The Not-Enough Perfectionist

This brief article deals with the Not-Enough Perfectionist, where you always believe that you must do more to make a project good enough. The Ease Capacity is the healthy capacity that you want to have instead of Perfectionism.

Wisdom of the Ease Capacity

The Ease Capacity includes the following insights:

a.) Excellence usually doesn't simply mean a lack of mistakes. It is much more than that--creativity, presence, innovation, and so on. There are only a few arenas in which a complete lack of mistakes is of overriding concern. For example, in gymnastics competitions, proofreading, and brain surgery, it is crucial to eliminate mistakes as much as possible. However, in creative dance or creative writing, it is the quality that matters, not how perfect it is.

In addition, some projects require a high level of excellence, and others just need to be good enough for their purpose. This depends on both the nature of the project and your reasons for doing it. For example, Sam has been working on the literature review for his dissertation. His Perfectionist Pattern keeps telling him that he has to keep reading and develop a more complete list of all the published articles in the subject area of his dissertation.

However, he has already been working on the lit review for a long time and has an extensive list. He now realizes that it is more important to finish his dissertation, graduate, and get on with a new project that is waiting for him. Having the most perfect literature review is not so important; he needs to move on to other things.

b.) Proportion and balance in life are very important for your well-being. This includes the ability to take care of yourself, enjoy life, relax, be with your loved ones, and so on. It also includes having time to spend on a variety other tasks that need attention. If you put all your energy into one project, the rest of your life will suffer.

Keeping in mind the wisdom of the Ease Capacity, let's now look at the life situation for which this wisdom would be helpful.

Working Through the Fears of the Not-Enough Perfectionist

The situation that activates this type of Perfectionist involves trying to decide whether to turn in a project or continue to work on it. There are two related things that the Perfectionist Pattern might be afraid of: (1) Your project isn't good enough, or (2) the person or people who will receive and evaluate your project are harsh, judgmental, or rejecting. It is important to evaluate, from a centered place, whether or not these fears are accurate and realistic. Then you can decide what to do.

Unrealistic Fears

If your fears are unfounded and those receiving your project are reasonable people, there are a number of possibilities:

1. The project is excellent as it is, and that will be recognized.
2. The project is good enough. You won't get any flak, so it is more important to turn your attention to other things.
3. The project isn't good enough yet, but you won't be judged or suffer repercussions for turning it in. They will just tell you it needs more work, and you can keep working on it to improve it.

Therefore, there is no problem with turning it in as it is or asking for feedback about whether more work needs to be done.

Realistic Fears

Suppose the people evaluating your work are harsh and judgmental. Then you will want to make a serious effort to be sure the project meets their standards so as to minimize the chances of being attacked. However, even if you do get judged or shamed, you can handle that. You won't fall apart. You have many more internal and external resources for dealing with this situation than you did as a child.

Devise a plan for how you will respond if your work receives a harsh response. Here are some options:

1. If the judgments are accurate and not harsh, you will learn from them and not get triggered.
2. If the judgments are accurate but harsh, you will learn from them, and you will say something like the following: "I appreciate your feedback, but I would prefer if you could convey it in a more kindly way."
3. If the judgments are inaccurate, you will assert yourself in standing up for your point of view while also looking to find common ground with the person.
4. If necessary, you will set limits on evaluations that are so angry or harsh as to cause you emotional harm. For example, you might say, "It isn't OK to yell at me like that, whether or not you are right."

Work out this plan, put it into operation, and keep a record of your results. Be aware that it may take time for the plan to succeed.

Once you have worked out your plan, you know that you don't need to get extreme about trying to make your work perfect. You can make a reasonable effort and then turn in your project.

Jay Earley, PhD, is a psychologist, teacher, trainer, and author who has created the Pattern System. He is the author of "Self-Therapy", "Activating Your Inner Champion" "Letting Go of Perfectionism" and many other books. See his websites,


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