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Overcome Perfectionism and Fear of Failure: How to Make the Right Decision?

This lesson is a part of an audio course How to Overcome Perfectionism and Fear of Failure by Nar Mina

Everyone struggles to some extent with decision making, but perfectionists can find it particularly hard because they want to find perfect solutions. Whenever there's a choice, there's an opportunity for failure. Perfectionists want to do things the right way. We don't want to make a mistake.

Because of black-and-white thinking, it can be paralyzing to have to choose between two options. You want to pick the best, but when there is no clear best, you're stuck, anxiously trying to make a decision that you will not regret.

Small decisions can sometimes cause more anxiety than big ones because there are so many of them. Perfectionists tend to think there's one right way or one best way to do something, and they feel enormous pressure to choose the right or best option. A perfectionist's natural insecurity produces the self-doubt and second-guessing that makes decision making even harder.

Having too many choices can contribute to bad decision making, anxiety, stress, dissatisfaction, and even depression. Some choices are good, but that doesn't necessarily mean that more is better. As freedom of choice expands, we are feeling less and less satisfied.

Consider a trip to a supermarket. How many different varieties and brands of cookies, chocolate, juices do the store offer? You could spend the better part of a day just selecting a box of crackers, worrying about price, flavor, freshness, fat, sodium, and calories. But who has the time to do this?"

Not only must we make choices about thousands of products, but we must pick which phone company to use, what health insurance to buy, and how to invest our money.

The Internet makes decision making even harder because it gives perfectionists unlimited research potential. No matter how much you read about something on the Internet – there's always more information available.

It's hard for a perfectionist to stop researching without feeling that he's leaving an important part of the decision-making process unfinished.

Perfectionists take longer to make decisions, spend more time thinking about hypothetical alternatives, feel less positive about their decisions and are more likely to regret their choices.

There may be decisions you made in the past that you now regret, but in almost all circumstances, they were the best decisions you could have made based on your knowledge, maturity, resources, support, and other factors in place at that time. The problem with regret is that we revisit old decisions and look at them with new eyes. We have to forgive and empathize with our younger selves. Judging your past does you no good. Regret gets you nowhere. Instead, try to remember past decisions with empathy and compassion.

One of the most common distortions that impede decision making is black-and-white thinking. This kind of thinking tells you that one option is right and the others are wrong. Sometimes that's the case, but more often, we're called upon to pick from among several equally valid choices – that's why decision making is so hard.

Perfectionist can spend half an hour deciding which jeans to wear. You get stuck in a cycle of indecision and anxiety. The more anxious you are, the harder it is to make a decision – and the longer it takes you to make a decision, the more anxious you get.

You don't think clearly when you're anxious because anxiety puts you into fight-or-flight mode. Your entire body is responding to a perceived threat by preparing you to fight or run away. The problem is, your body is prepared for battle, when what you really need is to decide which shoes to buy or how to have your hair cut or whom to marry or what job to take. To make a good decision, it really helps to be in a calm place.

Relaxation can stop the what-ifs racing through your mind and allow you the peace you need to make a smart decision.

If you can't decide between decision A and decision B, try to visualize making decision A. See how it feels. See what your gut tells you. If I feel good, it's probably the right decision. If it doesn't, then your answer is probably decision B. If neither feels particularly good, then think about which one feels worse. Which would you regret more?

You can also try to imagine that decision A has been taken away from you. How do you feel being left with decision B? Relieved? Distressed? Those feelings can help shape your decision.

If neither decision A or decision B feels right, maybe there are options you haven't considered. Do a relaxation exercise to calm your mind, and then think about whether you've overlooked decisions C and D.

Ultimately, decision making comes down to going with your gut. When this happens, try to calm your mind. Sleep on it. Relax. Take a hot shower. Try to shut out all external distractions so you can listen to what your inner wisdom is telling you.

The language Perfectionist tends to use is categorical, even moralistic: ought, have to, must, should.

Feelings are irrelevant to his decision-making process. He views them as harmful, because they may change. Surprise is dangerous; he should know the future. Change is the enemy; spontaneity and improvisation are too risky. Playfulness is unacceptable.

The Perfectionist has this obsessive need for control. She tries to control every aspect of her life because she fears that if she were to relinquish some control, her world would fall apart.

If she needs to get something done at work or elsewhere, she prefers to do it herself. She does not trust other people unless she is certain that they will follow her instructions to the letter.

Imagine a person who, committed to his goal of becoming a partner in a consulting firm, spends seventy hours a week in the office. He is unhappy at work. He knows that the job at which he felt most fulfilled was when he worked at a restaurant during his summers in college. But he refuses to change his planned course of action – perhaps he even refuses to admit to himself that he is miserable – and continues along the same path toward partnership; regardless of the cost, he refuses to give up on his goal, refuses to "fail" at becoming a partner.

But we don't need to be chained to these commitments.

You might decide, for example, to continue investing time and effort in your goal of becoming a partner at the firm but at the same time relax your schedule slightly, or take some time off, in order to explore whether opening a restaurant might be the right thing for you after all.

Do not chart your direction according to a rigid map but rather based on a more fluid compass. You can be dynamic and adaptable, open to different alternatives, able to cope with unpredictable twists and turns. Accepting different paths may lead to your destination, you are flexible, not spineless, open to possibilities.

Perfectionism has a devastating impact on self-esteem. Think of a child growing up in a home where, regardless of what he does, he is constantly criticized and put down. Imagine an employee whose shortcomings are constantly highlighted by her boss. It is unlikely that such a child or an employee enjoys healthy self-esteem.

Because the life of a Perfectionist is an endless rat race, his enjoyment of success is short-lived. He is far more likely to dwell on his failures than on his successes, because when he succeeds in achieving a goal, he immediately starts worrying about the next goal and what would happen if he fails to reach it. The all-or-nothing mindset leads Perfectionists to transform every setback into a catastrophe, an assault on their very worth as human beings. Their sense of self inevitably suffers as their fault finding turns inward. Their self-esteem takes a constant beating as a result of failure. It is unthinkable for them to expose any weakness or imperfection.

Perfectionists constantly engage in self-enhancement, and to the outside world, they try to communicate the flawless facade, they pretend to be self-confident, and showcase self-respect they do not actually feel.

Most perfectionists are so accustomed to blaming themselves for things that it is a natural reaction when just about anything goes wrong. If a perfectionist can blame herself, the world feels safer for her – perfectionists hate being out of control, and they hate knowing that fate can toss curveballs that they have absolutely no control over.

This is the end of lesson 6. In the next lesson, I'll talk about body image.

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Nar Mina

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