Overcoming perfectionism can greatly improve your quality of life. By letting go of rigid expectations, you become open to life’s unexpected opportunities, so you can find ways to actively create the life you want.
On the surface, perfectionism can sound like a desirable trait — perfectionists demand high standards of themselves. They strive to be the best at everything they do, and create an organized, orderly life.
But that isn’t how life works. The human condition is messy, and much of it is beyond our ability to control.
When nothing goes right and things go out of order, which they inevitably do, perfectionists have a hard time adjusting. This can have devastating effects, leaving a person obsessed over every detail, and anxious about achieving the perfect outcome in every situation.
If you’re struggling with perfectionism, read on to learn how to let go of this weight and make positive changes in your life.
The cost of struggling with perfectionism
Perfectionism means refusing to accept anything short of perfect when trying to achieve your goals. But as an abstraction, perfection is impossible to achieve, and striving for it sets unrealistic expectations.
Perfectionistic tendencies often arise from a need to avoid failure and criticism at all costs. And what’s the best way to avoid ever having to risk failing or being criticized for your efforts?
To put off starting until the right moment — the moment when you can’t fail. You try to wait until your skills are fully developed, and the stars align, before you make your move.
Perfectionism leads to the type of procrastination that says, “If I can’t do it perfectly the first time, I don’t want to do it.”
Sometimes perfectionists get so caught up in optimizing conditions, internally and externally, that they never get their ideas off the ground.
Another way to avoid falling short of your goals is never to try anything new or challenging. Perfectionism can leave people paralyzed, not just procrastinating on pursuing their dreams, but unable to face a challenge when they do.
When you have a deep-rooted fear of failure and criticism, any challenge can give you a reason to quit, or not even try. When faced with a roadblock, you may not be able to see the value in working through it. The pain of not being good enough is enough to stop you in your tracks.
Perfectionism leaves you stuck because it leads you to avoid seeking out the challenges that help you grow, in work, life, and even relationships.
Perfectionism can result in a driven and intense work ethic. That’s why so many perfectionists are natural leaders with successful businesses and careers. But they can never live up to their own impossible standards, no matter how successful they seem to others.
Low self-esteem haunts perfectionists, even those who seem to have perfect lives.
Struggling with perfectionism can greatly impede not only your ability to succeed, but your enjoyment of success when you do achieve it. This leads to unhappiness and even mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.
Are you stuck in The Perfect Trap?
Take a moment to imagine yourself standing before a mile of open water, with the aim of swimming to the other side. You dive in, with confidence and vigor, and begin the course to reach your goal.
After the first few minutes, you feel yourself slowing down. Your support team calls down to you from the boat, urging you to unlatch the fanny pack you are wearing. You reach down to release the belt, and let it drop.
It was packed full of rocks.
How does it feel to let go of that weight?
Perfectionist tendencies cause self-defeating thoughts that hold you back. Many people swim toward goals without realizing they are carrying this weight, stuck in the “Perfect Trap.”
Perfectionism can hide in your thinking patterns. When you try to take on too much, do too much, and be too much, that’s one of the signs.
My observations with clients over the past seven years tells me that, at any given moment, 65 out of 100 entrepreneurs or small business owners are stuck in the “Perfect Trap.”
I bet that every human being gets stuck in this trap at some point. Many don’t realize they are in it, and they continually sabotage their own work and satisfaction.
To see if you unconsciously hold yourself back, stuck in the perfect trap, answer the following questions with a simple yes or no:
- Do you often feel what you accomplish is never quite good enough?
- Do you often find that you rarely feel satisfied with your completed projects and work?
- Do you often believe that if you do not do a perfect job, you are somehow less of a person?
- Do you put things off because you’d rather not fail trying to do them?
- Do you often hear people suggesting that you should get out of your own way?
- Do you sense that you try to cram too much activity into your time slots? In other words, do you have greater expectations of what can be done versus what reality can offer you in terms of days and hours?
If the answer is yes to any one of these questions, you probably have a weight tied to your waist on some level.
Call this weight perfectionism.
Strategies on how to stop being a perfectionist
Can perfectionism be cured?
Sure, struggling with perfectionism can cause a lot of stress and pain. However, that doesn’t mean you have to continue to suffer from perfectionism anxiety.
When looking to overcome perfectionism, consider the following strategies:
1. Remember the costs of perfectionism
Understand that pushing to achieve perfection is like swimming with a sack of rocks. Eventually, along the way, you will have to pay the price.
You will either feel exhausted or cause your entire vision to drown. It may also have health implications that manifest physically and mentally.
2. Break down goals into smaller tasks
When setting a vision of where we’re going, we need to be realistic. By this, I mean breaking up the vision into bite-size chunks.
With this approach, you will feel satisfied as you complete small steps and move forward. You can celebrate each one and not have to accomplish everything in order to feel happy.
3. Experiment with doing things on a variety of levels
You will fare better by letting go of an expectation, a task, or a degree of quality to move forward and not remain trapped.
Allow yourself to feel satisfied with accomplishing a good rating rather than an excellent rating. Go for great, instead of perfect.
You can even allow yourself to do a lousy job once in a while, just to prove that you can. Then you can mark that item off your task list.
4. Celebrate every accomplishment, no matter how small
Any forward motion is progress. It deserves recognition. When we take time to celebrate progress, no matter how small, it adds jet fuel to our packs, instead of rocks.
I’ve learned that in those quiet moments after something has been accomplished, a rich and fertile piece of ground appears. When we acknowledge our win, we have a chance to plant a seed for the next success.
5. Be kind to yourself
Contrary to popular belief, criticizing yourself does not help you succeed, and self-compassion does not make you weak. In fact, the research shows that self-compassion is more effective than self-criticism.
So when it comes to personal motivation, you can let go of the idea that beating yourself up is a prerequisite. Instead, treat yourself as you would a friend.
How to deal with perfectionism
Taking the time to reflect on your perfectionistic tendencies will help you recognize toxic thought patterns and replace them with healthy ones.
Recognize these thought patterns as perfectionism weighing you down:
- Always having to be right
- Always having to win
- Being right or winning at the expense of other people
- Having to control everything
- Judging or critiquing every move you make
- Doubting and second-guessing yourself excessively
- Considering the “what ifs”, what could or might go wrong
Instead, give yourself freedom:
- To make mistakes
- To take risks
- To be spontaneous
- To have confidence in what you can do
Don’t get stuck in binary thinking. You’ll always be frustrated when you want to choose between A or B — perfect or unacceptable.
You become so focused on A or B that you forget the third, fourth, or fifth choice waiting in the wings.
Remember: you don’t have to do it alone!
Stay strong, but you don’t have to do this all on your own (even if your perfectionism says you should be able to).
With the right people in your corner, you can get the encouragement you need to step out and explore life without the weight of perfectionism. Maintain a strong support system of friends and family who can celebrate small achievements with you as you pursue your goals.
And if you’re ready to find out what else might be holding you back from everything you want in life, you can sign up for a coaching program.
Life brings us all kinds of unexpected surprises. When you let go of perfectionism, you let in all the possibilities and enjoy the journey.