Are you a perfectionist?

You often hear it during an interview. You are the interviewer and you ask the candidate if they have any areas for improvement. Often the answer is "I'm a bit of a perfectionist." The interpretation you are meant to make from that, I am guessing, is that they're a high achiever and will therefore do an awesome job in this role.

Let's have a look at some of the thinking that may be going on inside the mind of someone who has a perfectionist thinking style.

  • they worry about making a mistake

  • they compare themselves to others

  • they are diligent at checking and rechecking their work for errors before submission

  • they get annoyed with themselves for not achieving a goal they had set themselves

  • they set themselves very high standards

Perfectionists do tend to be high achievers because of the above bullet points. However, they often don't see themselves as successful. Their thinking can be distorted.

In fact, many individuals with a perfectionist thinking style don't feel too positive about themselves. So how do they try to feel better? They set themselves very high standards. The problem is, setting ridiculously high standards means they inevitably don't achieve them a lot of the time. They fail. And that's exactly what they've been trying to avoid. Low self-esteem is therefore common among perfectionists - focusing on their failures rather than their successes.

The cycle goes something like this:

So how can perfectionists change this unhelpful way of thinking?

  1. Recognise if you have a perfectionist thinking style

  2. When you have a thought with your perfectionist hat on, challenge your thinking i.e. am I really a failure if I score 80% when I set myself the goal to score 90% and the pass rate is 75%?

  3. When you make a decision with your perfectionist hat on, challenge your decision

  4. Get perspective and see the bigger picture

  5. Tolerate not feeling perfect

Remember that failing is learning. As Carol S Dweck says “Did I win? Did I lose? Those are the wrong questions. The correct question is: Did I make my best effort? If so, you may be outscored but you will never lose."


Graphic of perfectionist-thinking cycle © Rob Kelly