It's a common myth that high standard are always a good thing. Virtually every psychological problem has within it the seeds of ultra high personal standards. If you're reading this you may be tempted to say 'Are you saying it's better to have NO standards, I couldn't do that'. And in this imaginary interchange the problem is revealed. Ultra high standards are held by perfectionists. It is a variation on a black and white thinking style. You know the kind of thing; it's fantastic or it's useless. It's perfect or it's a failure.
Perfectionists set themselves very high personal standards and then they judge their performance against those standards. If they fail to meet them (which they often do because they are so high) they are very self critical, and may feel that everything they have worked for is at risk and even that they are failing.
Alternatively if they do meet their standards they think they have set them too low and that's why they succeeded.
So what can we do about this pervasive and frankly unhelpful process?
Well, I have made a list of good standby strategies you can use to off-set the debilitating need to be perfect. Spoiler alert...no one is perfect and nothing is perfect. So the whole attempt to be 'perfect' is doomed. But you can still be brilliant.
1.There is nothing wrong with you, you are fine just as you are. Your high standards may seem quirky and helpful and 'just how you are' but they going to bite you in the bum at some point so you may was well take control of them now and enjoy your life journey instead being self critical.
2. You are probably depending too much on your own evaluation of how you are doing. The problem is that you are heavily biased in favor of what you have always done. You may not even see the process of perfectionism in action. So ask a trusted friend to calibrate what you think against what they think. Two heads are better than one and just the act of opening up your perfectionist tenancies to the wider world can have a refreshing and releasing effect on you.
3. Stress often makes you fall back on tried and tested methods of problem solving even if they are useless! When you get stressed you will apply your perfectionist tool kit even harder. You will work harder, raise your already high standards and criticize yourself even more.
4. If you wouldn't say it to another person don't think it of yourself.
5. Practice keeping a diary of the critical things you say to yourself. It can be put in a worksheet that has these headings:- (1) Triggering events, (2) Self critical thoughts and (3) Associated feelings. Being able to see your critical thoughts written down has a powerful balancing effect.
6. Develop a compassionate voice you can use to challenge your harsh critical voice. Imagine the voice of a close friend who loves and cares for you. They understand what you struggle with and how much you care about things. But they also speak from a place of love and compassion. Give this voice a name an use it to speak to yourself about how you are doing. Especially when you are feeling overwhelmed. The change of voice tone is a powerful intervention to help you remain balanced and feeling in control.
7. Learn to forgive yourself for being human. You would forgive other people for their mistakes so give yourself the same leeway you afford others.
8. Challenge your faulty thinking styles. These are conclusion jumping (jumping to conclusions without adequate evidence; perfectionism being an example of that). Crystal gazing (imagining your know something you could not possibly know) and Talking down (talking yourself, others or the world down). If you want a free copy of my e-book on faulty thinking please click here.