• Health

Is perfectionism holding you back?

Are you the type of freelancer that prizes order and perfection above all else?

Setting high standards for yourself can be a good thing. Chances are you are putting significant pressure on yourself to succeed. You might be working relentlessly, setting stratospherically high goals, or pursuing perfection to prove that you can cut it.

But perfectionism taken to the extreme can hinder creativity, breed psychological distress and depression, and prevent you from achieving goals for fear of failure. It can can be seriously destructive: a recent paper in Review of General Psychology argues that it can lead to crippling anxiety or depression, and may even be an overlooked risk factor for suicide.

If you feel driven to do excellent work, great! But flagellating yourself for not living up to sky-high ideals is not the best way to go. If you feel that your pursuit of perfection is holding you back or causing you undue stress and unhappiness, here are some helpful tips to cope:

1. Set manageable goals

Setting unrealistically high goals can be problematic. Not meeting your own unreasonable expectations could cause you to beat yourself up…and we don’t want that! Instead of setting one majorly ambitious goal, break it up into incremental, manageable actions you can take to reach your objective. Whether you tackle these tasks daily, weekly, or monthly, this approach can help you feel more in control, and appease your inner taskmaster!

2. Let some things go

Creativity and innovation require risk-taking, relinquishing control, and being comfortable with the unknown -- traits that you might not find in a rigid perfectionist. If you are a writer or artist, you may find that seeking perfection can be a major hindrance. If you are brutally critical of your own work, and compare yourself to others, you could shut down your own creative process, or be tempted to give up altogether!

3. Redefine your definition of failure

Fear of making a mistake, or being a “failure” creates an inhospitable environment for creativity or growth. Some psychologists suggest that anxiety over making mistakes may ultimately hold perfectionists back from ever achieving success. Instead of having a rigid definition of failure, view mistakes as information that you can learn from. Concentrate on what you learned, and what you might do differently in the future. You might even try to experiment by taking a risk, or doing something new where the margin for error or “failure” is high, and learning to be ok with it!

4. Don’t compare yourself

Yes, it is hard to do. Especially when your friends and colleagues broadcast their successes or life milestones on social media! However, other people aren’t you, and it can be extremely counterproductive and pointless to measure your achievements or shortcomings against everyone else. Instead, focus on what you want to do, and how you are going to make that happen. (see #1!)

5. Reach out to others

If you are feeling overwhelmed by your own exacting standards, reach out to friends, family, or other freelancers in the same boat. Don’t keep secrets about your perceived mistakes or failures – talk to others for help, mentorship or just to vent.

6. Stay open to feedback

Perfectionism often leads people to hide their mistakes instead of receiving crucial feedback. According to an article by Hara Estroff Marano in Psychology Today, the practice of concealing mistakes causes people to avoid situations in which they are mistake-prone. Sometimes it is easier for perfectionists to quit an endeavor instead of receiving criticism that could ultimately help them improve. So instead of taking a match to your manuscript after your editor made some tweaks, try and learn from others’ feedback!

7. Challenge that negative inner voice

A negative, nagging internal monologue is none too useful or pleasant, but can be very persuasive. Listening too closely to this bogus inner voice can shut down your creativity, and even influence you to give up altogether. Instead, try to challenge this insidious voice! Replace self-criticisms with more positive, rational statements about yourself and your abilities. Check out this helpful Psychology Today article for more extensive tips.

Are you a perfectionist? Has this helped you or harmed you in your personal and freelance life?