An Antidote to Perfectionism Is Resourcefulness

Relying on systems can get you through those ‘off’ days

Darius Foroux
Forge
Published in
2 min readDec 4, 2019

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Photo: laindiapiaroa/Getty Images

AsAs someone with a history of letting perfectionism get the best of me, I’ve noticed that perfectionists tend to fall into two camps: those who are so worried about messing up that they never start, and those who get through the work with the constant worry that they’re failing themselves.

Here’s what the two types have in common: Both are often filled with anxiety, worry, and depression. And both fall into patterns of worry that render them helpless, as the authors of a study on perfectionism-induced procrastination explained in the journal Cognitive Therapy and Research. “Initially solvable problems will pile up,” they wrote, “thus creating an overload of problems that may finally be insoluble.”

Or, as comic book artist and writer Jack Kirby once put it, “Perfectionists are their own devils.”

How do you stop sabotaging yourself? There’s interesting research suggesting that learned resourcefulness can help. When you encounter a problem, instead of berating yourself for being unable to figure it out, you calmly fall back on the systems you’ve created for yourself — and then you put your problem-solving skills into action.

One of the most famous approaches for solving problems came from mathematics educator George Polya in 1945. He identified a simple four-step process:

  1. Understand the problem.
  2. Devise a plan.
  3. Carry out the plan.
  4. Look back.

Later, educator A.C. Burris added a critical fifth step: Extend the problem. This means applying what you’ve learned from that problem to other contexts.

I’ve learned to adopt this method in my own life. While journaling, I now like to reflect on solutions that have worked for me so I can draw upon them later. I have also built a set of habits, which push me toward my goals even when I’m having “off” days.

Resourcefulness is how I arm myself against perfectionism. And it works: When it’s time for me to write, for example, I sometimes feel overwhelmed and wonder if I can get the right message across in my articles. It would be easy for me to lapse into my old perfectionist tendencies, allowing doubt to creep in and stall my efforts. But the tools I’ve put into place push me through. And I remind myself that I’ve got this.

You do, too. Next time you’re facing down a challenge where perfectionism is holding you back, avoid catastrophizing and get resourceful instead.

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Darius Foroux
Forge
Writer for

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