How to Overcome Perfectionism and Be Happy with Who You Are
I’m sure we all have those moments in life where we want things to be perfect. Maybe a perfectly clean home, a perfect work presentation, or a perfect outfit for family photos.
We’re acting under the impression that we CAN achieve perfection, that we’re improving ourselves with relentless determination. You drive yourself so crazy trying to get things just right, that you end up spending too much time and stressing yourself out even more.
And then comes the stress, anxiety, overwhelm, questioning of self-worth and capabilities…
You know the pit of despair you drop down into.
Perfectionists walk a tricky line. A line between producing absolutely incredible results and failing to produce anything at all. After learning how to overcome my own perfectionism, I want to help you avoid dropping back into that pit of anxiety and overwhelm.
Let’s find out how to get better at being worse!
Why Overcome Perfectionism? What’s So Bad About It?
First, I think it’s most important to list it could kill you. No, like literally kill you.
The Journal of Health Psychology conducted a study showing that the risk of death was significantly higher in people who test high for perfectionism. In contrast, the risk of death was significantly lower in those who tested high for optimism (see why I choose to be an Optimist Prime?).
But, let’s look into why could this be?
Well think back to when your perfectionist comes on and those feelings that accompany it. Perhaps it’s one or all of these:
Science has given us plenty of research to back up that NONE of these feelings help out your lifespan. They actually contribute to heart disease, obesity, hormone issues, and so much more.
And if health issues and death weren’t enough to convince you, relationship problems are common among perfectionists too. As crazy as you make yourself, those around you are suffering too. Perfectionists often hold those closest to them up to the same standards as themselves. Setting not only themselves up for failure, but their spouses, kids, friends, family members, and workmates, too.
The perfectionist quickly becomes inflexible, non-compassionate, and judgemental to those they’re supposed to trust.
You can see that perfectionism is much worse than just trying to improve yourself to be the best. Learning how to overcome perfectionism seriously improves your enjoyment of life!
How to Tell If Your A Perfectionist
Knowing if you’re a perfectionist isn’t as simple as it might seem. Perfectionists often misidentify themselves as “hard workers”, “high achievers”, “detail-oriented”, or “well organized”. They honestly think they’re just trying to better themselves and can’t help that they have high standards.
In other words, Perfectionists don’t see that they have a problem.
The culture that we live in doesn’t help perfectionists see their problem either. We live in a time when workaholics are praised. Putting life on hold to achieve future goals is almost expected. Those that can do this often times are your perfectionists, and they’re praised for it! That report they stayed up for two nights straight to complete (ignoring their bodies need to sleep, food, or adequate bathroom breaks) will be the star report of the quarter. Their leaders will shower them with praise, and reinforce the behavior and mindset.
Think through the following questions. Be brutally honest. Telling yourself what you want to hear for the “right” answer won’t help you one bit.
How often do you put aside your health (sleep, food, exercise, etc.) to accomplish a goal?
Keeping up with a good health routine is often low priority for a perfectionist. There are far more important goals to achieve, so they often resort to minimal hours of sleep and on-the-go food options. Even if health care is your “thing,” perfectionists might go to extremes to accomplish their goal.
When you achieve something what do you focus on: that fact that you achieved it or how you could do better?
High-achievers and perfectionists seem similar, but have a major difference. High-achievers have a healthy mindset about failing, are happy with their accomplishments, and enjoy the journey of completing them. Perfectionists can’t help but nit-pick their achievements, even if they could be called “perfect.” They would continue to work on their project until it was deemed a failure and discarded. Even if they achieve the goal they set out to do, there will always be something wrong.
How important is it to appear put-together to everyone else, despite if things are in chaos?
Judging a perfectionist and being deemed lacking is one of their biggest fears. This might be extreme, but picture a woman who just sprained her ankle. She’s in an intense amount of pain, but continues walking as if everything is fine. What’s more, she’ll do so smiling! This is the lens perfectionists live through. That not only is their life perfectly perfect, but that it’s a breeze to keep it that way. Being genuine is only allowed when it helps boost that image.
Do you avoid new challenges or try to study up on them beforehand?
If you can’t be the best, why do it at all. This can be the thinking of a perfectionist. Rather than try to acquire new skills, they’re so afraid of failing (and being judged as a failure) that they’d prefer not to even try. An exception to this is if they’re with a bunch of beginners, if they can work hard and get a leg up on the others, a new challenge where they’re the best beginner might not be so hard to avoid.
Do you struggle with procrastination and getting things done?
As weird as it may seem, perfectionism and procrastination go hand-in-hand. Because of their impossible standards and fear of failing, perfectionists sometimes fail to do anything at all. Much like with challenges, if they feel they can’t produce their best, they’ll wait for a time when they can. This is the vicious cycle perfectionists find themselves in. The more they procrastinate, the more stress they experience to get perfection done. The more stress leads to a greater feeling of failure. The greater feeling of failure leads to more procrastination, and downward we go. Needing more tips on how to get started and succeed at time management, check out this post.
From the questions above, you should have a pretty solid idea of whether you are a perfectionist, or at least how many perfectionist tendencies you have. While you might be feeling like a failure after evaluating yourself, don’t worry!
I’m a walking example of a recovering perfectionist.
There is hope on how to overcome perfectionism and start loving yourself! Keep reading for my top tips in how I was able to overcome perfectionism.
Top Tips on How to Overcome Perfectionism
1| Give yourself a good reality check.
We all need a reality check, every now and again. And as much as you might try to be a cyborg of perfection, we just aren’t at the point yet. Think through this with me. Is it really logical to ask the impossible of yourself?
Instead, look at others who have accomplished what you just have (yes, still do this even if it wasn’t as good as you might have done). Ask them how long it took to get there? Did they fail because it wasn’t as good as it could have been? And ask yourself if they are less of a person because they achieved a lower standard?
Try looking at things in measurements of how much they cost you. Sure you both produced a great result, but at what cost? Compare how much time you spent or wasted. What emotional costs were there? Who really ended up being more efficient?
When you break it down into costs compared with results, you’ll get a more clear picture of your skewed view of reality.
It’ll take some practice, but soon it’ll be clear that the cost of achieving perfection is enjoying your life. By learning how to overcome your perfectionism, you’ll have a less stress and happy life.
2| Evaluate goals vs. expectations.
Another area to do a deep dive into is what are your goals and what are your expectations.
A goal is something to aim for or a desired result. It can be as grand or small as you like. You can set them at any time interval.
An expectation is a strong belief that something will happen. It is something you should achieve or be able to attain.
Goals and expectations are NOT the same thing. And trying to make them the same is a sure way to set yourself up for failure and put loads of stress on those around you.
Take a minute to write down what goals you have. Below it, write down what expectations do you put on yourself. Then, compare the two. If there are overlaps, most likely you’re putting what should be a goal into your expectation category (rarely will perfectionists put it the other way around). Adjust the categories until you have a balanced view on what you can set as healthy expectations on yourself, and what goals you can actively work towards achieving.
Goals are great to have, but they’re not something to punish yourself over. Really work hard to understand the difference between the two.
3| Recognize perfectionist thinking & challenge it.
Out minds are tricky things. We can start working on overcoming perfectionism right in our mindset first by recognizing our perfectionist thinking and then challenging it.
Anytime you get those perfectionist feelings mentioned earlier ask yourself these questions:
- Is this really as important as I’m making it out to be?
- What if this doesn’t end up my way?
- Can it only be done my way, or is there more than one way?
- Will things go badly if it’s not done my way?
- Is the world going to end if it’s not perfect?
Reflect on your answers to these questions, and formulate an alternative thought to counter your original answer.
For example, your perfectionist thought might answer “yes this is important, because if I don’t fix every grammatical error on this, my boss will think I’m an idiot, and my job will be at risk, and I may not be able to pay my bills, and soon I’ll be homeless.” Counter it by thinking “I’ve never been at risk during this job, and my boss has always commended my results. It’s unrealistic to think I’ll be homeless due to a grammatical error.”
Understand that the alternative thought serves as a reminder that it’s not that important, and the perfectionist thought only works up more stress.
4| Try to be a perfect learner.
If you still feel the need to be perfect, aim to be a perfect learner. As a perfect learner, constantly search out new facts to learn, new experiences to try, new journeys to travel, and new challenges to embrace.
When you become open to being a perfect learner, you’ll understand (and eventually embrace) that failing is a giant part of learning.
Ask yourself, “What did this failure teach me? What can I improve for next time?”
You’ll become an expert at failing, and start to search out more and more new experiences. This can be a great way to start out overcoming perfectionism!
Overcome Perfectionism With These Projects
To really overcome perfectionism, you’ll need to branch out and try new challenges. Here are some of my favorites to try! If you’re needing help sticking to these new goals, click here on how to stop quitting and start doing.
- Find someone you trust and delegate anything to them. I know, you might do it better and faster, but relinquish control and observe how the world doesn’t end.
- Set timers for projects and distractions. If you set a time frame to have the house clean by 3 o’clock, don’t stand around getting your game plan together until 2:50. Set a timer for anything that you can. If it’s not due in that moment, uphold your promise and move on to the next thing.
- Try something you know you’re no good at. I’m sure you won’t have to think too hard since perfectionists tend to be self-critical, but find something you know you’re terrible at. For example, I’m terrible at basketball. Instead of sitting out reading when my husband wants to shoot hoops, I’ll swallow my pride and pick up the ball.
- Jump into a project without thinking. Maybe don’t choose a crazy important project you’ve been procrastinating on already. But when you have a new project you haven’t started yet, try taking a leap of faith and seeing what you can accomplish without planning to perfection first. You might be surprised at your results.
Overcoming perfectionism doesn’t have to be something you deem impossible. Recognizing the negative effects this has on your life, can be enough motivation to take that control back and begin loving yourself. Start today, pick one thing and give it a try. Remember, if you fail it’ll be good for you.
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