Podcast – Episode 0371 – Overcoming The Fantasy Of Perfectionism

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In this episode, Joel and Antonia talk about overcoming the fantasy of perfectionism.


In this podcast you’ll find:

  • What is perfectionism and how does it differ from or relate to idealism?
  • Two resources Antonia reviewed on perfectionism:
  • Two definitions of perfectionism
    • A basic definition
    • A modern definition
  • Joel – an example of adaptive perfectionism
  • There can be good perfectionism – what are some of the signs of this?
  • Perfectionism to pass societies standards – how maladaptive perfectionism plays into this and relates back to the self.
  • The 1st sign of perfectionism – “all or nothing” thinking
    • Markers of maladaptive perfectionism and ideas for overcoming it.
  • The 2nd sign of perfectionism – being highly critical
    • When is this justified or not?
    • The concept of conditional acceptance – and how this affects competence
  • The 3rd sign of perfectionism – being pushed by fear
    • Unhealthy versus unhealthy motivation
  • The 4th sign of perfectionism – unrealistic standards
    • Some thoughts on personality type and their relationship with internal metrics
  • The 5th sign of perfectionism – focusing on results
    • How do you know if it’s healthy or unhealthy?
  • The 6th sign of perfectionism – fear of failure
    • Some thoughts on using feedback to build self-esteem
  • When adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism look similar – how can you tell the difference? Some questions to ask yourself.
  • Perfectionism with an outer world focus
    • Joel – 3 ideas to overcome this 
    • Antonia – some questions to ask yourself
  • The ego and control – awareness of these when dealing with perfectionism


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Showing 8 comments
  • Nina

    Great podcast. I’m an INTJ who’s definitely perfectionistic about my goals and accomplishments, and in the mal-adaptive sense it manifests in analysis paralysis when I don’t know how to move forward. I’m currently unemployed and struggling with imposter syndrome and anxiety about the future, so my strategy revolves around working on projects to further my skills so I get just a bit closer to where I want to be and learn something in the process, instead of staying in protective strategies to maintain a sense of control.

  • Kim

    Fantastic podcast! You did a great job differentiating adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism. I am an INTJ and perfectionism has played a major role in my life. I attribute my successes in life to my strong drive to be perfect. As I get older, I find that my perfectionism creates much less stress and I am learning how to more quickly incorporate developmental feedback without ego-driven negative self-talk.

  • Jonathan Hardin

    The story around minute 58 makes me think of a person so committed to control and afraid to fail, they wreck the project in order to “get it over with”, still maintaining their sense of control.

  • Margaret Newcombe

    When I was in my 20s. I would burn paintings that I spent hours on …often because I had no mentor to help with what I now have learned about both art and personality type. I was always driven to produce the most perfect painting, and didnt know how to stop overworking. Im in my 70s now and am just finding out how to fail and do something that may not be perfect. I am an INFP and I know so much more about myself since I did a mb type test 30 years ago. The introduction of the internet has produced some great websites but your ENP approach has been truly helpful. Over the years I have discovered that it doesn’t matter …its just a painting on the wall.!…it isn’t SO important to produce perfection in this area of my expertise but there is no way I would ever put my work out there in an exhibition. I need the motivation to finish work so I am working this out, but setting goals alongside learning to play classical guitar …the process of repetitious hard work, daily discipline was lost somewhere in visual art education in the 20th century.I have some years left to get over the trauma and relax and enjoy …..Thank you both, much of what you have shared I have learned through hard times, but its good to hear someone explain it all.

  • BK Jackson

    This is the most directly relevant Personality Hacker podcast I’ve had a chance to listen to & very useful. I have long suffered from perfectionism. Try as I might, I cannot pinpoint an external source that lent itself to the problem. But I have always been extremely demanding of myself.

    Perfectionism is a nightmare. I deal with it most in creativity: writing and visual art. But also in my day job as an Admin Assistant, where, being responsible for sending out department communications company-wide, I will obsessively read over an email 3-5 times to ensure it’s absolutely flawless before I send.

    Perfectionism is most crippling in building a writing career. I began writing in 2005 with an eye toward a string of historical fiction books I wanted to write/publish. In 2010 I won a “first chapter” contest for my first novel—which 11 years later REMAINS unpublished, as well as another manuscript from a different series that remains unfinished. Perfectionism causes me to tell myself “I haven’t researched enough. I haven’t gotten the characters good enough. Oh I need to make the plot better,” etc. The success of being an indie author relies on having several books on the market—not just publishing one. So perfection is something I absolutely MUST defeat to realize my goals.

    I am only slightly less perfectionistic about visual art. I am never satisfied with my paintings or drawings. And there are many times, in the midst of either writing OR doing visual art, that I will quit a project rather than risk it being imperfect.

    Thankfully, I do not put these perfectionistic tendencies off as harsh criticism of others—indeed I celebrate every bold step another person makes by putting their work out there.

    Of the 3 suggestions given at the end of the podcast, I think the strategy I most need to try is increasing throughput & speed – but giving myself hard deadlines is something it is easy to squirm out of. If someone has suggestions on how to make this accountable, I’d be glad to hear them. The world isn’t exactly clamoring to see my books so there is no external source for accountability.

    But now in middle age, my goal of publishing a string of books set in Arizona is at a critical stage. If I don’t overcome perfectionism, I’m going to leave this life having not realized a primary goal. But perfectionism has been the biggest wrestling match of my life.

  • Julia

    This podcast gave me a lot to think about and I am still mulling how you framed perfectionism. My initial response was that your take seemed a lot more black and white than I how I experience the issue. I am not sure if it was because you were addressing from more of an outside view analyzing it rather than something either of you struggle with all that much (aside from as wanting to be awesome content producers…which you are by the way) or if my own preconceived notion of what perfectionism is and does is off (which given that I had never gone searching for a definition for it, is quite likely and perhaps perfectionism isn’t the right categorization for the parts of it I identified with).

    I am not sure that I agree with the idea that there is an on/off switch where perfectionism is either adaptive or maladaptive. It seems like a much more complex system than that and in my experience very situationally dependent and quite possible to use it appropriately in some aspects of life while still struggling with the dark side of it in others.

    I jumped to the on/off switch part based on how you described the causes and solutions (it may not have been an intuitive leap you intended but rather just the next logical step of where the discussion went for me). If the cause of perfectionism is believing that ones worth and value is conditional (which is something that one either believes or doesn’t believe) than it follows that you would either have to be all adaptive about it or all maladaptive about it because the only way to switch your category would be change your core belief and until you did all the rest would just be masking, coping and mitigating strategies. Putting yourself out there and failing a bunch until you build the skills you need to succeed (or you get tired enough to redefine success) while very solid life advice, wouldn’t actually address the issue of healing ones perfectionism.

    For me personally, I don’t struggle so much with the idea that results have to be perfect (or held to standards higher than the situation justifies) but I do very much identify with the part that ones value and worth is conditional and the pain that truth causes. I honestly don’t see how it could be otherwise. Yes, a human being does have intrinsic value just by existing but how society (or any group) views someone is very much based on their competence, skills and other attributes they bring to the table so it is very much performance based if you want to be part of the tribe. I do believe that there is a very wide spectrum of things someone can bring to the table and make the group better and that things like always being good or high performing or the best in your field is far from the only way to accomplish it. But, the bottom line remains, whatever metric is used, ones worth and thus acceptance are still conditional. And while, existentially you can decide it is only your own opinion that matters and maybe there is a path to happiness buried somewhere there, it seems a rather lonely option to me.

    As far as how perfection impacts me, I think it is the flip side of the issue I struggle with more than the notion that I have to live up to a some external imposed ideal or that others do. It is more my own internal notions of how capable or competent I should be that I fight with, or if I am not accepted by a person or group or get repeatedly turned down for a promotion that then makes me start trying to figure out what is wrong with me so I can fix it and make it better so I will be worth enough that I can belong.

    I think for women the whole issue also becomes a lot more complex as well because perfectionism is drilled in a lot harder externally from so many angles. From the perspective of our femininity and appearance, our place in society in general and how we are suppose to interact in the workplace. Thankfully, these days we have more option to decide that those externally imposed ideals are not going to be our ideals but there are still a lot of very real consequences to that choice.

    I am not sure how much, if at all my type plays into this but if anyone wants to compare notes on similar perspectives or look for type based patterns I am an ISTP. I can kind of see how my introverted judging driver function of accuracy combined with my 3 year old passion of harmony would come to the conclusions above and if I were to ignore my co-pilot of extraverted sensing in favor of letting my introverted intuition 10 year old keep making intuitive leaps I could continue to believe it all very strongly.

    • Bridget

      Wow! I have really struggled with what is unhealthy and what is healthy perfectionism. This episode highlights it all in å brilliant way! Thank you- this is a truly life- changer for me!

  • Rabia

    Hi, great podcast and I learned a lot. Since childhood, I was told to act and behave in a certain way. I took pride in being a bright student who gets straight As and the perfect daughter for my parents. 4 years ago, I moved to a new country and started living on my own which made me realize how much of my beliefs were actually my parents’ believes. With each realization, I started to learn about myself and grow. I have overcome the struggle about self-worth being dependant on my grades or my work performance. I still try my best but I do not beat myself up if I fail. But there is still a lot of work to do. For instance, when my boyfriend visits me, I beat myself up with going overboard for cleaning, cooking, giving him company while doing my full-time job. I feel like I am not a good person or not loveable if my house is not perfectly clean 24/7, or if I do not have meals ready on the table despite my work routine. It crushes me physically to manage everything and when I fail, I blame myself. How do I overcome this self-inflicted fear of judgment?
    P.S: I am an INFJ

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