Clinical perfectionism is a problem of strategy, not outcome. Perfectionists have high standards and expectations for themselves and others. This value can be a strength, as long as perfectionistic strategies aren’t compulsively used to control thoughts and feelings.
Adaptive perfectionism is a healthy, ego-syntonic way of approaching tasks that leads to a good outcome. Clinical perfectionism occurs when anxiety and OCD hijack your values and bully you into approaching goals in a way that undermines your performance.
Some of the characteristics of clinical perfectionism include:
- Rigidly following rules (“I should or must do things this way.”)
- Every task is equally important.
- Mistakes are catastrophic.
- Repetition until it feels/looks/sounds “right.”
- Missing deadlines due to procrastination.
To shift clinical perfectionism into adaptive perfectionism:
- Prioritize based on values.
- Experiment and take risks.
- Notice when your efforts result in diminishing returns.
- Fight procrastination.
- Identify conscientious people as models.
Self-talk that reduces Clinical Perfectionism includes:
- “It’s okay for me to have high ideals. In any given moment, it’s also okay to be uncertain or make a mistake.”
- “Any progress is better than no progress.”
- “I’m willing to take a risk or make a mistake in this instance, in light of my values.”
Behavior that reduces Clinical Perfectionism includes:
- Practice guessing at the smallest next step and ending work on a task before it feels done.
- Monitor whether you do tasks in order to feel “just right,” not due to what you value.
- Bring up an attitude of curiosity so that you can learn from the consequences of your decisions and alter your future decisions. This type of learning prevents paralyzing self-criticism and eventually allows you to relax into uncertainty and being a work in progress.
Questions reflect on:
- In what areas of life do you experience clinical perfectionism?
- In what ways does clinical perfectionism undermine your performance?
- What part of your clinical perfectionism is hardest to challenge?
- If you didn’t experience clinical perfectionism, what would different about the way you approach the relevant tasks or goals?