Note: the blue italics indicate the teacher, in black others participants.

Perfectionism versus doing things conciensciously

What is the difference between perfectionism and conscientiousness?

Perfectionism seems to me, to be oriented to the result, with tension and inner consideration. Doing conscientiously is doing with awareness of maintaining the quality of movement till the end, regardless of the looks of others. Doing things conscientiously means doing what must be done to feed the life of consciousness.

In the word, “conscientiously” there is the word conscious: thus it includes not only consciousness of movements but also consciousness in the questioning of why I make this movement or that movement. It means being conscious of how the environment is organized. For it is within that environment that priorities and intended outcomes are addressed. That also includes considering those outcomes we wish to avoid. For example: making the bed with damp linen can lead to mold and the accompanying unpleasant smell.

Perfectionism: I don’t see necessarily the objective questioning of oneself (but that can accompany it); I see perfectionism more associated with subjective answering personal to criteria. While the questions one should ask oneself concern the objective and collective criteria.

I perceive tension and internal consideration in perfectionism. In the background, there is a pretentiousness generated by pride. “Doing conscientiously” refers to taking responsibility for what I must complete successfully, if possible. And that includes seeing things through to the end of a project or action, with presence and divided attention. Perfectionism is driven by identity, while acting conscientiously offers self-effacement and acts in the stream of life without ulterior motive.

Perfectionism is focused on the result. It may be driven by identity, e.g. the need for a sense of control or wanting to impress on others. But not necessarily. It can also be related to creativity, as a way of honoring one’s talent to paint a picture or write a poem by not stopping until it has been completed to the very best of one’s ability (a true si-do). At any rate, perfectionism is me with myself. Conscientiousness always involves others. Even if the activity is not done directly for others, there is always a considering of the other present, e.g. ensuring one’s activity does not cause a disturbance or future problems for others.

I didn’t realize it as, in my case, creativity (while drawing) was often soiled by what I considered “perfectionism”: a lack of humility and acceptance of the limitation of my “talent”! I consider what you call “perfectionism” as “impeccability.” Meaning doing my very best but stopping before tension and the need to be “admired” pay a visit.

Well, I was used the word “perfectionism” neutrally without any value or virtue associated to its meaning. But when I look it up I see it is mainly being used “psychologically”, e.g. “perfectionism”, in psychology, is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations. The word “impeccability”, as you suggest, better reflects what I meant.

Doing things conscientiously, means doing things while taking into account the whole context of a given situation. But, it is not only that. In my opinion, there is also an internal dimension which compels the doer to do his/her best, completely, and to the very end. By “completely,” I mean the offering of all my being, which can only be done in total body consciousness and in divided attention. When I am conscientious, I put myself in the service of a situation, and I do things not as I want to do them, but as the situation asks me to do them.
To be a perfectionist, it is to be subjective: every person has his or her own definition of perfection. And it leads to tension given that it is impossible to reach perfection in this world. It also means remaining locked into a small world-view, and that this view considers ITSELF as the best and only one. To do his/her best and to be perfectionist doesn’t mean the same thing for me. In one case, there is existential relaxation and detachment from the result, in the other case, there is tension and attachment to an unrealistic purpose.

Perfectionism is the tension of the will (in the body). And with this will, there is also an absence of intelligence. The perfectionist wants to force, to understand, to be a success. Perfectionism means to want, want, want. Conscientiousness is indifferent to failure or success. It is flexible, fluid, light, and innocent.

The difference is the will, the stubborn drive to obtain a perfect result is perfectionism. Conscientiousness is to do things the best I can while conscious of what I am doing. And take into consideration the place, the work that needs doing, and the others, if others are concerned by my work.

Concerning me, to do a thing conscientiously, is to do it in an applied way. By doing my best, taking the time necessary, taking into account the context, remaining relaxed, being in body consciousness, remaining available and listening. Allowing myself to take the risk of succeeding or not, and being in the action, not in with the result. Perfectionism evokes for me a stake in the outcome. With the objective on the result, you can expect physical tension, pressure, and obsession.

I see it like this: in perfectionism there is a goal that is cut off from reality and body awareness. The striving for this goal involves unnecessary suffering due to the separation from what one is. Responsibilities are delegated to an external authority, rather than assumed knowingly. In “conscientiousness” there is acceptance and self-induced humility that can also be seen in the body as an easiness and an efficiency of movement.

Acting conscientiously reminds me of spontaneity, while perfectionism always calculates to receive a reward (its own success, for example). There is tension towards a goal, the success, there is the belief that “I” can control the results of an action. But a perfectionist, never completely achieves perfection sought, so he always puts himself paradoxically in check. From there they launch into frustration and redoubled tension. Doing conscientiously, is to act without tension, with humility. It means that I do not know what will be the result of this action, I can only account for the act itself. As an example, I recall the act of painting; being completely free of attachment for the result, letting oneself be guided from instant to instant by what emerges on the canvas, and accepting the possibility of losing everything in the next moment. It’s quite a challenge! There is joy and lightness in the “doing conscientiously” like the child who discovers a new way to move and explores it.

For me the perfectionism mindset is clearly an identity mechanism. There is a tension towards a goal, a goal that actually is unrealistic and never attained: the so-called state of perfection. The perfectionist can never be satisfied because he can always find a detail to improve upon. In this sense the goal is never reached. This mechanism is a powerful avoidance of necessary suffering. I think this is the sole purpose of identity mechanisms, since to welcome necessary suffering is the death toll of the illusion of identity. The perfectionist is therefore separated and de facto cut off, he cannot take into account the context. This leads to situations of great tension and unnecessary suffering because he does not know when to stop. Stopping a perfectionist midstream can trigger strong negative reactions in him. Conversely, doing something conscientiously, involves body consciousness. And so, taking into account the context (humility, i.e. welcoming of all I know and all I do not know), self-effacement, welcoming of the necessary suffering if it presents itself. In conscientious work there is an expression of its intrinsic value. A permanent “Yes.” Consciousness of gesture, self-remembering.

Perfectionism forgets the context and focuses on the result. In the world of work, aiming for quality means to complete only the necessary tasks within the allotted time and costs. The perfectionist aims to make excessive quality. A metaphor that I was once given is that of a person who cleans the highway with a toothbrush. Perfectionism is related to identity which cannot stand an outcome that seems, after a lot of internal considering, to be “not good enough.”

For me, to do something conscientiously can refer to being present and aware of one’s movement, but can also be oriented towards a goal. Simply, it takes better account of the context and produces quality and not over-quality. When working on a task conscientiously, there may be fluidity and joy. It’s also possible that there may be necessary suffering when dealing with an unpleasant task conscientiously. Simply, there is a responsibility to act consciously, with impeccability, doing what needs to be done, nothing less and nothing more.

Perfectionism clearly comes from identity: there is inner considering, and pride. The physical tension comes with it: the idea to succeed, to be perfect, and therefore be perceived as a person of value by others. To hide the useful pain of feeling like less than nothing. Doing things conscientiously is to do what there is to do, the best I can. Being present in the moment. Without knowing in advance the result. Let me be surprised. As Nissim said, it is fluid, simple, and much more fun!

A perfectionist seeks to be in the “right”; to be above reproach. Motivated by both a fear of getting it wrong and a desire for superiority. Conscientiousness is living in a way which avoids dust settling on one’s soul. It means to be careful in the way one lives to avoid causing unnecessary suffering in yourself or others.