The Definition of a Perfectionist

Nobody’s perfect…
— Unknown


Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.
— William Faulkner, US novelist (1897 – 1962)


In job interviews (a long, long time ago!), when I was asked about my weaknesses, one of my standard answers was “I’m a bit of a perfectionist”, as I felt this was almost a good attribute of my personality. But is it really? I didn’t know it at that time yet, but labelling myself a perfectionist turned out to be truer than what I initially thought it meant.

I initially thought perfection was the ultimate state to strive for. Just like the idiom, “If a thing is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.” And for me by doing well, meant really doing well. But I was very wrong as we’ll discover in this book.

Perfectionism Book Preface

This is not a perfect book.

It’s written by a recovering perfectionist, but this book is not by all means perfect.

It’s not imperfect and it’s not perfect… It’s just good enough.

–The Author

clouds sun rays

I am a diagnosed perfectionist. That stereotypically places me in a cohort of people entirely focused at seeking to be the best at everything we do. As a consequence we are generally competitive and have really high standards for themselves and of others. All these are commonly seen by society as “positive traits” which creates an affirmative feedback loop for the individual, rewarding what is damaging in the long term.

Perfectionists are generally ambitious people, who are likely to be gifted in a certain area of their lives either through intellect, physicality or skill. They are generally focused on one field, subject or occupation but the goal of perfection frequently leaks to the other parts of their life.

These individuals chase perfection throughout their life and uphold it as their personal maxim – although most of them will not be aware of their actions. They won’t discover their actions, behaviour or even know why they make certain career and lifestyle decisions until they fall and witness unhappiness, stagnant or unhealthy relationships or depression.

This book is generally written for two groups of people: industry professionals and perfectionists. It is for those diagnosed (or even self-diagnosed) perfectionists who are seeking to improve their lifestyle and increase their happiness. The other group of people who would be interested in this book are the industry professionals like psychology clinicians and practitioners, researchers and students. They may find the book of interest in terms of reading about the real world practical application of advice given by a licensed clinical psychologist from the viewpoint of the patient.

The main underlying idea of this book is to release perfectionists from “thinking too much” – from thinking about the past, from thinking about the future and simply living in the present. It all sounds like a very simple concept to grasp but for perfectionists, many behaviours are embedded deeply within their behavioural construct that many of these damaging thoughts and actions simply come automatically.

When I read my own story back to myself, a small part of me found it to be a highly incredible yarn. How can all this be true? Don’t I have any common sense? Didn’t I have any friends or family that would point out my unscrupulous-seeming ways? On the surface it seems like a simple problem with a simple solution. However, when you’re trapped in a loop you simply are blind to the root problem

A perfectionist will simply act like how I have. A normal person wouldn’t. And other people may be facing other psychological disorders. But we aren’t here to talk about the other people. We’re here to talk about perfectionism.

We are surrounded by things that appear perfect. We are bombarded by images of perfection. But when you come to understand reality and what it truly means to be realistic, only then you can unravel the illusions and biases that comes with perfection.

I came across an interesting story about the SR-71 Blackbird – the long range reconnaissance US-based aircraft. The aircraft was a secret operation but the planes’ existence was known. On 22 December 1964 the aircraft flew its first official test flight with Lockheed Test Pilot Bob Gilliland at the controls. When Gilliland successfully flew that flight around the airbase for an hour at 1000 mph, the aircraft itself had 383 “open items” of which he was aware of at the time. Open items are unresolved engineering and technical issues.

A plane doesn’t need to be a perfect plane to be the best or even operational. Just like you don’t need to be perfect to be successful, loved, to be highly effective or to be happy.

Continue reading

Overcoming Perfectionism: Defeat Depression & Embrace Mindfulness

Overcoming PerfectionismTo be perfect, to be flawless and not make mistakes is the greatest and highest achievement in life.

I got it so wrong.

Years of schooling, familial and social conditioning and expectations inadvertently taught me that high achievement led to ‘success’ and anything else other than the perfect result equated to ‘failure’. Perfectionism is deceptively a self defeating and limiting mindset. This book is a culmination of four years of personal reflection and research that documents my observations as well as techniques that I tried and tested to climb out of my dark places.

I’m thankful for meeting a clinical psychologist who diagnosed me as a perfectionist. I had been lost for a few decades. I was the individual that fell through the cracks; misdiagnosed as bipolar I was never warned or told by anyone that my behaviour was a candidate for the perfectionism label.

Being a perfectionist and having been that label helped me work at becoming a functional member of society once again. The irony for perfectionists is when they realise that the ‘perfect’ lives of people who aren’t perfect are in fact the reason for their happy, healthy and productive lives.

Phases of Perfectionism

The book has four main sections:

  • ‘The Definition of a Perfectionist’ which talks about the clinical definitions, healthy and unhealthy perfectionism, symptoms, causes and consequences.
  • In the Midst of it All (The Aftermath)’ discusses depression, the critical inner voice, addiction and thoughts of escapism such as suicide.
  • The Fall (Downward Spiral)’ describes the journey from perfectionism to depression, explores the symptoms in depth and procrastination.
  • Climbing Back to Recovery (Reality)’ explains the various strategies I tried and tested to help me recover from depression and extreme perfectionism.

Perfectionism Concepts

Here is a preview of some concepts discussed in the book:

  • What is the Hedonic Treadmill and how does it relate to perfectionism?
  • How your procrastination could be a sign of perfectionism.
  • An exploration of coping strategies from problem focused and emotional focused coping.
  • How to use mindfulness and meditation to manage your perfectionism.
  • How to deal with yourself talk or your critical inner voice.
  • How to set realistic expectations and goals.
  • How daily routines and daily rituals can help you.
  • What is the real meaning of being a perfectionist?
  • Examples of perfectionism in day to day life
  • Perfectionist traits and symptoms
  • How to overcome perfectionism, perfectionism treatment
  • Is there are perfectionism cure?
  • And more!

Overcoming Perfectionism” is available for purchase on Amazon Kindle or as a Paperback.