A Coaching Power Tool By Ute Hauck, Career Coach, AUSTRALIA
Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be our best. Perfectionism is not about healthy achievement and growth; it’s a shield by. Brene Brown1
1. Motivation to explore this power tool
When I started to think about a power tool that could change how people perform daily tasks or cope with new challenges, I was enthusiastic about creating an approach to transforming perfectionism into curiosity. Unfortunately, this excitement did not last for too long. As a perfectionist – or at least often receiving feedback that I fall into this category – the task quickly began to lose its excitement. My thoughts focused on delivering a ‘perfect’ assignment rather than starting the project with curiosity. The result was that nothing happened and produced neither the ‘perfect’ nor any paper.
So, I experienced the limiting effects of perfectionism first hand. Designing this power tool will support me to overcome similar limitations in the future and the coach who embraces curiosity and the joy of discovery over perfectionism.
Let’s start with some curiosity about the deeper meaning of perfectionism in our society without stepping into the field of psychology, which in-depth describes many different facets of perfectionism. Wikipedia defines perfectionism as a ‘personality style characterised by a person’s concern with striving for flawlessness and perfection…… and drives people to be concerned with achieving unattainable ideals or unrealistic goals.2
The relevance of addressing perfectionism is substantiated by a tendency of striving for perfectionism seen in younger adults.3 As a consequence, future productivity might be negatively affected due to decreased efficiency and timely completion of tasks due to the need to fulfil it to 100%.4
According to Brene Brown, perfectionism also prevents people from ‘taking flight’.1 The feeling of vulnerability restricts courageously taking flight into the unknown, however potentially exciting and rewarding new territory. Perfectionism, therefore, limits learning and growth from new experiences as people focus more on how others perceive them rather than on ways to improve their performance. Following the Pareto Principle of diminishing returns, the added effort invested in making it perfect is not reflected in the outcome as 80% of results result from 20% of input.5
On the other hand, curiosity requires courage to engage with a task or challenge, not knowing the outcome and just enjoying the process of learning while addressing it.6
While Cicero already described curiosity as the ‘innate love of learning’, current literature supplements his statement by defining curiosity as having ‘.. interest in novel and/or surprising activities’.7,8 Both sources, despite being written many centuries apart, substantiate that curiosity is the motivation to explore rather than striving for the perfect outcome. Once practised and embedded in one’s mindset, it will foster self-confidence. It will markedly reduce a person’s hesitation to tackle the next project/issue but encourage them to address it with enthusiasm and positivity. Being curious opens doors and lets clients realise and look for opportunities.
In addition, practising curiosity reduces self-discrepancy, which has been described as the quantifiable difference between what a person would ideally like to be and how they perceive themselves.9 In the context of continuously aiming to be the perfect self, curiosity seems to reduce the gap leading to a healthier and sustainable self-image.
However, it might take time and effort to change the perfectionist mindset to a growth mindset that acknowledges vulnerability and embraces curiosity.
4. Moving perfectionism to curiosity
So how can a coach facilitate this shift from perfectionism to curiosity?
- Scaffolding of powerful questions to evoke awareness of how perfectionism serves the client.
- Exploring underlying beliefs and perceptions which have substantiated the desire to be perfect.
- Creating a vision of what is possible when letting go of the need to prove to oneself and others that outcomes and/or solutions must be perfect.
- Making the shift to embracing curiosity as the means to learn and grow in all areas of life.
5. Scaffolding powerful questions to facilitate the shift
1.0 The underlying cause for the issue (Starting point for a client who is not aware of their perfectionistic traits)
- What makes you hesitant to start a task, respond to a request or make a decision in daily life?
- What has been stopping you from just doing it?
The client now identifies perfectionism as the underlying cause.
1.1 The underlying beliefs and effects on life (Starting point for a client who is already aware of their perfectioni
- What motivates you wanting to be perfect in ……?
- How does striving for perfectionism serve you?
- What impact has perfectionism on your life?
2. Letting go of limitations
- What is possible without the need to be perfect in ….?
- How will it make you feel?
- What would it take to aim for lesser than perfect?
3. New perspectives
- What opportunities open up by letting go of the desire to be perfect?
- What would it take to reframe the outcome of ….. as an opportunity for learning and growth rather than as evidence of perfectionism?
- What opens up when approaching the … with curiosity rather than perfectionism?
- How will it make you feel to be curious?
4. Creating the shift and moving forward
- How can you make use of the time gained?
- How can this new perspective contribute to your well-being?
- How can curiosity serve you in other areas of your life?
- What is possible now when applying curiosity rather than perfectionism?
Making the conscious shift away from perfectionism to curiosity opens up a new world of learning opportunities and facilitates personal and professional growth for the client.
Having a new perspective and the inner strength of letting go of the judgement of others and daring to address life issues with curiosity contributes to improved outcomes and enhances well-being. Curiosity has the power to transform challenges into opportunities and significantly enhances life satisfaction.10
- Brown B. The Gifts of Imperfection:: Features a New Foreword and Brand-new Tools. Simon and Schuster; 2022.
- Perfectionism (psychology) - Wikipedia [Internet]. En.wikipedia.org. 2022 [cited 15 March 2022]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perfectionism_(psychology)
- [Internet]. Ray.yorksj.ac.uk. 2022 [cited 15 March 2022]. Available from: http://ray.yorksj.ac.uk/id/eprint/2626/1/Curran & Hill (2018) PB.pdf
- Internet]. Goodtherapy.org. 2022 [cited 15 March 2022]. Available from: https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/perfectionism
- Pareto principle - Wikipedia [Internet]. En.wikipedia.org. 2022 [cited 18 March 2022]. Available from: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pareto_principle
- Brown B. Dare to Lead: Brave Work. Tough Conversations. Whole Hearts. Random House; 2018 Oct 9.
- Cicero MT. De finibus bonorum et malorum. BG Teubner; 2012 Feb 14.
- Tyng CM, Amin HU, Saad MN, Malik AS. The influences of emotion on learning and memory. Frontiers in psychology. 2017 Aug 24;8:1454.
- Ivtzan I, Thompson H, Smailova Z. Mindfulness meditation and curiosity: The contributing factors to well-being and the process of closing the self-discrepancy gap. International Journal of Wellbeing. 2011;1(3):316-27.
- Proyer RT, Ruch W, Buschor C. Testing strengths-based interventions: A preliminary study on the effectiveness of a program targeting curiosity, gratitude, hope, humor, and zest for enhancing life satisfaction. Journal of Happiness Studies. 2013 Mar;14(1):275-92.