Conquering Perfectionism

Perfection, fortunately, is not the only alternative to mediocrity. A more sensible alternative is excellence. Striving for excellence is stimulating and rewarding; striving for perfection—in practically anything—is both neurotic and futile.

Edwin Bliss, Author of Getting Things Done: The ABC of Time Management

Conquering PerfectionismLast month I explained that overcoming perfectionism means finding worth in yourself and what you do. That is often easier said than done, however. People with perfectionist tendencies often feel that becoming lax in their pursuit of perfectionism demonstrates a lack of standards.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with striving for excellence—but at the same time it’s important to avoid the trap of setting standards too high. The pursuit of perfectionism is likely to bring unnecessary stress and disappointment into your life. Over time it can stifle your creativity, productivity, and self-confidence—and even erode your sanity!

Keep in mind that having realistic standards does not sentence you to a life riddled with careless mistakes. On the contrary, realistic standards both allow you to thrive and free you from the burden of chasing after the impossible.

All that being said, shifting your thinking away from perfectionism can seem like a daunting task. The following tips can help you achieve this goal.

Be Positive

One of the most effective strategies for overcoming perfectionism is to replace self-critical thoughts with self-affirming ones. Even if you don’t initially agree with those statements, in time these positive mantras will crowd out your negative thoughts. Tell yourself the following:

  • I am capable of dealing with all circumstances.
  • I overcome difficult times successfully.
  • I deal calmly with any situation.
  • I am grateful for the challenges in my life.
  • I am self-confident.
  • I am self-reliant.

Recite these self-affirming statements regularly. With enough repetition and time, you will gradually see these thoughts transform into habits.

Focus on the Big Picture

Perfectionists often spend excessive time focusing on the “little things.” They become overwhelmed with details that, frankly, many people don’t care about at all. In its brochure titled How to Overcome Perfectionism, the Anxiety Disorders Association of British Columbia suggests asking yourself the following questions when determining what details you should focus on:

1. Does it really matter?

2. What is the worst that could happen?

3. If the worst does happen, can I survive it?

4. Will this still matter tomorrow? How about next week? Next year?

Answering these questions honestly will likely reveal that the things you spend so much time obsessing over really aren’t terribly important. The realization that you don’t have to set (and try to reach) “perfect” standards will afford you some much-needed peace of mind.

Stop Procrastinating

Stop ProcrastinatingAs ironic as it may sound, perfectionists often procrastinate in order to avoid making mistakes or because they know it will take them an excessive amount of time to complete a task. Because they fear being unable to complete a task perfectly, they delay getting started. The result? Increased anxiety!

By lowering your unattainable standards, you’ll be able to complete tasks in a timelier manner and get through your to-do list faster. The following tips may help you overcome your own procrastination:

  1. At the outset of a project, create a realistic schedule complete with attainable milestones as well as a completion date.
  2. Prioritize your tasks by deciding which are the most important to accomplish. Break down larger tasks into smaller, more manageable steps.
  3. Determine in advance how long you will need to complete each task, keeping in mind that the goal is to get the task done, not to get it done perfectly.
  4. As you complete each item, cross it off your list. Seeing what you’ve accomplished will allow you to keep in perspective the items you haven’t completed.

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

Perfectionism measures our beginner’s work against the finished work of masters. Perfectionism thrives on comparison and competition. It doesn’t know how to say, “Good try,” or “Job well done.”

Julia Cameron, American artist and author of The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity

While some competition can be beneficial as a means to promote thinking outside the box or encourage hard work, don’t let it stifle your progress. When competition is no longer healthy and seems more of a burden than a motivating force, quickly put it out of sight (and out of mind).

Instead of focusing on the accomplishments of your colleagues and others around you, focus on being your personal best. Life is hard enough without trying to measure worth by the successes of others, so focus on the things that you do well. A perfectionist believes that he or she must be the best at everything. Having that mindset, however, will surely lead to failure.

Aim for Success

Gently remind yourself that life is okay the way it is, right now. In the absence of your judgment, everything would be fine. As you begin to eliminate your need for perfection in all areas of your life, you’ll begin to discover the perfection in life itself.

Richard Carlson, author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff . . . and It’s All Small Stuff

Instead of aiming for perfection, aim for success. Never give up your right to be wrong, because if you do you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself to be imperfect will make you a happier and more productive person. Recognizing that change is in order and actually taking the steps to make changes are worthwhile—and laudable—goals. So take the time to reward your hard work.

Let go of your perfectionist tendencies and accept yourself for exactly who you are—perfectly imperfect!

2 thoughts on “Conquering Perfectionism”

  1. Hi Val. Very useful info that’s worth sharing with my colleagues. I noticed that this is particularly focused on how perfectionism affects the ‘self’. Wondering if there are any insights for perfectionists who judge others by those perfectionist standards? I’ve seen particularly toxic behaviors and judgements when perfectionist colleagues don’t accept that everyone isn’t a slave to the perfectionist syndrome.

  2. That’s an excellent point Lisa. I too have experienced the toxic behavior of being judged by perfectionist standards (and at times I’m afraid I’ve been guilty of holding others to perfectionist standards before I catch myself and back off!).Those who have the tendency to impose their unrealistic standards on others fail to realize that instead of serving as a motivating force to their direct reports, they are actually demotivating them. This is usually reflected in high turnover rates and lack of buy in on projects. Alternatively, if you are on the other side of the equation and have to report to a perfectionist, here are some great tips on how to handle it: http://bit.ly/YMPcBo. Let me know if this is helpful. Val

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