10 Ways to Overcome Perfectionism

April 15, 2021

There’s a difference between being a high-achiever and being a perfectionist. Both types of people want to succeed. However, high-achievers are motivated to do their best, while perfectionists are motivated by fear, paralyzed by the idea of failure. Before we discuss how to overcome perfectionism, here are a few important things to know about it:

  • Perfectionism can greatly diminish our self-esteem, enjoyment of life and sense of peace, as it can lead to immense stress, fear of judgement or worries of inadequacy.
  • Traits of perfectionism are often linked to mental health issues, like anxiety, OCD and stress.
  • People who are perfectionists put pressure to meet unattainable standards on themselves. They are highly critical of themselves and beat themselves up over anything that doesn’t meet their standards.
  • Perfectionists also fear that if they don’t shoot for perfection, they will become low-achievers and not reach their goals.
  • Sometimes perfectionists fear of failure is so terrifying that they procrastinate because they would rather not do something at all if it can’t be done perfectly.
  • We harm other people when we buy into the myth of perfectionism, by setting unrealistic expectations for those around us.

How to Overcome Perfectionism

1- Become More Aware of Your Tendencies

The first step to overcoming perfectionism is becoming aware of your perfectionist thoughts and tendencies. Take some time to pause and pay attention to your thought patterns around perfectionism. You might even try writing these thoughts down, to understand them better. Once we are aware of how we allow perfectionism to take hold of our lives, we will be more able to alter our self-talk around this issue.

2- Focus on the Positives

Wanting everything to be perfect means that we tend to fixate on the negative parts of our work or of ourselves. However, it’s important that we make a conscious effort to also recognize the good. For everything you’re not quite satisfied with, challenge yourself to identify three things that you do appreciate.

3- Allow Yourself to Make Mistakes

When we allow ourselves to make mistakes, we can see that it’s not the end of the world when we fail. Mistakes are opportunities for us to learn, grow and do better. One way to practice this is by taking up a new hobby that you’ll likely not be good at on first try. Instead of trying to be “perfect” at it, focus instead on enjoying the activity and slowly learning how to get better. What you might find is that mistakes are necessary to get to where you want to be.

4- Set More Reasonable Goals

Perfectionists tend to set goal that are unrealistic, because of impossible standards. One way to let go of perfectionism is to set goals that are more achievable and SMART. We will feel much less stressed and more confident in our ability to reach our goals when they are realistic and challenging in a healthy way.

Helpful TED Talk on Perfectionism

5- Learn How to Receive Criticism

People who are perfectionists tend to have low self-esteem because they take criticisms personally. However, constructive criticism that can help us learn and grow is important. Try to recognize that healthy criticism can be helpful and is normal because it can allow us to do better. Mistakes or missteps are perfectly normal along the way.

6- Lower the Pressure You Put on Yourself

Remember that the person who pressures you the most is yourself. Be kind to yourself and practice self-acceptance by lowering unrealistic standards you set for yourself. If you are still motivated and doing your best, you’re doing just fine. There is no such thing as “perfect,” but we can be proud of doing our best.

7- Focus on Meaning Over Perfection

Try to shift your focus on finding meaning in what you do, rather than trying to do it perfectly. If something brings us joy and purpose, then it doesn’t matter if it’s not done perfectly. There is more fulfillment to be had in finding meaning along the way.

8- Try Not to Procrastinate

Perfectionists can be notorious procrastinators, giving themselves an excuse to slack off it they can’t ensure that they do their work perfectly. This can be really unhelpful and more stressful in the long run. The hardest part is always starting, but even creating a rough outline of our work ahead of time is better than nothing. Remember that it’s okay if your work isn’t perfect with the first try or first draft, and give yourself the grace to continue working on the project.

9- Cut Out Negative Influences

It’s important that we also monitor how things like social media, TV and movies, books, or podcasts can reinforce perfectionism. We should be especially wary of how social media promotes a narrative of “hustle culture” and perfectionism in our work. If you need to limit these channels, or delete them altogether, this can also help us shift away from perfectionism.

10- Go to Therapy

Lastly, therapy can help with our anxiety around perfectionism. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular can help people struggling with perfectionism reframe their thoughts. Therapy can also help you to better understand the deeper reason behind feeling the pressure to be perfect. If you find that you’re still struggling, therapy may be a good option to give you even more tools to overcome perfectionism.

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