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Why successful people are rarely perfectionists

Do you identify as a perfectionist - or know someone who believes it makes them or their team, more productive? The truth is - it’s often not the success enabler it’s thought to be. In fact it could be causing some pretty serious damage.

In this article we take a look at what perfectionism is, why it might actually be the enemy of success - and share our thoughts as to what really builds fulfilling lives.

Let’s start by debunking a myth - that perfectionism is about having high standards and therefore it must be a good thing. Of course, having high standards is a good thing - but perfectionism, and its impact on others, risks stifling both the people and the ideas that lead to success.

So, what is perfectionism?  It’s a personality trait characterised by a person's striving for flawlessness and setting high performance standards. It’s accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others' evaluations.

Here’s why the high standards perfectionists set, and the way they go about achieving them, are actually counterproductive to success:

It prevents experimentation

Insisting on perfect doesn’t allow for learning, the process of trying something, getting feedback and improving. It’s binary, it’s either perfect or it isn’t. Advances in pretty much everything involve some form of trial and error. Sadly many people with perfectionism don’t achieve all they could in life because it’s never good enough.

It’s inefficient

Tinkering, tweaking and waiting for perfect is inefficient, it is more effective to take action adjusting for improvement as you go. Perfectionists often end up throwing our perfectly good ideas, strategies or relationships and starting again rather than building. That’s hardly good for productivity or the best use of your time - which is why our Time Mastery strategies are designed to boost the efficiency of both leaders and their teams.

It’s anxiety inducing and can damage your mental health

The biggest problem perfectionists have is their own life experience is diminished by their perfectionism. It’s hard to be happy, content or satisfied with life when you are always finding fault. This can also have serious implications for your health - with a BBC article suggesting it is nothing short of dangerous.

So, if not perfectionism, what builds success?

Successful people, and by that we mean people who are living fulfilling lives, are rarely perfectionists because it cripples actual progress and keeps people stuck. Instead of perfectionism, they aim for excellence instead.

Excellence - and how to measure it

The Pareto Principle of 80/20 is well known but there are other measurements of excellence out there. Even scientists don’t insist on 100% perfection, it’s common to run successful experiments when you are confident you’ve got it 90% right. Giving it 110% really only exists on the X Factor because it’s statistically impossible!

Step by step progress

Making step by step progress is an iterative process that builds on what you’ve already achieved. It also gets around the all or nothing mindset, which is another common feature of perfectionists. This enables you to chart your progress and gives you a sense of pride and excitement as you work towards excellence.

Planning - a key tool for recovering perfectionists

We are big fans of planning, breaking the goal or dream down into steps that you can take action on and then get feedback as to what’s working and what to improve. Then you can maintain your high standards whilst enjoying the process - and dare I say it - get a better outcome as a result.

We’ve written a free guide, ‘Goal Setting That Works’ - all about how you can prepare yourself mentally, practically and spiritually to design and action goals that work. Download it here.

What’s more, if you feel that coaching or training would help to unpick the root causes of perfectionism - for yourself or your team - please get in touch.


For further information

If you want to read a more in depth article on perfectionism, you might find this article from Psychology Today of interest. If you’d like to take a deeper dive into our training, coaching and personal development services and free resources, explore the Monkey Puzzle website.

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If you’d like our support in making these ideas work for you and your business, please get in touch.

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