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The Perfectionist's Handbook: Take Risks, Invite Criticism, and Make the Most of Your Mistakes

ISBN: 978-0-470-92336-8
204 pages
September 2011
The Perfectionist


A guide for getting your perfectionism to work for you

Is perfectionism a good thing or does it get in our way? In The Perfectionist's Handbook, clinical psychologist Jeff Szymanski helps readers navigate their way out of the "perfectionism paradox": if your intentions are good (wanting to excel) and the outcomes you want are reasonable (to feel competent and satisfied), why would perfectionism backfire and result in unhappiness and stress? Learn when perfectionism will pay off, and when and why it sabotages you. Specific strategies are outlined throughout the book to help readers transform their perfectionism from a liability to an asset.

There is no reason to eliminate perfectionism altogether—instead, build on what's working and change what's not. The Perfectionist's Handbook helps readers to:

  • Distinguish between intention and strategy as a way of improving outcomes
  • Identify diminishing returns and how to redistribute time and resources
  • Make the most of mistakes rather than being preoccupied with trying to avoid them
  • Learn to focus on your "Top 10" list as a way of getting the most out of your life
  • Access others more effectively as a way of improving performance
  • Obtain more balance in their lives
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments viii

Introduction x

PART I Understanding Your Perfectionism 1

Chapter 1 Definitions and Types of Perfectionism 3

Chapter 2 Building Your Perfectionism Profile 13

Chapter 3 Insight Doesn’t Always Lead to Change 31

PART II Maximizing Healthy Perfectionism 53

Chapter 4 Wanting Things to Be Perfect May Not Be the Problem 55

Chapter 5 The Lesson of Diminishing Returns: Learn to Analyze Your Effort 71

Chapter 6 Translating Mistakes into Strategic Experimentation 87

Chapter 7 An Unexamined Life: Focus on Your Top 10 List 105

Chapter 8 Even Jesus Needed Disciples: The Value of Others 125

Chapter 9 All Work and No Play: Why It's Important to Refuel and Refresh 147

Chapter 10 Putting It All Together 169

Bibliography 185

Index 191

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Author Information

JEFF SZYMANSKI, PhD, is the Executive Director of the International OCD Foundation; a Clinical Instructor in Psychology at Harvard Medical School; and a Clinical Associate in Psychology at McLean Hospital. For more information, please visit: www.jeffszymanski.com and www.theperfectionistshandbook.com.
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Press Release

August 24, 2011
Is Perfectionism an Attribute or Detriment?

What’s most interesting about perfectionism is that it's a personality trait that both enriches and debilitates lives.

Dr. Jeff Szymanski, author of The Perfectionist’s Handbook: Take Risks, Invite Criticism, and Make the Most of Your Mistakes (September 2011) and executive director of the non-profit International OCD Foundation, begins his book with the premise that perfectionism might be part of what makes people successful in business. Szymanski explores how to make perfectionism a valued attribute, no matter the arena. The Perfectionist’s Handbook helps readers realize when their perfectionism works for them, and when it does not.

”When I hear ‘You’re such a perfectionist!’ it’s never clear whether this is a compliment or insult. Usually a little bit of both,” says Szymanski.

“The fact that perfectionists have high standards, that they care about the quality of their work, and that they will go to all ends to achieve should be celebrated and fostered,” says Szymanski, who has been interviewed about anxiety disorders by NPR, “The New York Times,” “Psychology Today” and “USA Today.”

He explains that “unhealthy” perfectionism is the result of a rigid insistence on using strategies that don’t work and a fearful focus, and “healthy” perfectionism is the opposite – the willingness to adapt and be flexible without necessarily lowering the bar. Healthy perfectionism is the goal, he writes, citing studies that found healthy perfectionists had higher self-determination, more academic satisfaction and progress toward educational goals, and reported experiencing more positive feelings than non-perfectionists.

Instead of trying to get perfectionists to give up their perfectionism or see it as all bad, Szymanski cheers perfectionists on, says he is one of them, and teaches them how to make the most of their talents. In The Perfectionist’s Handbook, Szymanski calls perfectionists out on their unhealthy behavior – having to do everything alone, thinking they can do most things better than others, hiding their “flaws” from others, and so on – and teaches them how to turn them into positives.

The Perfectionist’s Handbook is for anyone who has ever procrastinated, taken on responsibility for too much, is overworked, out of balance in their lives, or simply tries too hard without achieving the desired results.

A self-diagnosed perfectionist, Szymanski gives examples from his own life as well as real examples from his work with patients. A licensed psychologist, he has worked with nearly 1,000 obsessive compulsive disorder sufferers and led a specific program for perfectionists at the OCD Institute at McLean Hospital, where he worked as director of psychologist services.

Perfectionism as a trait turns into perfectionism as a symptom of obsessive compulsive disorder when a person is excessively concerned about doing something the “right” way and spends enormous amounts of energy and time trying to avoid mistakes to the point where they become debilitated, Szymanski says.

Are you a Perfectionist? Take the Quiz - here.

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