A practical approach to perfectionism
In the article ‘The Good, the Bad and the Perfectionist’ we defined perfectionism, discussed how to identify it and possible implications of perfectionist tendencies on our everyday lives. But what can we do to turn perfectionist tendencies into a positive outcome?
Straight to the source. Identifying where perfectionist tendencies stem from can really help get a handle on them. Start by reflecting upon who it is you feel you have to prove yourself to. If the only answer turns out to be yourself, it is possible to rationalise internally that the effort and disruption of striving for perfection on your everyday life is not worth it. It may take time to override your natural instinct to be perfect but it can be done. Just keep reminding yourself that ‘good enough’ is often just that – good enough!
Forgive yourself. Nobody is perfect, and everybody has strengths and weaknesses. That’s not to say you should not try to improve but there are times when you’ll have to go with what you already know and do what you can based on that. And that’s fine. Don’t waste time worrying about what you can’t do – and who knows, this may not be the case forever.
Swap belittlement for betterment. If the goal is constant perfection, you can’t win. So rather than punishing yourself or playing down achievements that don’t meet your unattainable standards, why not ask, ‘what have I done today that I could do better tomorrow?’ Not, ‘what could I do perfectly tomorrow’; just ‘better’.
Focus on what is really important. When you evaluate your efforts, you may realise that a lot of time is spent worrying about things that ultimately don’t matter that much or fretting that the outcome won’t be good enough. Is the real purpose to be perfect – or is it to get something done? Perfectionism can lead to procrastination, often producing the opposite of a timely result.
Stay true to your goals. Focus on the overall objective, rather than getting there perfectly. Ultimately worrying is usually a waste of time and energy, so rather than getting bogged down by the minutiae, try and stay focused on the bigger picture.
Critique your balance. A good use of your tendency to evaluate your achievements is to keep a personal diary of goals met. But rather than focusing on your work goals, assess whether you have achieved some balance in your life. Did you go out for dinner with friends this week like you planned? Did you leave on time for once so that you could go to the gym? Rather than making it an exercise for self-admonishment, use it as a chance to enhance areas of your life which are good for you.
Set limits. Perfectionism can drive us to spend impracticable amounts of time on one thing which will affect our overall effectiveness at work. For example, when researching a case, set a time limit and do what you can within that.
Separate results from judgment. Don’t let your productivity be dictated by fear of others’ judgment – strive for the results that are best for you. Accept a broader form of excellence, rather than narrowly defined perfection. Perfectionism can be self-destructive when you’re too concerned with how others may perceive your imperfections.
Learn to accept constructive criticism. This is something which perfectionists are not always very good at as they see any form of criticism as proof of their failure. Embrace the knowledgeable critics’ opinions and expect them to help you improve, not simply give approval. Try and seek out diverse opinions and see what you can learn from them.
Try new things. The uncertainty and increased possibility for failure often prevents perfectionists from trying something new. However, clinical improvement often relies on going just that; developing your skills through practice and keeping up to date with current literature are really important.
Just get started. Perfectionists are often good procrastinators. Just getting started on a task is often the best way to realise that perhaps it is not as daunting as you imagined. Plus, you can save an awful lot of time in the process.
Realise there’s more than one ‘right’ way. Different vets often have different ways of doing things which may be equally valid. Don’t assume that your way is the wrong way, even if you are less experienced. In fact, less experienced vets are often better at keeping current and exploring newer techniques and approaches.
Recognise the beauty and benefits in imperfection. Just as discordant harmonies in music can create tension and conflicting or ‘clashing’ colours can evoke a whole range of emotions in the viewer, imperfections in people are important – they can help you and others to learn and grow. If everyone was ‘perfect’, the world would be a very boring place. Plus, what constitutes perfect anyway? Your perceptions of perfection may not match those of others.
See your successes. It may not have been perfect, but it was an achievement nonetheless. This is the attitude to take when you reflect on your endeavors. If you experienced some uncertainty along the way, this only goes to make it even more of a success. Rather than doing a few things perfectly, why not accomplish many things successfully?
To read more about perfectionism, visit the ‘The Good, the Bad and the Perfectionist’. What’s your experience of perfectionism in the profession? Have you recognised perfectionist tendencies in yourself and taken steps to overcome them? Or perhaps you feel that perfectionism among vets is one of the things driving our high standards. All comments welcomed in the comments section below.