A propensity for being displeased with anything that is not perfect or does not meet extremely high standards.
Me and my father are a lot alike. As a young teenager I, of course, didn't want to see this, but now as I'm maturing and talking with him seriously, I'm beginning to see we aren't that different. I am recognizing a lot of my traits in him and I realize now that he must've given them to me. Both the good things and bad. I mean, I'm glad he passed on a tall body and a hard jawline but I'm not very happy with the occasional depression and the perfectionism. Don't get me wrong, I love everything about him and I wouldn't want it to be any different, but the bad things have been troublesome to me. However, in our talks, I've also found that perfectionism is something that can be helped and treated, without any therapy or doctors. It just takes your own willingness to change.
What is Perfectionism?
Perfectionism is a bit hard to explain. Perfectionism is something in your brain that's always there, and it always makes you judge your own work. Perfectionism by itself is already pretty worrying, but it starts to really suck when you're a creative person. Or maybe you're a student who has to write a lot of essays for school. What perfectionism tells your brain is that you can only release your work once it's 'perfect' in your eyes. So you keep working on it until it's perfect. You keep telling yourself: 'Just a little more work and it'll be complete!'. Spoiler alert: it will never be perfect.
Perfectionism versus Creativity
I've always been highly creative myself. I draw a lot, I produce electronic music and I like to build assets for certain video games. I realized I was doing something wrong when I was working on a music project one day and I opened a folder where I stored my work in progresses: it was filled up with so many unfinished projects. Tons of them. You see, I had the idea that after working on a song for too long that it wasn't good enough and I should just toss it out because it was 'unsaveable'. I realized I could've released so many good songs, however I was so busy starting over and over again that I couldn't get one song done at all. I knew I had to change my thinking.
If you're a creative person like me, you're probably constantly working on your projects. Maybe you're into making music, maybe you're always working on a new drawing / painting or perhaps you like to write. You spend hour after hour on your piece of art, though you never finish it. 'It's not done yet,' you tell yourself. You are convinced you're gonna finish it tomorrow, 'it's nearly done already'!
Tomorrow you'll just be telling yourself the same thing again. That's perfectionism taking control of your brain. Perfectionism makes you your own worst critic: when you look at your own work of art, you always find at least one thing wrong with it. Don't get me wrong, being a bit of a critic to yourself is good, but perfectionism hijacks your brain to go in full self-critic-mode.
Stop being so critical!
When I actually found out that I'm a perfectionist, I was slightly relieved to be honest. Having a name for my (over the top) inner critic meant that I could do some research into perfectionism, and I could find a way to snap out of it. I found some interesting results and they have worked wonders for me.
1. Set deadlines
The first one on my list is setting a deadline for your work. When I would be working on my songs, I would just continue to work on them until I finally got sick of them. I mean, I didn't have an end-date to my product so I had all the time in the world to improve my work. It felt good to have so much time to work on my songs, but in the end, I never actually got any work done. I would get stuck on a certain piece of a song, I'd spend hours trying to get that melody just right, or I'd be stuck compressing that one piece just right. In the end, I would've spend 10 hours on just one little piece of the song and I was already sick of working on my music altogether. It didn't feel fun anymore and I just stopped producing all together for a couple of days again. A mini-burnout, sort of.
Setting a deadline forces you to actually get your product done before a certain date. Nowadays, I try to tell myself: "this song needs to be done before Monday"; now that gives you some pressure and motivation. You won't have the time to get your product 'perfect' and you'll have to be done with it before that. It may sound weird to 'rush' your hobbies, but it's a damn good cure for a perfectionist.
2. Listen to others
The second thing I found out is that others aren't nearly as judgmental as you are. When you're working on a chapter for a book, a painting or drawing or whatever, do show it to the people around you. You are your own worst critic so it'll never be good enough in your own eyes. However, others are far less judgmental and chances are they absolutely love the stuff you're making! I found this out when I started publishing some of my drawings. People were very positive about them, even though I didn't like them that much. Having people praise your work so much is a great motivator to keep on going!
3. Just finish stuff!
Finally, I discovered that it's way better to just keep on releasing whatever you're making. You might want to wait until it's perfect but that means it won't be released at all. And that's bad, because you're a creative person, and you want the world to see! So, whenever you're working on something, even if it's sub-par, just release it. You'll get better over time. You just need to keep on releasing those projects! After some time, you'll even have a cool little timeline showing your progress from amateur to master. How cool is that? And an additional benefit of just releasing your stuff is that you can get some good constructive feedback from the people viewing it, which means your next project will already be better than the one before!
In conclusion, the most important thing to do for yourself as a perfectionist is just limit your freedom. This might sound odd, but setting deadlines for yourself and forcing yourself to actually finish project will make you change your thinking. You'll become less of a self critic and you'll grow more proud of yourself for completing and releasing projects. After a while, your brain will adapt and you'll be able to silence your self critic more and more (remember, a little self criticism is healthy, but not on perfectionist-level!).
This has been my personal take on perfectionism. I hope it helps you artists, students and working people out there!