Beat Your Perfectionism

Welcome back to part 2 of 2 in our series on perfectionism! In Part 1, we talked about signs of perfectionism and how it can impact your life. Today we’ll talk about ways to minimize the negative effects of perfectionism.

“People throw away what they could have by insisting on perfection, which they cannot have, and looking for it where they will never find it”

― Edith Schaeffer

To recap, perfectionists tend to hold themselves and others to impossible standards. This often hampers their own efforts to meet goals, creates stress, and harms relationships. How can you stop being such a perfectionist?

Beat Your Perfectionism

How to Beat Perfectionism

Learn to recognize “good enough”

Realizing that nothing is ever perfect, what are some compromises you can live with? At what point will your effort outweigh the gains? These are hard questions for a perfectionist. However, at some point your efforts have diminishing returns. The most value may be found in going to 80% instead of the 100% you desire.

Perfectionism Chart

Create realistic schedules

I have been able to shift a lot of my mindset toward the time spent on a project and less on the details of the outcome. Now, time and quality are not necessarily interchangeable, but for many things I have a good idea of how long I need to come out with a decent result. Setting this time limit forces me to stop at a certain point instead of going on past that point of diminishing returns.

 Realize it hurts you and the people around you

Perfectionism contributes to mental illnesses and often hurts your relationships. If you are convinced of the harm perfectionism does to yourself and those around you, you can change your idea of “perfect.” If things were really perfect, no one would be hurt. Since perfection is unattainable, is the harm worthwhile?

Compare yourself to yourself

If you hear a voice within you saying, “You are not a painter,” then by all means paint, boy, and that voice will be silenced, but only by working.

–Van Gogh

Technology makes it easy to imagine a perfect world. You can see perfect homes on Pinterest and picture perfect work assignments if you just make enough edits. Technology is misleading because you don’t see what goes on behind the scenes, only the outcome they want you to see.

What is an attainable standard for you today? How can you incrementally improve that? Instead of comparing yourself to a photoshopped image, compare yourself to yourself from yesterday, a month ago, or a year ago.

Accept that you are human

Beating yourself up for being imperfect won’t get you anywhere. People are not robots (and robots have their issues, too!) Most other people will not judge you as harshly as you judge yourself. This doesn’t mean going to the other extreme and never trying to excel at anything. It just means accepting that even when you try your best, you will still make mistakes.

Listen to the right sources

I’m not saying that no one will ever judge you more harshly than you judge yourself. You might have someone in your life that also has strong perfectionist tendencies. Certain cultures also treat mistakes more harshly than others. If you are told the same message enough times, you begin to believe it yourself.

That’s why it’s important to listen to the right sources. A wise voice can help you figure out which expectations are reasonable vs. impossible to achieve.

Set realistic goals

Perfectionists are usually goal-oriented people. When you set realistic goals, it is more likely you will be able to meet them and get the resulting benefits – both the satisfaction of having a met a goal, and whatever benefit comes from the specific goal you met.

If you are one of those people who shies away from setting goals from the fear of failing at them, try setting smaller goals to build up your self-confidence.

Prioritize effectively

One of the things that really helps me deal with perfectionism is prioritizing. Unfortunately, I can’t do everything at once! With my priorities in line, I know which things are really important to me, and which I can devote less energy to. This allows me to make progress on lesser goals without getting bogged down in how well they are going.

Look for the positives

Psychology says that people have a negativity bias. Perfectionists are so busy trying to minimize mistakes that they often overlook the positives. They have a hard time complimenting themselves for performance that doesn’t meet their standards, and so also find it hard to compliment other people.

A way to help minimize negativity bias is to practice focusing on the positives. Gratitude journaling is one way to work on that. You can find a full guide on how to get started here.

Think of mistakes as lessons

Perfectionists often beat themselves up over mistakes. However, mistakes can show you how not to do something, so that you know better how to do it in the future. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that you should know everything, but no one does.

Avoiding mistakes is so ingrained in perfectionists that they develop a fear of failure. Left unchecked, this fear can be debilitating because the perfectionist will avoid doing anything where they risk failure. Since “failure” to a perfectionist is anything less than “perfect,” this applies to a lot of situations.

Track your accomplishments

To combat your internal list of failures, track your accomplishments. You can do this on a regular basis, or sit down and write out a list when you feel like you need a boost. This would be more beneficial if you do it regularly since you would begin to internalize the fact that you do accomplish things despite thinking otherwise.

Beat Your Perfectionism

Questions to Ask Yourself

To decide if things need to change:

  • Is it hard for me to meet my own standards?
  • Have I been told that my standards are too high?
  • Do my standards make it difficult to trust others or act spontaneously?
  • Do I often feel frustrated, overwhelmed, depressed, or anxious while trying to meet my standards?

To get out of a funk:

  • Are my feelings based on facts or my interpretations?
  • Is the situation as bad as I think?
  • Does this really matter now?
  • Will it matter in the future?

To decide whether to move forward:

  • What is the worst that could happen?
  • How likely is it that the worst could happen?
  • Can I survive it if the worst happens?

Recovering From Perfectionism

The habit of perfectionism is hard to break, like so many habits are. It takes decisiveness, commitment, and a solid plan to counteract. If you read this far, you are probably interested in at least toning down some of your perfectionist tendencies. What area do you struggle with? Have you found coping mechanisms to help you?

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