms that person. As a result, an imbalance occurs and may actually affect our productivity and effectiveness, mental health and relationships with people as pointed out by Celes. Like:

12. pinkblocks - personal power and self help Blog Carnival on Personal Power January 1, 2009 says: January 2, 2009 at 7:28 am [...] presents 6 Reasons Why Being a Perfectionist Leads You to Failure (And What To Do About It) posted at [...] Like: 13.

Junnette says:

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January 19, 2009 at 11:07 pm Yeah, I really need to unlearn this. Perfectionism can be a bad habit that kills productivity. Great blog, Im subscribing! Like:

14. Resources - April 2009 | Learn This says: May 2, 2009 at 12:15 pm [...] An excellent series on Perfectionism at Embrace Living . I loved this part 2 called, Why Being a Perfectionist Leads You to Failure [...] Like:

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