By Karen Soper

Are you a perfectionist? Do you spend a lot of time “perfecting” your work so everything comes out the way you want it? Webster’s dictionary defines perfectionism as a disposition to regard anything short of perfection as unacceptable.

Most people experience an inner drive to improve their performance on some tasks, whether running a faster mile or earning a higher grade. Those who strive for excellence in a healthy way take genuine pleasure in trying to meet high standards. Perfectionism, on the other hand, can result in struggles with self-doubt and fears of disapproval and rejection.

Some perfectionists tend to be “all-or-nothing” thinkers. They see events and experiences as good or bad, perfect or imperfect, with nothing in between. Such thinking often leads to procrastination, setting standards beyond reach and reason, never being satisfied by anything less than perfection, seeing mistakes as evidence of unworthiness and becoming overly defensive when criticized.

The problem isn’t perfectionism. Perfectionism helps us to continually aim for higher standards and become better. The problem is when the quest for perfectionism turns to an obsession. We want to be healthy perfectionists who are truly achieving personal excellence, not perfectionists who are sabotaging our own personal growth. Here are 4 personal tips on how to become healthy perfectionists.

  1. Give yourself permission to make mistakes – we all make mistakes. In fact some of our most valuable learning comes from taking a non-judgmental look at the mistakes we’ve made. No one is perfect, that is why pencils have erasers.
  1. Be realistic about what you can do – By setting realistic goals, you will gradually realize that “imperfect” results do not lead to the punitive consequences you expect and fear. If you set a goal to swim 20 laps and can barely swim 15, tell yourself 15 laps is good enough. Pat yourself on the back for your effort.
  2. Set strict time limits on each of your projects. When the time is up, move on to another activity – this technique can reduce procrastination that typically comes from perfectionism.
  3. Learn how to deal with criticism – Perfectionists often view criticism as a personal attack, which leads them to respond defensively. Remember that criticism is a natural thing from which to learn, rather than something to be avoided at all costs.

Unhealthy perfectionism can be a hindrance. Healthy perfectionism, by comparison, can pay off for you. Healthy perfectionism fuels the Olympic athlete, the best-selling novelist, and the mathematician who spends years proving a theory. The attitude behind perfectionism makes all the difference.

Embrace it. Let it motivate you. Teach your children that mistakes are hurdles, not roadblocks, and prepare them to leap.

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