Are you a perfectionist? If so, you know first hand that it can be a double-edged sword. Having very high standards can optimize our performance at work and other areas of our lives. But, perfectionism can also lead to chronic dissatisfaction with achievements and fuel a sense we’re never good enough. It can also a contributing factor to writer’s block and procrastination.In our quest to write the perfect essay, we sit for hours in front of a blank screen having written nothing. Or, we think if I can’t do it perfectly, I won’t do it all and things don’t get done.
The big problem with perfection is it’s often a moving target. We tell ourselves we’ll know when we see it or when we reach it. But, really once we move beyond a multiple choice test in an academic context, what constitutes perfection is subjective. For example, what’s a perfect college admissions essay? What are the criteria to evaluate that?
In cognitive-behavioral therapy, you’ll learn how to selectively retain the advantageous aspects of your perfection, the aspects that work for you, and dispense only with the disadvantageous ones.
You’ll learn how to operationalize perfection—that means how to define it in terms of explicit criteria so you’ll definitely know when you’ve a reached it. You’ll also learn how to apply your perfectionism more selectively rather than across the board which can be exhausting and unnecessarily time consuming.
Many perfectionists have a black and white thinking style: Either I’m the best or I’ve failed. Either I win or I lose.You’ll find that by practicing a more nuanced or shades-of-grey thinking style, you’re better positioned to more realistically evaluate what’s entailed in a project and your performance.
All of these techniques will help you chip away at the belief you’re not good enough, increase self satisfaction, and enable you to use perfection only to your advantage. That’s the way to go.
Dr. Lisa Napolitano is an expert in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), and other mindfulness-based treatments. A licensed psychologist in New York and Florida, she is the Founder and Director of CBT/DBT Associates, a boutique psychology practice group. Dr. Napolitano is an expert in the treatment of stress, anxiety, worry, and emotion regulation problems. She has specifically designed her treatment approach for executives, attorneys, and other high-functioning individuals whom she believes shouldn’t have to sacrifice their careers to manage their stress and work on developing their potential.