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Not a psychological disorder itself, perfectionism underlies many, including anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsiveness and eating disorders. Families apparently pass it down through genes and expectations, but individual experiences also shape perfectionism. It isn't necessarily "hard-wired." Therapy, personal coaching and learning to accept mistakes can help.

Perfectionists are systematic, precise thinkers and workers who follow procedure in both their personal and work lives. Extremely conscientious, they are diligent in work that requires attention to detail and accuracy.

Because they desire stable conditions and predictable activities, Perfectionists are most comfortable in a clearly defined work environment. They want specifics on work expectations, time requirements, and evaluation procedures.

They may bog down in the details of the decision-making process. The Perfectionist believes that in-depth research and attention to even minute details are critical. Being rule-oriented rather than people-oriented, the Perfectionist's default behaviour could range from a great reluctance to make decisions (because s/he always wants more information), to becoming stubborn, tactless or sarcastic.

Where does such perfectionism come from?

Experts have long blamed parents who overemphasised achievement or made their love conditional on meeting certain goals. But recent research suggests that the genes that parents pass along may play an ever bigger role.

Researchers at the Michigan State University Twin Registry have been examining aspects of perfectionism in female twins, ages 12 to 22. Identical twins share 100% of their genetic makeup; fraternal twins share 50%; all the twin-pairs in the registry shared the same upbringing. In one study of 292 twins, published in January 2012 in the journal Depression and Anxiety, the identical twins had much more similar scores on measures of perfectionism and anxiety then the fraternal twins did, suggesting that their genetics had a stronger influence than their environment.

The environmental influences the twins didn't share, such as having different activities and groups of friends, had a greater influence on their attitudes than the home environment they did share. In short, perfectionism "appears to be greatly due to genetic risk factors as well as the unique experiences people have outside the home," says Jason Moser, as assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State and lead investigator of the anxiety study.

While scientists are still a long way from identifying which specific genes are involved in perfectionism, "This suggests that there is a significant biological component that we need to understand more," says Dr. Moser.

Experts say that perfectionism can become toxic when people set standards that are impossibly high and believe they are worthless if they can't meet them.

That type of dysfunctional perfectionism often leads to discouragement, self-doubt and exhaustion, and it is at the core of many mental health issues, including depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, marital problems, workaholism, procrastination, insomnia and suicide.

"Our research shows that successful perfectionists are successful in spite of it, not because of it," says Tom Greenspon, a psychologist in Minneapolis and author of "Moving Past Perfect" and other books. "If you worrying more about how you are doing than what you are doing, you'll stumble."

Other techniques from cognitive behavioural therapy include learning to recognise when they are being overly conscientious, weighing the pros and cons and learning to prioritise. As people become more self-aware, they are usually amazed at the abilities of the conscious mind to choose, handle situations with deliberation, and behave appropriately for different occasions. On the flip side, the unconscious mind is a powerful force driving our behaviour. Within our unconscious lie veiled assumptions and beliefs that formulate what is called default behaviour.

Becoming aware of our personal reactive tendencies is crucial if we want to make sense of our toxic behaviours, understand why we have permitted these gremlins to continue, and develop a plan for taming them. Our attitudes are choices, some of the most important choices we will ever make. Attitudes are reflections of what goes on inside our heads.

Self assessments can help us understand and control those default behaviour tendencies that are inappropriate for certain situations. For example, DISC-type self assessments are based on a four-quadrant model that reliably describes four dimensions of human behaviour: Dominance, Influence, Steadiness and Conscientiousness.

One of the classic DISC profile patterns is the Perfectionist Pattern where the person displays competence while being restrained and cautious. The goal of the Perfectionist is stability and predictable accomplishments while judging others by precise standards. The Perfectionist influences others by attention to detail and accuracy. His or her value to the organisation is conscientious by maintaining standards while controlling quality. Under pressure, the Perfectionist becomes tactful and diplomatic. The Perfectionist would increase effectiveness with more: role flexibility, independence and interdependence; belief in self-worth.

Let’s Be Honest With Ourselves

Think about our own default behaviours. What behavioural tendencies do you exhibit under stress?

Take the time to research your particular behaviour type; as the more we know about ourselves, the more we can alter, fix, and fine-tune our behaviour.

To take the DISC self-assessment with PINNACLE Business Solutions and receive a 50-minute skype/telephone review of your results with a DISC certified executive coach for the cost of $195.00 + GST, call (02) 6687 7765 or email, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to purchase this service.

Make a Change: Where Needed

The key to successful personal relations lies in being constantly aware of two things:

1. You will want to embrace and develop your skills, but at the same time be aware that when they are overused, they can become a weakness.
2. All of us have default behavioural tendencies that are often tied to our assumptions and beliefs. Being vigilant about when, where, and why these offensive behavioural tendencies surface will allow us to exert better control over our actions.

As with all change, we cannot simply think we will behave differently next time. To do so, we will need to visualise and practice new responses.

Reference: The Wall Street Journal, October 30, 2012

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