Here is a true story about me! I am a perfectionist. No, I don’t do things perfectly. As it relates to my hunger for the truth, I do my homework. I sometimes go a little overboard, and stay up later than my body can handle. And yes, I felt the sleep deprivation the next day just like everyone else. Perfectionism can leave you with very little time for other things. Things like sleep, cleaning up, organizing your life, working on your health or if you have children, you may not have time for your family.
What perfectionism really is?
Imagine coming home and you see several toys on the floor, the kids backpack spread all over the floor, and dishes all over the table. At dinner time, you are constantly correcting your 5-year-old on making a mess and this causes you to have a bad mood the rest of the evening. You’re upset at your spouse because they have allowed such a mess and now you have to spend the evening cleaning it up. This is one scenario that identifies the what goes inside the mind of a perfectionist.
Of course, a perfectly clean house with 2 small children is impossible. To have floors free of clutter and a spotless dining room table after dinner is setting your standards to ‘an unreachable standard.’ What happens when you don’t reach them? You get mad, frustrated, and you start to self-criticize yourself. Self-critic leads to feeling worthless, not good enough, and needing to do better. AND FOR WHAT? More stress?
We often think of perfectionism as ‘being perfect’ or ‘performing a task perfectly,’ but there is often a darker and uglier side of perfectionism. On the dark side, we experience scenarios like above. Angry parents that are constantly looking at the negatives (the mistakes, errors, and things out of place). Well, that scenario used to be me! Are you wondering if you might have perfectionist tendencies. Ask yourself these questions.
- Do you relentlessly strive for extremely high standards?
- Do you constantly judge your self-worth based on your ability to achieve these high standards?
- Do you experience negative consequences from setting these demanding standards? Or do you continue to strive for high standards despite the huge cost to you (mental, physical, social, or your relationships)?
You may not have these tendencies in all areas of your life. You may find that you don’t strive for perfection when it relates to sports, but at work you are the master controller of everything. Below is a graphic that list different areas that you can experience perfectionist behaviors:
- Close relationships
- Organizing and ordering things
- Grooming/personal hygiene
If you are answering yes to any of these statements, then keep reading.
- Nothing good comes from making mistakes.
- I must do things right the first time.
- If I can’t do something perfectly then there is no point even trying,
- I rarely give myself credit when I do, we because there is always something more I can do.
- Sometimes I am so concerned about getting one task done perfectly that I don’t have time to complete the rest of my work.
Are you nodding your head yes than let’s figure out what those behaviors are and how we can identify them. It is important to know where these behaviors affect you, so sit down and write these downs.
Examples of Perfectionist Behaviors
- Do you put off certain task for fear that it will take too much energy to complete it to your standard?
- Delaying a project or a healthier lifestyle until the time feels perfect
- Not applying to jobs for fear of never getting them
- Never tracking things for fear that a bad change will ruin your day (sleep tracking?)
- Never asking for a pay raise for fear of being denied
- Unable to decide restaurants and it becomes too late to eat
- Having trouble to decide what to wear every morning
- Not sure which color to buy so you buy one in every color
- Having other people check your work to ensure things are acceptable
- Needing to seek compliments when perform a task (like cooking or doing the laundry)
- Do you always write and re-write a list of tasks that you want to get done at the end of the day?
- Making sure to organized your office, your room, or living room before using it.
Giving up Too Soon
- Not looking for a house (job or coach) because you are sure you won’t find one which meets all your needs
- Starting classes (i.e., dancing, creative writing, or improv) and giving up because you are not as good as the teacher. Even though no one in the class is.
- Quitting a job or quitting a project because you made a mistake and you thought you would be fired.
Not knowing when to stop
- Packing necessary clothes for a trip and finding out you have packed everything as a “necessary” item.
- Arguing a point over and over, even when others have lost interest
Attempts to change other people
- Correct people when they mispronounce words
- Commenting when you feel people are being ‘politically incorrect’ or ‘speaking medically incorrect’ and guiding them to behavior that is more acceptable to you.
- Constantly over delivering. For example, proving detailed instructions on how to get to your house and then providing more detail in an email.
- Always making sure to arrive 30 minutes early to any appointments.
- Washing your babies bottles 3 times before preparing their milk.
- Folding and refolding clothing if the seams are not perfect
- Replacing items when they are damaged, slightly torn, or stained even when others cannot see the defect
- Constantly checking your work for errors
- Repeatedly checking your appearance for errors
- Constantly checking the time, just to make sure you know exactly what time it is
- Cutting out recipes or workout routines from magazines just in case you want to use them for later.
- Keeping a magazine just in case you want to reread the article later
- Keeping your taxes from 20 years back just in case you need them
Failure to Delegate
- Staying late to finish the preliminary reports that you didn’t trust your subordinates or lower ranked members on the team to perform.
- Not allowing others to perform activities (clean the house, do the dishes, mow the lawn) in fear that they will do them wrong
- Reading an article very slowly to make sure you don’t miss a detail
- Speaking slowly to ensure you say the right thing
What do I do now? Being aware is the first step.
If you are checking “yes” to any of the behaviors above, then you have perfectionist behaviors. They are not all bad! Matter of fact, a lot of professions need these types of behaviors in order to save lives. Think about doctors, nurses, pharmacist, and engineers. These types of people have to make decisions based on protocols that have to be near perfect in order to their job correctly.
The first thing we must do is to identify and be aware of the behaviors that we exhibit the most. Then ask yourself, “is this healthy or unhealthy?” Now, look for areas that you practice being a perfectionist the most. Is it healthy? Write it down and ask yourself, “can I get close to the same result by not putting in so much effort?” If so, then we can slowly start to change ourselves out of the mindset of trying to be a perfectionist.
Next article will be talking about how a perfectionist is made, how this behavior holds you back, and more ways to overcome being a perfectionist? Please subscribe and confirm to my email list, so you can get my monthly email of when I have a new health topic. Also, I am always looking for new topics and questions to answer. If you have questions, I only answer them in my email list.
To Healthy Sleep,
Dr. Zeke Medina PharmD, RPh
Holistic Adult Sleep Coach and Pharmacist