If I were to tell you I purposely made a small yet significant grammatical error in the writing of this article would it bother you? Would you stop everything until you found it? Then, you might just have a strong case for being—a Perfectionist. In case you’re thinking of trying to find that error, I can tell you I didn’t purposely put one in. If, however, you do manage to find one—please, do let me know! You’re probably here because you are a Perfectionist or think you might be. If you’re not sure and you want to find out, take this Perfectionism Test. If you are sure and want to do something about your perfectionist tendencies, you’re in the right place. Overcoming perfectionism can be a challenge. But, armed with the right information it can be done. The strategies you’ll learn here are the exact same that have helped many other people overcome perfectionism.
Strategies for Overcoming Perfectionism
1. Manage Your Expectations
One thing all perfectionists have in common—is that they hold high expectations. Of themselves, of others, and the world around them. The problem is, even for the competent of perfectionists, it can be a difficult and exhausting pursuit to uphold. While there’s nothing wrong with holding high expectations, it’s important to note, at times, it can prove to be very costly. Whether we know it or not.
Holding high expectations can be a leading cause as to why we become counter-productive. Why we fear failure. And why we feel defeated. By not well managing our expectations, we set ourselves up for failure. And when we do, we also set ourselves up for disappointment and frustration. “What can I do?” you ask? Learn to Manage your Expectations.
What does this mean? It means to not always base your expectations on the premise of “Winning” or achieving a “Desired” state. It’s great to be competitive and to want more. And it’s fine to want to do more, have more and be more. It just must not be at the expense of your own well-being. Or the well-being of others for that matter. Managing expectations is a skill. A vastly underutilized yet incredibly valuable skill to have. So, how do you manage your expectations? One of the best ways is to be Realistic. Here are some fundamental ways to help get you there:
- You are human and part of being human is to make mistakes.
- You are imperfectly perfect. Your imperfections are what make you special and unique. Your imperfections don’t define you–how you view them does!
- Not everything will go your way every time. No matter how much you envision and plan for it to be.
- People can’t read your mind. It’s unrealistic to assume others know what you mean and want.
- Unforeseen circumstances are a part of life. Learning to change and adapt will be your best assets.
Bill Gates once said something that, in many ways, holds true. He said:
Most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten years.
Keep in mind, no one achieves perfection in every attempt. Many times, not even in the first attempt! Some might, but the reality is—many of us won’t! And, there’s nothing wrong with that. Consider this. When we enter a new year what do people generally do? They make New Year Resolutions. One year goals. When it’s time again to make New Year Resolutions, what do the same people, generally, do? They make the same New Year Resolutions as last year! Granted, many give up after the first few months but, many others tend to overestimate what they had set out to achieve. By managing your expectations, you allow yourself to
Granted, many give up after the first few months but, many others tend to overestimate what they had set out to achieve. By managing your expectations, you allow yourself to better account for things when they don’t go to plan or be the way you want them to be.
2. Settle on Progress
Whether we believe it or not, Perfection—in all its glory is a real human ideal. An ‘ideal’ millions of people all over the world pursue. Every. Single. Day. Like many perfectionists, they go as far as to define themselves by how closely they can bring their efforts to perfection. But, while the thought of achieving absolute perfection is nice, the reality is, our rational minds know it is rarely, (if ever) possible. When the focus is so heavily on attaining perfection, what then is the solution?
When the focus is so heavily on attaining perfection, what then is the solution? Progress. Instead of striving for perfection, why not focus on making progress? Step changes that will move you forward rather than hold you back. Why not allow yourself to live by the mantra shared by Sports Quotes.
Strive for progress, not perfection.
— Sports Quotes (@Sports_Greats) November 27, 2016
One of the many truths about life is that we fail more times than we succeed. Pick any “Successful” person in the world today who’s at the top of their game. I’d bet that they didn’t get to where they are today without having to endure one painful defeat after another. What does this mean for you? It means, to overcome perfectionism, it’s important to realize that Progress is better than Perfection. For example, do you remember the first time you tried to draw a circle? Was it perfect? Does it matter
Do you remember the first time you tried to draw a circle? Was it perfect? Does it matter now that it wasn’t perfect? Probably not. Right? Same goes for everyday life. Rather than giving up on your first attempt at drawing a perfect circle. Decide and Commit to finishing that circle. Remember, more often than not:
3. Praise Your Efforts
Perfectionists are exceptionally good at being critical of themselves. Sometimes, perhaps, too critical. They don’t give themselves enough credit for what they do. Either for themselves or for others. They see the negative rather than the positive. The wrong rather than the right. The incomplete rather than the complete. They never seem to reach a sense of achievement, accomplishment, or satisfaction. Needless to say—Perfectionists are hard on themselves. Can you relate?
When you find yourself going over each ‘imperfect’ outcome in your mind, use it as a reminder to interrupt those thoughts and instead take the time to Praise your Efforts. Acknowledge the successes you’ve already achieved. Big and Small. My challenge to you is this: Starting with the next 7 days, as each day comes to an end, take inventory of your previous 24 hours. Look back and take a note of your “Wins!” The Wins can be anything from starting something to making progress on something, to—of course—even finishing something.
The only rule is that you must give yourself credit for EVERY WIN—no matter how big or small. Do this for the next 7 days and you might just be amazed at all your accomplishments. Do it for you. Give yourself some credit. Don’t let perfectionism get in the way of appreciating the everyday effort you put into your life. Have a think about it now. What are 3 Wins in the last 24 hours you can give yourself credit for right now?
4. Allow for Imperfections
Whether you’re a pathological perfectionist or think you have perfectionist tendencies, learning to accept imperfections can be surprisingly liberating. It can help ease the guilt, the shame, and the self-criticism we beat ourselves down with. While the advice: “allow for imperfections” sounds easier said than done, with practice—it can be done.
How? Start with something ‘imperfectly’ small. For example, it could be an imperfectly folded shirt or, a less-than-perfectly organized desk. Rather than spend your time and energy making such things “perfect” use the time and energy towards something more important and meaningful. The key is to pace yourself. Start small and work your way up to bigger things that don’t make good use of your time and energy.
The benefits of learning to accept imperfections, allows us to live each day with much less stress. Plus, it gives us a fighting chance at being more productive! For the perfectionist, making mistakes (or the thought of it) seldom becomes a painful experience. And constructive criticism is seen as just that–Constructive. The perfectionist who is willing to accept imperfections when, really, it doesn’t matter, revamps his or her priorities. Above all, they learn to embrace the idea that “some” may not equal “all” but is better than “none!”
5. Seek Therapy
Not every perfectionist needs therapy, but the benefits certainly make it worth considering. To help dissolve the challenges inherent with perfectionism, therapists often employ Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This type of therapy is often used to help re-frame the patient’s thoughts. Such as thoughts of ‘inadequacy’. During the CBT sessions, generally, the therapist will try to ‘move’ the person to accept that “average” is okay and to feel good about it. A different approach to advising a patient to focus on ‘lowering their standards,’ as suggested by the people at GoodTherapy.org. The point is, it’s not so much about accepting ‘average.’ It doesn’t matter if it means turning in work that’s average or, performing average. But rather, feeling okay about things not being perfect.
See also: Imperfectly Perfect: Making Peace with Your Imperfections.
Coming to terms with the fact that the pursuit of perfectionism is more of a hindrance rather than an enhancer, will enable you to take the next step towards overcoming perfectionism. From there, it’s, then, a matter of taking the right steps to free yourself. Approach each day with an open mind and a willingness to make the best of every situation. Pursue excellence, but refuse to expect perfection from yourself, others, and the world around you. Focus on doing what you can do as well as possible—without agonizing over it. You’ll be utterly amazed at how liberated, productive, and happy you will be once you’ve overcome perfectionism once and for all!
As a final sentiment, I leave you with the following words shared by serial entrepreneur and public speaker Scott Eddy.
Real people aren’t perfect.
Perfect people aren’t real.
— Scott Eddy (@MrScottEddy) November 15, 2016