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  • Writer's pictureAnda Bolojan

How to Deal with Perfectionism

Most people would consider having high standards a good thing. Striving for excellence can show that you have a good work ethic and strength of character. High standards can also push you to reach your peak level of performance.


But there’s a difference between being a high-achiever and being a perfectionist.


By definition, perfectionism involves a predisposition to set standards that are so high they either cannot be met or are only met with great difficulty. People with perfectionism inclinations (including the one writing this article) tend to believe that anything short of perfection is horrible, and that even minor imperfections will lead to catastrophe.


Thinking like this makes it very scary for us to make mistakes. Trying to be perfect is also likely to make us feel stressed and maybe even disappointed with ourselves much of the time, because we are not able to meet our own standards easily or at all.


Therefore, it is worthwhile considering loosening those standards a bit to ease the stress and anxiety from trying so hard to be perfect. Here are some steps that might help you in the process of dealing with perfectionism.


A to-do list for dealing with perfectionism

Ways to Deal with Perfectionism


Step 1: Become More Aware of Your Tendencies


This is an important first step, as it helps us to figure out whether we have a little problem with perfectionism. Remember, there is nothing wrong with having high standards, but when these standards are too high, they can really get in the way of your work, relationships, and enjoyment of life.


With that being said, feel free to take some time to pause and pay attention to your thought patterns around this issue. It’s not an easy step, so you might find it easier to get that clarity by answering the following questions:

  • Do I have trouble meeting my own standards?

  • Do I often feel frustrated, depressed, anxious, or angry while trying to meet my standards?

  • Do my standards get in my own way? For example, do they make it difficult for me to meet deadlines, finish a task, or do anything spontaneously?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, then you probably have perfectionistic tendencies.


But don’t worry. Just the fact that you are now aware of how you allow perfectionism to take hold of your thoughts will help you in the process of altering your self-talk around this issue. Keep reading.


Step 2: Influence the Perfectionistic Thinking and Behaviours


1. Developing a realistic approach


Because we, as adults with perfectionism, are often very critical of ourselves, one of the most effective ways to overcome perfectionism is to replace self-critical or perfectionistic thoughts with more realistic and helpful statements.


Some examples of positive realistic statements:

  • “Nobody is perfect!”

  • “All I can do is my best!”

  • “Making a mistake does not mean I’m stupid or a failure. It only means that I am like everyone else – human. Everyone makes mistakes!”

  • “It’s okay not to be pleasant all the time. Everyone has a bad day sometimes.”

  • “It’s okay if some people don’t like me. No one is liked by everyone!”


2. Trying a different perspective


The second thing we also tend to do, is have a hard time seeing things from another person’s point of view.


For example, you may believe that you are lazy because you are only able to exercise 1 hour instead of 2 hours every day. What you can do, is challenge this thought by asking yourself the following questions:

  • How might someone else view this situation? Most people probably would not think they are lazy if they do not exercise 2 hours every day. Cristina, my best friend, only has time to work out for 1 hour, 2 to 3 times a week, and feels pretty good about it.

  • Are there other ways to look at this? Maybe not being able to work out 2 hours every day is understandable given my busy schedule. Not being able to meet this standard does not mean I am lazy. Most people cannot do it.

  • What might I tell a close friend who was having similar thoughts? It is okay to only workout for 1 hour a day or less. Working out regularly, say 2 to 3 times a week, is good.


3. Looking at the big picture


The third thing we tend to do, is to get stuck in details and spend a lot of time worrying about ”the little things” (e.g. what font to use in an email). One helpful strategy to worry less about details is to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does it really matter?

  • What is the worst that could happen?

  • If the worst does happen, can I survive it?

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


4. Challenging our behaviors


Having an issue with perfectionism is a lot like having a “phobia” of making mistakes or being imperfect. Facing fears in a gradual and consistent manner is the most effective way to overcome phobias, and is called “exposure”. For example, the best way to overcome a dog phobia is to gradually spend time with dogs, to learn that they are not as scary and dangerous as you initially thought.


Similarly, overcoming our “phobia” of making mistakes or being imperfect involves doing just that – gradually and purposely making mistakes and coming across as imperfect. This technique also involves gradually putting ourselves into situations that we usually avoid out of a fear that things won’t work out perfectly.


Here are some examples to help you brainstorm items for exposure practice:

  • Tell people when you are tired (or other feelings that you consider a weakness)

  • Send a letter or email that includes a few mistakes

  • Talk at a meeting without first rehearsing what you are going to say in your head

  • Try a new restaurant without first researching how good it is


Step 3: Reward Yourself


Because it is hard work to face your fears and change old ways of doing things, make sure to always take the time to reward yourself for all the work you are doing. It is very motivating to give yourself a treat once in a while. A reward might include going out for a nice meal, taking a walk, going out with friends, or just taking some time to relax or pamper yourself.


 

Lastly, when dealing with perfectionism, don’t forget to be kind to your own being and practice self-acceptance by lowering unrealistic standards you tend to set. You are just a human being, giving your best. Allow yourself to get it wrong sometimes.


Because what happens when we allow ourselves to make mistakes, is to see that it’s not the end of the world when we fail. In fact, mistakes are opportunities for us to learn, grow, and do better.


Nevertheless, if you focus on finding meaning in what you do, it won’t even matter that it didn’t go perfectly, cause there is more fulfillment to be had in finding meaning along the way, than in getting things right.


Don’t forget: There is no such thing as “perfect”. If you are doing your best, you’re doing just fine.



 


SOME HELPFUL RESOURCES


BOOKS

  • How to Be an Imperfectionist - Stephen Guise

  • The Gifts of Imperfection - Brené Brown

  • Pursuit of Perfect - Tal Ben-Shahar

  • Present Perfect - Pavel Somov

  • Overcoming Perfectionism - Ann Smith


VIDEOS






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