Do you have goals and good intentions, but never actually manage to follow through with them? Do you overthink every single decision you have to make, even the smallest ones? And do you work hard and achieve things, but never feel like it’s good enough?
Ever thought that you might be a perfectionist?
If you’re thinking: ‘’A perfectionist? But I’m not perfect? My house is always messy and my desk is never clean. How can I be a perfectionist?’’
I understand where you’re coming from, but you don’t have to be perfect to be a perfectionist. I never thought I was a perfectionist either. My room was messy and my clean desk policy never lasted longer than a day. But when I started my blog, I was struggling and I felt like something was holding me back.
I was overthinking every single thing and procrastinating on writing blogposts.
I couldn’t figure out why I wasn’t putting out more content, even though I had the best intentions and enough ideas. And I couldn’t figure out why it took me so long to write blogposts, even though I had enough time to do it.
But when I heard about perfectionism, everything fell into place.
Everything I had been struggling with, was in some way the result of perfectionism, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. Looking back I can see how it has influenced my life for a very long time, in school and jobs for example.
Perfectionism and shame
What I’m trying to say is that you don’t have to be perfect to be a perfectionist. Perfectionists aren’t perfect people, but they’re people who feel afraid and ashamed of not being perfect.
As Brené Brown says in her book ‘’The gifts of imperfection’’: Shame is the birthplace of perfectionism. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame. It’s a shield to protect ourselves.
Perhaps you’re dealing with some of the same struggles as me, but don’t really know why or where it’s coming from. That’s why I want to share 10 signs that you might be a perfectionist in this blogpost today.
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1. All-or-Nothing Thinking
This basically means that when you’re doing something, you’re either doing it perfectly or you’re not doing it at all. There’s no in between.
Take working out as an example. If you have an all-or-nothing mindset, you’ll either work out every single day or not at all. We think that if we don’t work out every day and if we don’t do it perfectly, that we won’t the get results we want.
Putting in an effort and not getting the results we want, is vulnerable and we run the risk of shaming ourselves. And so, if we miss a day, we feel that it’s best to abandon it altogether, because we don’t want the outcome to be anything less than perfect.
In the all-or-nothing mindset there’s no gray area in which we allow ourselves to make mistakes or not be entirely perfect.
But because we don’t allow ourselves to fail, there’s also no room to learn from our mistakes and grow.
If you’re a perfectionist, procrastinating is something you’re probably very familiar with.
Perfectionists LOVE to procrastinate.
You want to do something, have a plan in place and know exactly what you need to do. The only problem is that you’re not actually doing it and keep putting it off by procrastinating.
We procrastinate in order to avoid a certain task. Doing that task may require us to go out of our comfort zone or do something we’ve never done before.
That can make us feel uncomfortable and vulnerable, because we have a chance that it’s not ‘perfect’ and we’ll fail to meet our high standards.
If we fail to reach these standards, it can make us feel or seem imperfect. On top of that, we run the risk of disappointing ourselves and others or others may judge us.
So if we just avoid the task altogether by procrastinating, we can’t fail at it. And if we can’t fail, it can’t cause us any pain.
3. Fear of Failure
Being afraid to fail and make mistakes. It’s one of the things that has held me back in so many things in life and that I constantly kept running into: In school, during internships, in jobs…
If you’re a perfectionist, making mistakes and failing is just not an option.
Even though we intellectually know that making mistakes allows us to learn and grow, subconsciously we’re not accepting that of ourselves.
We do everything in our power not to make mistakes or fail, because then people might see that we’re not perfect. It’s vulnerable, it can be painful and we may feel shame. So instead, we go for the safe option and that is to just avoid doing that thing that we would like to do.
It’s such a shame, because we have so much potential!
4. Fear of Judgment
How often have you decided not to do or say something, because you were afraid of being judged by others? It has happened to me so often, and it sucks!
By not doing what we want to be doing and not stepping into our purpose, we’re holding ourselves back. We limit our own potential.
If we do something that we think is different from what people would expect from us and we put ourselves out there, we are vulnerable. We’re afraid that people will see that we’re not perfect and that they will judge us for it.
Often, these judgments from others that we’re afraid of are actually judgments and insecurities that we have about ourselves.
We assume that people will think that we’re stupid when we start our own business. Or that people will think that we’re boring when we choose to stay at home to read a book instead of going to a party.
We think people will judge us like this, but it’s actually our own judgments and insecurities that we’re projecting onto other people.
Just remember: it’s all in your own head.
5. Having Extremely High Standards
Perfectionist are known for having extremely high standards for themselves.
Standards that we wouldn’t even expect others to meet, and yet we expect ourselves to meet them.
Because of these high standards we set for ourselves, we spend a lot of time trying to do things perfectly. Or we try to avoid them and procrastinate as long as possible, because we’re afraid that we won’t be able to meet our own high standards.
We’re afraid that we potentially put something out into the world that is anything less than perfect that could put us in a vulnerable position that could cause shame or judgment.
Perhaps you can see the high standards you are setting for yourself: getting high grades for every subject in school, doing the best work in your job, being the best mom.
6. Never Feeling Good Enough
As a result of having such extremely high standards, a lot of perfectionists struggle with not feeling good enough.
It’s a never-ending story: No matter what you do, achieve or accomplish, it’s never good enough. So you try harder, better and more, but it’s still not good enough. So you try again…
You are convinced that whatever you do or achieve is never quite right. And we criticize ourselves for the outcomes.
I had extremely high standards for my school work in university and I was fixated on getting high grades for every single subject. I couldn’t be satisfied with a just a good grade. If I received an average grade, I would criticize myself for not having done better, or for not having put in enough effort.
For a lot of perfectionists, their self-worth is tied to our achievements. We equate our belief of ”it’s not good enough” with ”I’m not good enough”. Over time that can really make you feel unhappy and lead to a low self-esteem.
So even though it may seem like perfectionism and having extremely high standards is serving you (because you’re getting high grades for example), it’s actually not.
7. People Pleasing
How often have you said ‘yes’ to something when you actually wanted to say ‘no’? Do you always go the extra mile for others at work, in your family or in friendships? Do you always want to make other people happy?
People pleasing is very common for people with perfectionistic tendencies.
We put other people need’s before our own, because we’re seeking the approval of others. We think that we’re not good enough and we’re afraid that other people will disapprove of us.
There is this belief that we have to please people in order for them to like us. However, their approval doesn’t take our self-doubts away, so we keep trying to please them over and over again.
As a result, taking care of ourselves comes in second place and over time we may lose touch with ourselves.
Perfectionists love to overthink every single thing, whether it’s big or small. We love to analyze everything into the tiniest, little details and are very indecisive.
What should the name of my company be? Is it a strong name? Will it attract the right people?
Why did my best friend say that thing last night? What did she mean? How should I respond to it?
You’re probably very familiar with this.
You may think that if you think long and hard enough about something, you can make the perfect decision.
You probably think that overthinking is a smart thing to do and that it helps to prevent you from making the wrong decision or doing the wrong thing. But it’s is actually just a form of procrastination.
Overthinking is a mechanism that you think will protect you from feeling shame.
It gives you an excuse not to take action. Because as long as you’re overthinking, you don’t have to take action. If you don’t take action, you can’t fail and disappoint others or ourselves.
Overthinking is very costly in terms of time and energy and only rarely does it actually help to make a better decision.
9. Waiting for the Perfect Time to Start
You have good ideas and intentions, but it seems like it’s never the right moment to get started.
Perhaps it’s because you think you don’t have enough time to get started, or you don’t have enough confidence, motivation or knowledge yet. So what do you do instead? You wait. Wait for more time, for more motivation, for more confidence.
But why are you waiting?
Getting started on something makes us feel vulnerable and because of that we try to avoid it. We tell ourself that we’re not confident enough or not motivated enough yet as an excuse not to get started.
We wait for the perfect circumstances to get started. However, if we keep coming up with excuses, the circumstances will never be good enough for us to get started. And so we’ll keep on waiting.
You can wait as long as you want, but you’ll never feel completely ready when you start. The only way to feel more confident and more motivated is by breaking through that vulnerable feeling and actually getting started.
10. Not Following Through with Plans
Perfectionists are very good at planning, but not so good at following through with those plans. Planning gives us that feeling of being productive and organized, and we love to feel that way!
However, following through with your plans is challenging, especially if it’s something that’s new to you. It’s uncomfortable and vulnerable because you’re putting something out there, but you don’t know if you can do it perfectly or if other people will judge you for it.
I can’t tell you how many times I just closed my planner mid-week because I noticed that I hadn’t really done a whole lot that was on there.
I felt bad about myself because I couldn’t even do what I had set out to do. And putting aside my planner was a lot easier than being faced with all the plans I’d made but hadn’t followed through with.
If that happens to you too, you might feel that you can’t trust yourself anymore to follow through with your plans. It’s frustrating, especially when you know that you have the potential to do it.
Just one more thing…
I hope this article has given you some insights into perfectionism. Perhaps it has finally become clear to you that perfectionism is the cause of some of your biggest your struggles, just like I found out it was for me.
If you want to know more about perfectionism and it’s relation to shame, I highly recommend Brené Brown’s book ”The gifts of imperfection”. It has really opened my eyes on perfectionism and gave me a lot of insight into why we’re perfectionists. You can also watch her TED Talk on YouTube, it’s seriously AMAZING!
I’d love to hear in the comments below if you’re a perfectionist and how you found out that you’re a perfectionist. Which of these 10 signs do you struggle with and is holding you back the most?