Perfectionists have no standards

Is Audi’s “Vorsprung durch Technik” a load of BS?

Perfectionism is our worst enemy – because we are fighting an enemy that does not exist! How can you describe perfect? Please define it for me, because I had to come to the realisation that no matter how ‘perfect’ I believe something to be, it can always be improved.

Take the German car brand Audi for example. In 2017, they introduced the SQ7 TDI, described as “epitomising Vorsprung durch Technik”, “debuting three innovative new technologies that have never been seen before in a production car, combining to make the SQ7 TDI a vehicle without equal”, and “delivering unmatched versatility”. Surely, the German engineers thought of their creation as the perfect new car.

BUT, what will they think of that car when one day, they have achieved their goal of future development of the three big zeros – zero emissions, zero accidents, zero ownership? Will the SQ7 TDI still be perfect? Or even in a couple of years’ time, when they have made some minor improvements to the current model, surely this one will no longer be regarded as perfect?

Perfectionism involves putting pressure on ourselves to meet high standards, which in turn influences the way we think about ourselves and our leadership qualities. Researchers have shown that parts of perfectionism are helpful, while others are not. There is a big difference between the healthy and helpful pursuit of excellence, and the unhealthy and unhelpful striving for perfection.

The definition of perfectionism can be divided into three key parts:

  1. Relentless striving of extremely high standards
  2. Judging your self-worth based on your ability to achieve these unrelenting standards
  3. Experiencing negative consequences of setting such standards, but continuing to go for them

Out of all people, surely I need to be a perfectionist – I am Swiss after all! It has been in our genes for generations, I told myself for a long time. Unfortunately, this belief didn’t do me any good; it actually pushed me to complete exhaustion time and time again. It was a useless, deeply ingrained belief that in order to be worth my money, I needed to collapse on the couch every night. And that was still not good enough to be perfect. How could it?

We could always do much better, couldn’t we? Therefore, nothing you do is ‘perfect’. Yes, it’s true ‘nobody is perfect’ because if you believe something is perfect, somebody else will come along to proof you wrong.

Perfect doesn’t exist, therefore it can’t be measured, which means perfectionists have no standards.

There is and always will be a better, quicker way to do things. Just think of all the gadgets that have developed in businesses over time. And even if YOU think something is perfect, that’s just your opinion. I am certain that somebody else would argue differently.

I began to learn that not being perfect is a good thing, because there still is room for growth.

“You’re either green and growing or ripe and rotting.” ~ Ray Kroc

It is however amazing how many people spend an incredible amount of time and effort to be perfect. What I realised through my own experience is that my urge to be perfect was not triggered through genes but rather my lack of self-confidence, self control and the fear of not being enough. Putting my head down and making things ‘perfect’ became a space for hiding from the things that truly matter in life.

“There is no need to be perfect to inspire others. Let others get inspired by how you deal with your imperfections.” ~  Robert Tew

If you are caught up in the cycle of perfectionism, here are a few steps to overcome it:

  • Learn to recognise perfectionism – This is an important first step. Remember, there is nothing wrong with having high standards, but when the standards are too high, they can get in the way of your work and life, and create a lot of stress, frustration, anxiety and self-criticism
  • Change perfectionism thinking – Replace the self-critical thoughts with more realistic and helpful statements like ‘Nobody is perfect’, ‘All I can do is my best’, ‘Everybody makes mistakes – we are all human’, ‘It’s ok not to be pleasant all the time.’
  • Get a different perspective – See your situation from another person’s point of view. You can challenge your negative thoughts by asking yourself: “How might my best friend view this situation?”, “Are there other ways to look at this?”, “What would I tell a close friend who has similar thoughts?”
  • Look at the big picture – Keep calm and ask yourself: “Does it really matter?”, “What is the worst that could happen?”, “If the worst does happen, can I survive it?”, “Will it still matter tomorrow – next week – next year?”
  • Compromise – and be more flexible with your high standards. Ask yourself: “What level of imperfection am I willing to tolerate?”, “Who can I ask for help?”
  • Practice – Expose yourself to situations with lower than usual standards. You could for example: Stop at checking a document for mistakes after the first time; Spend 30 minutes instead of 2 hours to prepare for a 15-minute presentation etc.
  • Reward – It can be hard to face your fears and change old ways. Therefore, reward yourself from time to time (this could include taking a walk, take some time to relax, go out for a nice healthy meal etc.)
Time for action

Q: What tasks are you trying to fulfil ‘perfectly’, to the expense of other things that are on a big scale truly more important?

A:

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