Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, pinpoints how perfectionism impacts us negatively: “Not being perfect, we reject ourselves,” he writes.
It’s true. Many people condemn themselves for failing to live up to the often inflated, sometimes impossible expectations they set for themselves.
This can include failing to get a perfect performance review, a perfect score, a perfect grade, or keep a perfectly neat house.
Many of us put ourselves down for our lack of discipline, for losing things, for failing to accomplish goals or make deadlines.
Momentary disappointment in ourselves is understandable … even endurable. What doesn’t serve us is the prolonged self-badgering and self-loathing–dwelling on our imperfections and mistakes.
Ruiz comments on how we differ from the rest of the animal kingdom.
“How many times do we pay for one mistake? The answer is thousands of times. The human is the only animal on earth that pays a thousand times for the same mistake.
“The rest of the animals pay once for every mistake they make. But not us. We have a powerful memory. We make a mistake, we judge ourselves, we find ourselves guilty, and we punish ourselves.
“If justice exists, then that was enough; we don’t need to do it again. But every time we remember, we judge ourselves again, we are guilty again, and we punish ourselves again, and again, and again.
“If we have a wife or husband he or she also reminds us of the mistake, so we can judge ourselves again, punish ourselves again, and find ourselves guilty again. Is this fair?”
Where does perfectionism spring from?
Rick, a client, was told by his boss that he should learn Chinese. Doing so would result in a promotion and new opportunities. But fear of failure—any failure—stood in his way.
In one of our sessions, Rick and I took a look at his past.
“As a child, I wasn’t praised for trying, “he said, “I was praised for getting it right.” Consequently, he refrains from attempting new things. The fear of being less than perfect has handicapped his life.
New findings suggest that teachers get better results when students are praised for merely raising their hands—for trying—instead of nailing the right answer.
Mastering anything requires patience and practice. We seem to forget that even something as basic as learning our alphabet was an evolving process—one that started with nothing but a bunch of perplexing symbols on a chalkboard.
Check out this illuminating TedX talk by Carol Dweck, a Standford University professor of psychology and researcher on mindset. She shares her findings on a fresh new model that activates ambition, motivation and confidence. The success rates suggest that it has the potential for being a game-changer in the classroom as well as in the workplace. The results are promising—kids persevere in the face of “failure” and allow mistakes to motivate them instead of paralyze them. The meanings of effort and difficulty can be transformed to create a pathway to success rather than discouragement.