Clinical perfectionism

Let’s come back to the concept of clinical perfectionism as a problem of strategy, not outcome. We’re not challenging your high standards and desire to do a great job. We’re challenging the strategies your mind uses to achieve your goals. Perfectionism shifts from being workable and effective to unworkable and ineffective when:

  • You prioritize achieving a feeling like certainty, completeness, or control rather than prioritizing solving the problem. 
  • You flip back and forth between procrastinating starting tasks and reaching diminishing returns on tasks you start. 
  • You avoid decisions, feel paralyzed when making decisions, and/or become filled with doubt and regret after making decisions.
  • You think there is actually a right answer for questions that are inherently uncertain. 

This week, we’ll review what we’ve already discussed and expand on it based on your questions and experiences. 

What we learned last week:

  • Call an audible. Rather than taking a guess when you feel indecisive, I love the concept of calling an audible. Like a football game, it implies that you’ve done the work to practice a strategy, but during game time, the specifics of the situation require that you make an unexpected call as best as you can with the information you have. You are not irresponsibly guessing, but rather choosing to “call an audible” because it’s what life requires. Thank you, Friday morning group, for this analogy. 
  • Just because you can do better doesn’t mean you should or must. Clinical perfectionism will tell you that if you can make it better, you should or must. Alternatively, you can prioritize based on your values. Yes, you could do that task better. You can also do literally anything other than that choice. Does anxiety always get to make that decision for you? Under what conditions does anxiety answer? Under what conditions do you prioritize based on your values?
  • When someone comments on your anxiety or stress level, think of it as an opportunity. It’s an incidental emotional perfectionism exposure. It’s okay to have sensations and feelings and it’s okay for them to be visible to others. If you don’t believe this and resist it, your sensations and feelings will get worse and be more likely to be visible to others. When someone asks, “Are you okay?” or something equivalent, try answering “Thank you for noticing. I am feeling anxious and stressed.” See what happens. Let’s discuss more in group, particularly Tuesday and Wednesday night. 
  • What if there isn’t a right answer? In many situations, some solutions are more effective than others. Most people can see when that’s happening. When they experience a situation where several options could be workable, clinical perfectionists can become paralyzed by the desire to choose the best or right answer. Try shifting the way you frame uncertainty in these moments to opportunity over threat. All options are opportunities for further growth and learning, rather than one is right and the rest are threats to the right answer.