How Perfectionism Can Be Good

Perfectionism can be good! But you need the right one because there are two different types: Adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism. As an adaptive perfectionist (the better type of perfectionism) you have high achievement expectations but allow yourself small mistakes for the greater good. You have high standards and you are more critical about your work so you can achieve good results. The best part about adaptive perfectionism ist, that creativity is maximized by persons with moderately high levels of this type of perfectionism.

Maladaptive perfectionists (the perfectionism to avoid) are more likely to procrastinate because they try to avoid mistakes. They are more concerned with making mistakes and with reaching high levels of standard. They think that they are not allowed to do mistakes or do bad work, because they want perfect results. Because of this, maladaptive perfectionism harms your performance!

You can have both types in different situations and different intensities. The goal here is to try to use the adaptive one to your advantage and avoid maladaptive perfectionism. I’ll show you four steps, how to get from maladaptive to adaptive perfectionism.

How to go from a maladaptive to an adaptive perfectionism in 4 steps.

Identify your type of perfectionist you are and when perfectionism occurs

Step 1: Identify your type of perfectionism and when it occurs

If you struggle with perfectionism you probably have already the maladaptive type in the area where you experience those negative perfectionism. You probably wouldn’t count it as bad, if it is the adaptive type. Try to find out why. Is there an area of your creative life, where you allow yourself mistakes? If yes, why? Find out where you struggle the most and where you want to be perfect but struggle less. The better you identify your own problems, when it occurs and how you dealt with them in the past, the better you can change yourself.

If you have determined that, then we try in the next steps to change your maladaptive perfectionism to an adaptive one.

Be aware of the challenging process and obstacles of perfectionism gif

Step 2: Be aware of the challenging process and obstacles.

Fixing perfectionism itself is difficult, even impossible. But we can change how we react to these stressful experiences to alleviate negative effects. Therefore we need to change the self-critic in ourselves. We need to start to allow us to do mistakes.

There will be obstacles and setbacks that will come in this process of change. If you already tried to change, you will know that. A bad day, something not working, not seeing progress, and much more can set you back to zero. Try to visualize those risks that could come in your way to free yourself from your bad perfectionism. Lay down, close your eyes, and envision how you can (and probably will) fail. Figure in your imagination already out, how you get over those failures. If you do that, you will be ready when the adverse environment in the future is trying to stop you!

To allow mistakes and get better over obstacles and setbacks we need to change our mindset as well. It is also not easy and takes time, but it works. Therefore be aware of the challenging process that awaits you.

Change your perfectionist mindset gif

Step 3: Change your mindset.

There is a fixed and a growth mindset. With a fixed mindset, you think you can’t change. A growth mindset on the other hand is a belief that abilities are qualities that can be developed. A person with a growth mindset allows him- or herself mistakes to get better.

Position yourself in this growth mindset. Just knowing that this exists will put you there. Then allow yourself to do mistakes. Try it actively. Do something where you have a bad case of maladaptive perfectionism and just do mistakes. Allow it and do a lot of mistakes! Learn it, train your mindset. Figure out what you will learn from the mistakes you make. How can you improve? Remember that you will get much better with every mistake you make than if you do none at all.

Know that you can change this mindset and always remember this when it comes to problems with your perfectionism.

Set a goal and see the benefits gif

Step 4: Set a goal and see the benefits.

You need clear goals with a detailed plan of how you want to change. Write it down, and put it where you can see it. Write down your “Why“! Why do you want to change? What will be better, when you change? Visualize how you succeed and what benefits you will have if you change! Envision this exactly like the bad stuff from step 2. How will you feel, when you succeed? How does it look like? Do this regularly and it will motivate you to change yourself for the better.

If you don’t write your goals down, you will either forget them or just not take them seriously. So don’t skip this step! It is one of the easiest things to do and won’t take that much time although it has a big impact.

Build a perfectionist Habit gif

Step 5: Build a habit!

This one right here is the boiler of the whole process. The most important step! If you don’t let this stuff cook every day, nothing will happen. Building habits is such a good way to change yourself. Yes, the process is long and it will take time. But you will get older anyway. So why not change while you are on the way? To build a habit we use the way Charles Duhigg writes in his book “The Power of Habit“. A habit consists of these three things: CueRoutineReward. We break them down in our case of perfectionism.

Cue

The cue is the moment your perfectionism strikes and hinders you to be productive. You don’t have to do anything if it is adaptive perfectionism. Remember, this is the good type! Just let it be. If you just can’t work, then it is the bad type of perfectionism and we use this as a cue for our new habit.

Routine

Normally your routine was different. You gave up or got emotional about your creative work. Now, we use the stuff we learned in the previous steps: Why did maladaptive perfectionism strike? Why isn’t it the adaptive kind? Can I change that? Did I do a mistake? Can I learn from that? Convince yourself, that it is ok how you feel right now. That what you are doing is good. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Small mistakes are ok to achieve good results! Here comes the growth mindset into play that we talked about at step 3!

Reward

The reward will be, that you feel better. That you can finish your work even if you had this feeling where you just couldn’t finish it. Maybe you reward yourself with the feeling that you conquered your maladaptive perfectionism and changed it to an adaptive one. You can even experiment with other rewards, like taking a break or getting a nice cup of coffee or tea. Try to figure out what works for you the best.

Something more: Craving

Oh before I forget, there is also the craving, what drives the habit. You will have a craving for the rewards and therefore you will do this habit automatically. So if you reward yourself with good stuff (feeling better for example), then you will use this habit without hesitation, when maladaptive perfectionism strikes!

Conclusion

If you use these steps, there will be a chance that you will figure out a way out of the deep hole of maladaptive perfectionism. But remember: It will take a long time to fix this. If you are afraid that it will take too long, here’s a tip: It will always take a long time. There is no way around it. No shortcut. That’s why it is important to start NOW!

Sources

Wigert, B., Reiter-Palmon, R., Kaufman, J. C., & Silvia, P. J. (2012). Perfectionism: The good, the bad, and the creative. Journal of Research in Personality, 46(6), 775–779. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jrp.2012.08.007

Yeager, D. S., & Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindsets That Promote Resilience: When Students Believe That Personal Characteristics Can Be Developed. Educational Psychologist, 47(4), 302–314. https://doi.org/10.1080/00461520.2012.722805

Duhigg, C. (2012). The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business (1 edition). Random House.

This is an updated blog post (first published on April 16, 2021).

What a healthy relationship with your art looks like

Sometimes you don’t think that your relationship with your creative work is bad. Like every other relationship, you need to treat it with care. A good mentality and mindset with your art or design work is an important way to keep you motivated and productive. To check this I made a little guide for you. Check out the things that you say to yourself and your own work.

Cool Guide Healthy relationship

How Self-Efficacy Can Help You Succeed!

Do you know what self-efficacy is and how to develop it? I made a visual guide in case you need some information about this topic. You will conquer your fears and get productive if you can develop your self-efficacy. Take this guide and start with it!

Click to enlarge the guide! You can print it out and/or share it.

Self-efficacy Guide

STOP! Take a break!

Regular breaks contribute to recovery, well-being, and productivity and are necessary to be able to work productively for a prolonged period. Many people demonize taking breaks as a loss of work-time. But this is not true. If you take regular pauses, you have many advantages regarding your work.

Why breaks are important:

Break Illustration
  • A pause in your work is a source of regeneration, to stay physically and mentally healthy.
  • The better you have your breaks under your control, the healthier and more efficient you will remain.
  • Increases the subjective well-being and the ability to concentrate.
  • Increases learning and problem-solving performance.
  • You make fewer mistakes after a break.
  • Working is more fun with proper pauses.
  • And extremely important for creative people: breaks increase creativity!

My personal experience:

Personal story

How to do breaks and what to do while doing it:

How to take breaks illustration
  • Every 45 minutes to one hour take a 5 to 15-minute break. After two hours of work take at least a half-hour break. Throughout the day, all the breaks can be as long as one and a half hours. But this is not a big deal, because the pauses allow you to work more productively and with more concentration, so you can easily catch up on the time you “lose” with breaks.
  • Look away from the screen, if you are working on digital devices.
  • Stand up and move. Stretch a bit!
  • Drink water or eat something healthy.
  • Do a mindfulness exercise or meditate.
  • Take a walk or go out into the fresh air during a longer break.
  • You also can do anything!
  • Important: Do not think about your work! Detach completely from what you did before the break or intend to do after the break.
  • With the use of so-called micro-breaks, which last less than a minute, you can take a short break between the larger breaks. Look away from the screen or your work and get up for a moment, move around a bit, and then get back to work. Do this little micro-break whenever you feel like it. They can take only a few seconds.

How to remember to make breaks:

Breaks are often forgotten. You are too much in the flow or maybe you think that you have to stay productive at work.

How to remember to make breaks Illustration
  • Use a timer that rings after a certain time. I used “Brain Focus Productivity Timer” from the Google Play Store for a while.
  • Use time tracking that you always check from time to time to see how much work you still have to do till the break starts. By using this method you will automatically start to recognize when to take a break. I use the App Toggl Track for that right now!
  • Try to make a habit of taking breaks. If you get used to taking a pause every hour, you will start to feel when it is time for another one.
  • Are your eyes tired? Do you feel drained? Are you lacking concentration? Does your back hurt? Pay attention to your body and take a break when you need it.
  • If you work in a team or just have people around you who work with you, you can appoint a “time master” who will take care that all breaks are taken.

What you can do now – A guideline:

Guideline for breaks

Do you have some tips for this topic? Did I miss something important to you? Write it in the comments section below!

References

Blasche, G., Pasalic, S., Bauböck, V.-M., Haluza, D., & Schoberberger, R. (2017). Effects of Rest-Break Intention on Rest-Break Frequency and Work-Related Fatigue. Human Factors, 59(2), 289–298. https://doi.org/10.1177/0018720816671605

Hausmann-Thürig, D. (2019). Vermehrte Minipausen zur Stärkung der körperlichen und psychischen Gesundheit am Arbeitsplatz. (Written thesis from CAS 2018 Gesundheitspsychologische Lebensstiländerung und Mind Body Medicine, University of Zurich)

Tucker, P. (2003). The impact of rest breaks upon accident risk, fatigue and performance: A review. Work & Stress, 17(2), 123–137. https://doi.org/10.1080/0267837031000155949