Seeking out the roots
Dave said that being a perfectionist at work was starting to feel exhausting. He found himself spending too much time being perfect on things like routine e-mails, proposals and presentations.He wanted to make a change; but that was the only way he knew how do to things.The first step in changing an old pattern such as this one, is becoming aware of what is behind it.For Dave, awareness of what was driving his perfectionism lifted the whole issue from a subconscious level to a conscious level. It allowed Dave to see what he was doing and why he was doing it — and this in turn gave him the ability to choose a different way to be.I asked Dave to close his eyes, relax and breathe — and to try to put into words the subconscious beliefs that were telling him all his work needed to be perfect.He was quiet for a few minutes, and then was able to come up with the following beliefs:• If I don’t do a perfect job, my coworkers will think I am not good enough and will not want to work with me.• If my project management isn’t perfect on my accounts, my boss will think I am a “B” player, and he won’t like me any more.• If I am not perfect in this presentation, the clients will think I am not as smart as they are, and they won’t respect me.Every perfectionist is driven by his or her own unique beliefs. Dave was clearly feeling a strong need for approval at his workplace. Subconsciously he thought that if he were “perfect,” everyone would like and respect him.As a rule of thumb, we can trace many personality “quirks” to our relationship with our parents. I asked Dave to think about how he and his parents related when he was a child.“I felt like the only way I could get attention from my dad was to be perfect in school,” he responded. “It seemed like the only thing that worked with him.”Clearly this was the original driving force behind Dave’s need to be perfect: As an adult, he is still trying to get his Dad’s approval (through his coworkers).Subconscious thinking that makes you do things you don’t want to do is never valid.The next step was finding the truth. I asked him to make statements that were real and true to replace the thinking that was holding him back.• If I am not totally perfect, my coworkers would not even notice, and it would not change the way they see me.• Even if I were less prepared for meetings, people would still think I’m good at my job.•I am totally qualified to do my job and I don’t need to prove myself all the time by being perfect.Dave clearly saw that being perfect was not necessary to get approval in the work place.With this truth in mind, Dave saw that he could ease up a little, and still deliver. In our work together, we agreed that he would practice being less perfect in specific situations, just to see how it worked for him. The results of those “tests” were just what we both predicted: less agonizing for him, and nobody even noticed.After experimenting with “loosening up” a little, Dave had a realization: “All the extra time it’s been taking me to be perfect in my job means I’ve been working 50 to 60 hours a week when everyone else puts in 40 or 45. My life is out of whack because I don’t have enough down time. I’m stressed and I know I can be stressful to be around. People would probably like me better if I weren’t so uptight.”The truth for Dave was the opposite of his old thinking: People would like him more if he wasn’t so stressed out by trying to be perfect.Brooke Loening is a life coach in Sharon who works with individuals, and runs weekly coaching groups on achieving growth in career, health and relationships. Contact him at email@example.com.