What’s wrong with being a perfectionist?

My friend called in for a cup of coffee and a chat and found me doing the ironing. I made coffee and she pulled up a kitchen chair as I resumed my work. Although she was telling me her latest news I noticed her watching closely as I transformed a crumpled heap of fabric into an immaculate, crisp white shirt.

“You’re good at ironing.” It was as much a question as a comment.

I excused my ability to execute this mundane household task with such precision and finesse: my Mum taught me when I was young, I was a keen dressmaker in my twenties, the window-dressers in my retail career showed me…

Why not just acknowledge the compliment?

Instead I made it a fault:

“I’m so good at it, it takes me ages. I used to have to pay someone to do it badly for me!” It’s kind of a joke. Or is it?

The real truth is, I’m a perfectionist. Almost whatever I do I want to do well. Really well. Perfectly, in fact.

And it was never an issue until I started joining personal development programmes in my thirties. There I learned that perfectionism is regarded as a disorder. It attracts pitying glances and patronising comments. I played the game and pretended I wanted to rehabilitate.

But I never really changed in that respect. I learned a lot about myself and about what drives me. I discovered how to manage my emotional reactions and respond to other people’s. But secretly I still wanted to be perfect.

So, for all the other un-reconstructed perfectionists out there and everyone else who didn’t even realise it’s supposed to be a bad thing, here’s my guide to the ups and downs of being a perfectionist.

It’s a problem being a perfectionist if:

  • You obsess over small details and never feel that a job is actually complete
  • You can’t get started on a job because you’re anxious about getting it – not wrong – just not perfect
  • You get annoyed with other people who don’t share your desire for perfection
  • You constantly feel that nothing you do is good enough

It’s okay to be a perfectionist if:

  • It makes you keen to learn and practise new skills
  • It motivates you to work hard and do your best
  • You enjoy the results – high quality output and a sense of satisfaction
  • You feel proud of your achievements

You see, the thing I realised recently is that the idea that Perfectionism is a Bad Thing is born of the belief that nothing can ever be perfect. Therefore seeking perfection is a waste of time and energy and creates stress.

I hold a different belief. I believe that perfection is attainable. In my opinion, that crisp white shirt is perfectly ironed. 

I also believe that it’s good to strive towards unattainable goals. Far better that than slouching towards something you can do with no effort and can derive no satisfaction from achieving. 

Those of us who get labelled as perfectionists may sometimes suffer stress because of it. But I’d rather keep my high standards and my drive for perfection than descend into the well of mediocrity that seems to be the outcome of all that well-meaning personal development advice.

…and don’t even get me started on the number of people I interviewed for a job as a domestic cleaner who don’t know how to use an iron!

[Video] Leadership Attitudes

There's a piece of management theory that goes back some decades now that is ascribed to someone by the name of McGregor. You may have heard of it, but it has rather fallen out of fashion. Like a lot of the old management theories there's a lot of merit in them, but as we discover more and more about what makes people tick, then some of the older models have fallen by the wayside.

McGregor put forward the idea that there are two types of manager, and he called them the X type and the Y type. He said that these two types of manager had completely different attitudes to their role as leaders of other people.














7 Secrets to Self Motivation

We all need to be motivated if we're to achieve our outcomes. Sometimes we feel motivated and it's easy to get on with tasks. Other times, it isn't quite that easy. Here are the keys to harnessing your self-motivation…

1. All motivation is self-motivation. Nobody else can motivate you. What they can do, however, is either support or distract from your own motivational process. Notice whose style adds to your self-motivation and who gets in the way of it. Consider coaching some of the key people in your life in how to enhance your self-motivation or in how not to derail your motivation.

2. Very few people can perform at their best all day. Keep track of the times of day when you are mentally most alert, when you are most communicative and when you are most creative. Wherever possible plan to spend time doing the kind of task that comes easily at that time. This avoids wasting energy to motivate yourself to go against your natural inclinations.

3. If there a task you must do that doesn’t appeal to you and keeps getting put off, ask yourself, ‘What will it do for me when I’ve completed this?’ Focus on the bigger picture, rather than the actual task and you may find that it’s easier to get it done.

4. If you work well to deadlines (or to put it another way, you tend to leave things to the last minute!) then make life easier by keeping your diary clear in the run-up to important deadlines. That way you can focus on the work that has to be done for the deadline and not be distracted by other projects until it’s finished.

5. Take regular breaks. You probably know this, but do you do it? The natural rhythm of brain and
body means that few people can focus on the same thing in the same way for more than about
45 minutes. When you start to feel restless, that’s a good indicator that it’s time for a change of pace
for a few minutes. Check your email or make a phone call or get a glass of water and then you
may be surprised how easy it is to return to your original task.

6. Set yourself clear goals – long term, short term, weekly, daily. Having clear outcomes is the
greatest aid to motivation. The NLP well-formed outcomes pattern is probably the most useful
aspect of NLP in all situations. Practice it until you can’t not do it.

7. Stimulate your brain. Low motivation often comes from the stress of boredom and lack of
opportunity to achieve something new. Exposure to new ideas and different perspectives can create
a new level of engagement with familiar tasks by prompting you to review your purpose, revise your approach or raise your standards.