Self-sabotage. Procrastination. All-or-nothing thinking.
If you’re someone who has struggled with perfectionism, you’re probably very familiar with the nasty ways it shows up in your life.
While it’s good to have high standards, perfectionism is holding yourself to standards that are unrealistically high, to the point of being unattainable. Instead of being a positive source or motivation, perfectionism often leads to anxiety, shame, hopelessness, and burnout.
If you want to overcome perfectionism, you have to first understand that it’s your mind’s way of protecting you from your deeper fears. You have the address its root cause, not just the symptom itself.
If you’ve ever struggled with perfectionism, watch this video for 4 strategies on how to overcome. These are strategies I’ve used to stop being a perfectionist myself and get on with my life.
- If you want to overcome perfectionism, remember you’re inherently worthy, it’s not something that you have to earn.
- Focus on the present action rather than on the final result.
- Change the way that you measure success.
- And remember that mistakes and failure are just part of the larger process.
Where does perfectionism come from?
Now, in order to overcome perfectionism, we have to first understand where it comes from. So let’s just take a minute to do that before we dive in.
Perfectionists have expectations for themselves that are unrealistically high. They don’t just strive for great. They demand perfect. And they often end up disappointed because that’s a standard that’s just impossible. It’s unachievable. Perfectionism often shows up in forms of procrastination, self-sabotage, all or nothing thinking, and a lot of self criticism. Rather than providing healthy motivation, it often leads to anxiety, shame, hopelessness, and ultimately burnout.
Now, before we go bashing ourselves for these behaviors, let’s just take a moment to acknowledge that this is the way that our mind is protecting us from things that we’re more afraid of on a deeper level. It’s protecting us from things like fear of failure, fear of being judged, fear of disappointment, of not being good enough, of not living up to expectations, or fear of having to struggle.
Our mind perceives these things as legitimate threats. So perfectionism is our psychological defense mechanism to protect us against those things. It’s actually a symptom of the deeper problem of beliefs and fears that we have within. It’s not the issue itself.
So if we want to overcome perfectionism, we have to challenge those beliefs and fears that are actually driving us to behave in these ways. I’m going to be covering some strategies that have helped me as someone who has also struggled with perfectionism.
1. Remember that you are inherently worthy.
We get caught up in perfectionism when we believe that we have to earn our self-worth, we have something to prove, or that we’re only worthy because of our accomplishments. So making a mistake or failing becomes that much scarier because our self-worth is tied to it. So of course you’re going to procrastinate on starting a big project if you think that if it doesn’t work out, you’re a failure as a person.
But self-worth, happiness… those are not things that you should have to earn. In order to overcome perfectionism, you have to challenge that belief and realize that you’re inherently worthy. You’re worthy of happiness, you’re worthy of love, you’re worthy of kindness and of being alive and of all these wonderful things that life brings us… Not because of your accomplishments, but just by virtue of being alive. It’s not something you have to earn or work for or prove.
Think of a dog or a cat. You don’t love your dog or cat because they’re always perfect or because they have a 4.0 GPA, right? You love them just because. That’s just unconditional love that you have for your pet. Even if they make a mistake, even if they have an accident or if they don’t catch a ball a few times in a row, you still love them, right?
Extend that compassion, that kindness to yourself. Remember, you’re inherently worthy. It’s not something you have to earn through the things that you do.
2. Focus on the current action, not on the final result.
When there’s a big, daunting project ahead of you or a skill that you want to develop, don’t fixate on the final outcome, on the final result. That often feels really intimidating. And you end up procrastinating or being overly self-critical while you’re working on this thing because you assign so much meaning to the final outcome being perfect. It ends up being really hard to start.
Instead, break it up into more manageable pieces, and then take it one step at a time. Focus on that action in front of you instead of on the bigger picture.
Let me share an example from my own life. I’ve been learning to play golf this year. Now, I didn’t want to look like a beginner. I don’t like being bad at things. So before I ever stepped foot on a golf course, I took a few lessons and spent months going to the local driving range and practicing my swing.
Finally, it came time to actually play my first game. It was a Halloween scrimmage that I had with my friends. So imagine a bunch of pirates and bears running around a rainy golf course. That was my first game of golf, and I had a terrible time. I was so preoccupied with what my final score was going to be, and how bad it was going to be, and how embarrassed I was going to be in front of my other friends who were good at golf that the entire 18 holes, I was crabby and moody and I just could not have a good time.
But for whatever reason, I don’t I don’t know why, but I didn’t give up on golf after that day. I guess I was just so frustrated, so embarrassed by my own behavior that I wanted just to prove to myself that, “hey, you know what? I am capable of playing a round of golf without having a temper tantrum.”
So I kept practicing and I got a couple more games under my belt. But I still wasn’t having a great time when I would play because I was so focused on the final score.
Anyway, six months later, we’re at another golf course. It’s Easter Sunday this time, so fewer pirates and bears. And maybe it was a gorgeous weather, or the lack of pirates, but something just clicked in my mind.
Instead of focusing on my overall score, I started focusing on every single shot on its own. I had a checklist in my mind of three things I needed to do before I hit a ball every single time. And every single time I would go up to that ball, I would execute that checklist. All I would focus on was this particular shot. Not the shot before, not the shot after, not the next hole, not how many times I’ve been hitting this ball in this particular hole. I would focus on just this particular swing. I would go through my checklist: “Did I do a practice swing? Did I align my feet? Am I keeping my eye on the ball instead of looking up?”
I would go through this checklist every single time, and I wouldn’t let myself think about the rest of the hole or what my score is or anything like that. I would just go through my checklist. The only thing I would focus on was this particular swing, not what it meant or not what my score was going to be.
And let me tell you, that game that we played over Easter was so much less stressful than that Halloween one. I had a better time, I hit the ball more consistently, and I felt more confident. Why? Because going through that checklist, honing in on that specific action forced me to get present and not stress out about the overall game and get overwhelmed by the final result.
3. Change the way you measure success.
When you engage an all or nothing thinking, you’re basically telling yourself that if you don’t do something perfectly all the way the first time, then it’s not worth doing at all.
Let’s say you want to lose some weight or be more healthy. So you put yourself on this super restrictive diet, and the way you measure success is either you ate clean that day or you didn’t.
So what happens when you slip up one day and eat a cupcake? Well, by the definition of success that we just established, you have failed. So of course you’re going to get discouraged and disappointed in yourself. And since you have this all or nothing thinking and you’ve already failed for today, why not eat the entire box of cupcakes? Why not eat an entire pizza and stuff yourself full of junk food? Cue shame spiral.
If you believe success means doing everything all at once, right away, perfectly, you’re never gonna start. Instead of having such rigid, all or nothing definitions of success, which, by the way, only set you up for failure, give yourself smaller, more attainable goals. Doing something, even if it’s really, really small step and it doesn’t feel like a lot, is better than trying to do everything all at once, and then getting so overwhelmed that you end up doing nothing at all.
If you’re trying to eat more healthy, don’t just dive into the deep end and expect yourself to be perfect all the time. Don’t just demand that every meal has to be clean or whole or healthy, or however you want to call it. Instead, focus on the first few weeks, just making sure that every day you have one fruit. Once that feels normal and natural, take it another step further. Make sure that every day, in addition to that one fruit, you have one serving of vegetables. And once that becomes a habit, you can bump it up to two servings of vegetables a day, etc., etc…
Focus on small attainable goals rather than trying to bite off more than you can chew right away.
4. Accept that mistakes and failure are part of the larger process
A lot of us are terrified of mistakes or of failing, but failure is actually the best way to learn. We, as human beings learn so much more from our failures are our mistakes than we ever do from our successes.
When we make mistakes, we learn about ourselves. We actually are gaining knowledge about how we operate, what our preferences are, what our blind spots are, what works and what doesn’t work for us. When we apply that knowledge, next time we get a little better and we get a little better and we end up becoming more resilient.
So don’t get discouraged by mistakes or failures.
You’re not going to create your next masterpiece without first making a few duds. You improve your work through trial and error. You learn best by making your own mistakes. And you develop your style by trying things and going “nope, that definitely did not work.”
Mistakes and failure aren’t these scary end points that you should be so afraid of that you’re avoiding at all cost. They’re part of the larger process, especially when we’re doing something creative or learning a new skill.
So teach yourself to embrace trial and error, and embrace mistakes.
I’d love to hear from you. Let me know in the comments which of these methods were your favorites. Which resonated with you the most?
Now go put these strategies into practice. Go live your life. Remember, it’s not going to be perfect. You got this.