Paralysis of perfection: the fear of making mistakes

Paralysis of perfection: the fear of making mistakes

Sometimes we want so much to achieve perfection and do our best that all we get is getting stuck. Has this ever happened to you? We explain why it happens. 

Paralysis of perfection: the fear of making mistakes

Written and verified by the psychologist GetPersonalGrowth.

Last update: 15 November 2021

The paralysis of perfection indicates that state in which we want with all our strength to reach 200% of our potential, but what we get is 0%. He advised, Salvador Dalì, not to be afraid of perfection, because we will never reach it. But apparently the brain can't help but feed this ideal, this unhealthy need.

In the history of cinema, it seems that there was no director as perfectionist and obsessed with details as David Lean. Thanks to Lean, we can enjoy unforgettable films such as Lawrence of Arabia, The Bridge on the River Kwai or Doctor Zhivago. His mania for perfection in every shot was maddening, and the crew exhausted by constant demands.

The anecdote is famous in which, while filming Doctor Zhivago, Lean demanded a field of snow-covered poppies. An impossible conjunction that caused a considerable delay in filming, as well as economic losses. As biographers say, his desire to achieve perfection in every film cost him periods of depression and despair, as well as discontent among collaborators and actors.

American writer Pearl S. Buck assures that the pursuit of perfection makes some people downright unbearable. To this we must add another non-negligible aspect: emotional suffering and psychological wear and tear.

I wanted perfection and ruined what was good.

– Claude Monet –

Paralysis of perfection: what does it consist of?

Science tells us that young people are more perfectionists than ever. The study conducted at the University of Western Ontario in Canada showed that perfectionism has increased dramatically since 1990. Millennials, therefore, find themselves struggling against this dimension much more than previous generations.

This comes at a high cost in terms of anxiety disorders, stress, depression, and even eating disorders. The most common phenomenon is certainly the paralysis of perfection. But what exactly does it consist of?

Paralysis of perfection and fear of failure

The term paralysis of perfection refers to blocking fear of making mistakes, of not meeting our expectations and those of others. In this way, when we approach a project, a job or simply an innovative idea, it is common to say to ourselves: “this time I will give my best, I want to offer something exceptional”.

But often, after such a resolution, we feel paralyzed by stress. AND, when stress and anxiety take over the mind, creativity doesn't emerge. Because our psychological universe does not function in high emotional states. When the fear of failure paralyzes us, goodbye innovation and creative ideas.

Where does this desire for perfection come from?

It is well known that behind the paralysis of perfection lies the fear of failure and disappointment. But why do we have this fear? Why, instead of enjoying the creative process, are we gripped by anxiety? There are several hypotheses that explain this attitude:

  • Much of the pursuit of perfection is mediated by education and culture. How many parents foment in their children the need to achieve excellence in everything they do! This can ultimately lead to too much demand of ourselves.
  • On the other hand, other factors come into play such as a lack of self-confidence or even an excessive workload. Sometimes, we have a lot of backlogs and too much pressure about it. If we add to this the need to do everything perfectly, anxiety freezes us.
  • Another typical situation, in a business or organizational setting, is when the leader has to make a decision about a specific problem. He will analyze a lot of information and evaluate multiple strategies. Simply taking more data into account can lead to the phenomenon known as analysis blocking.

How to manage the block by aspiring to perfection?

Stuck, stressed, scared, nervous, even exhausted. Paralysis of perfection subjects us to a disabling, unproductive and distressing psychological state. It doesn't matter how great the person is. Skills and knowledge lose value if we let ourselves be carried away by the mental fog originating from fear and anxiety. What can we do in these circumstances?

3 strategies to reduce the paralysis of perfection

The first strategy is simple: relax and expand the focus of attention. One mistake that people obsessed with perfection make is to focus on the details, to take care of things that are so minute that they lose perspective.

Sometimes, moving away from an object we see it better. When the mind is rested, good ideas are born. Disconnecting and reconnecting with greater intensity is the best solution.

Another essential strategy is to improve self-confidence. Expecting too much does not put us in a position to enjoy "the journey". Of course, ambition can work in our favor. However, we must make sure that this attempt to overcome ourselves does not end up damaging self-esteem. Treating ourselves with kindness and trusting in our abilities is crucial.

Finally, brooding needs to be mastered. Obsessive and negative ideas, the mind that does not stop working without taking a precise direction, are the engine of the paralysis of perfection. Let's avoid falling into this tiring rumination circle. We try, as much as possible, to reduce our worst enemy: the need to be perfect.

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