As a recovering perfectionist, one of the things I’ve had to navigate is the best way to maintain high standards and excellence without being a perfectionist.
At first glance, they seemed to be interwoven, however over time, the more I shifted from perfectionism towards putting forth my best effort for excellence, the difference became much easier to distinguish. Let’s dive in a bit deeper into the meaning of each and how you, too, can differentiate between the two and find more freedom in achieving your goals.
What is Perfection?
Perfection and perfectionism typically involves setting unrealistic goals and expectations for yourself and others. It is a belief that one must be perfect or perceived by others as being perfect to be accepted or loved. It’s an attitude, a belief, or mindset you have while trying to pursue a goal or outcome rather than the goal itself.
Perfection sets unrealistic expectations and only set you or others up for undue stress. Ironically it may actually set limits on creativity, infinite possibilities, and reaching your full potential. Because perfection is the goal, perfectionists typically have a fear of failure, which causes them to avoid taking risks that could make them feel “less than” in any way. To a perfectionist, everyone is a potential critic; the harshes critic often being themselves, which ultimately holds them back from reaching their full potential.
This critical nature can leaves perfectionists in a state of paralysis or feeling stuck, unable to start or complete things as there is fear of it not being done perfectly. This can also show up as procrastination. When someone is a perfectionist, they may feel overwhelmed and unable to break down the steps needed to complete the task or project as the perfect outcome just feels too unattainable or overwhelming.
Perfectionism is mentally and emotionally exhausting. Perfectionism’s sidekicks are typically self-judgment, self-criticism, and negative self-talk. The untold story of perfectionism is that no matter what you do, how much effort you put in, it will never be good enough. The desired outcome will always be out of reach as perfection is unattainable.
What is Excellence?
The pursuit of excellence is about the process of achievement rather than the product of achievement. The pursuit of excellence feels freer, as it has limitless potential. Excellence is not rigid, as the result does not need to fit into a perfect size box. When you focus on excellence, you focus on the positives, what is working and how they could be even better. You are focused on achieving at a high level rather than being overly attached to the outcome.
Excellence comes with more energy and motivation. It feels productive, progressive, and achievable. With excellence, you can always strive to do better, while perfection is unattainable. Excellence involves balancing accepting what is while challenging you to put forth your best effort and strive for the best outcome.
“The Pursuit of Excellence is a Journey, Not a Destination”
When you strive for excellence, depending on the situation or project, you may reach a point or time limit on the project where you can acknowledge you put forth your best effort and did the best you could. You can find acceptance and pride based on your effort more than the end result.
Regarding other ongoing things, such as being a great leader, a partner, or dedication to your health and fitness, excellence involves a regular devotion to doing the best you can each day, recognizing some days will be better and easier than others. There’s a regular devotion to your personal growth, learning, and continuous improvement to do better and be better without focusing on perfection.
When you pursue excellence, you will be fueled by personal satisfaction and peace of heart rather than seeking recognition and praise from others.
How Does Perfectionism Develop?
When it comes to perfectionism, there is often a belief that developed at some point that to be loved and accepted; you need to be perfect. At some point in life, the perfectionist learned to equate their self-worth with achievement. They have formed a belief that their self-worth is the result of what they achieve and/or accomplish in life- that they have to be perfect to be worthy, loved, and accepted.
The thing is, perfection is unattainable, so the perfectionist’s thoughts then become something along the lines of “I’m not good enough” or “I’ll be happy (or loved) when… happens.” It becomes a perpetuating cycle of constantly striving for perfection but self-critical and judgemental when it’s not achieved.
Taking time to reflect or journal on childhood and adolescent memories may help you discover connections in how you received praise, attention, and love.
5 Ways to Overcome and Heal Perfectionism
1. Mindset Shift
The first thing is to work on a mindset shift focused on the pursuit of excellence over perfectionism. Making a shift in goals from achievement-based to performance-based helps make goals realistic and achievable while leaving room to put forth your best effort.
2. Setting Boundaries
Setting boundaries involves having realistic expectations for the goal you are trying to accomplish. Having realistic expectations also requires you to have a realistic expectation of the amount of time, energy, and maybe even finances that you can put forth towards a goal or project. Setting boundaries may also require saying no or setting limits in regards to what you take on. This may also require you to relinquish control or delegate tasks to another.
3. Build Self-Confidence
Self-confidence and self-worth are a tightly woven pair. The more you develop self-confidence, the more self-worth you will find from within. Developing more confidence and self-worth helps cultivate more self-compassion, inner peace, and pride from within, rather than looking to others for recognition. The better you feel about yourself inside, the less you seek external validation and perfection.
4. Develop Mindfulness Practices
Mindfulness is which you practice being intensely aware of what you are feeling and sensing at the present moment, without judgment. A simple way to begin a mindfulness practice is to set a timer on your phone throughout the day or set a sticky note in places you will see it, such as on a post-it note you will see when you arrive at your desk. This provides you with an opportunity to just pause for a moment and check-in with yourself and what you are feeling in your body at that moment.
Part of developing a mindfulness practice may include setting an intention for the day or for a meeting, such as focusing on the positive or minimizing distractions by setting your phone aside.
5. Work with an Expert
When you work with an expert, you can specifically target any stressors or past traumas that are holding you back from shifting from a perfection mindset to that of excellence. As a Somatic, EFT/Tapping Practitioner, together, we can heal the traumas, blocks, and childhood wounds that are holding you back and keeping you stuck from reaching your full potential.
The real difference between excellence vs perfection is in your mindset. The good thing is, it’s a mindset shift that is possible for anyone to make.
Perfectionism typically involves setting unrealistic expectations for yourself, and others only set you or others up for undue stress while setting limits on infinite possibilities, creativity, and reaching your full potential. Perfectionists avoid failure and taking risks that could make them feel “less than.” To a perfectionist, everyone is a potential critic; the harshes critic often being themselves, which ultimately holds them back from reaching their full potential.
Approaching your desired goal with a desire to do the right thing and put forth consistent effort is about excellence. The pursuit of excellence keeps you building on the positive, building on what is already working, resulting in greater success.
Karla Kueber is a Certified Evidence Based EFT Practioner and Health Coach with a background in Energy Medicine and a double Masters Degree in Education. She works with people to, heal trauma, overcome their past and use it to fuel their future. You can learn more about her own healing journey here.