Top tips for overcoming perfectionism

Sometimes having impossibly high standards means that whatever you do will never be good enough.

Shedding the burden of perfectionism can greatly decrease the level of stress you feel on a daily basis. Here are some tips for overcoming perfectionism and being kinder to yourself.

What is Perfectionism?

Sometimes having impossibly high standards means that whatever you do will never be good enough. Perfectionism involves putting a huge amount of pressure on yourself to ‘be perfect’ or ‘do something perfectly’. Although many people assume that perfectionism is a good trait, it can become exhausting and stressful.

Having high standards and a desire to achieve is healthy, but sometimes the drive to do well can actually impair your performance and cause disappointment because you cannot meet your own, often unrealistic, expectations.

Perfectionism comes largely from the dreaded fear of failure. The fear that if it’s not perfect (coursework, presentation, interview, application etc.) it will expose inner weaknesses. Academic settings such as university can bring out or heighten perfectionism tendencies, so it is important to recognise perfectionism and try to overcome it before it causes frustration and unnecessary stress, rather than fulfilment.

Perfectionistic Behaviour

  • All-or-Nothing Thinking
    Accepting nothing less than perfection
  • Critical
    Highly critical of yourself and other people. You spot mistakes and imperfections rather than seeing the positives
  • Unrealistic Standards
    Setting goals that are not realistic
  • Excessive Checking & Re-doing
    Spending a disproportionate amount of time reviewing work or re-writing work several times to make it ‘perfect’
  • Focussed on Results
    Concerned so much about meeting the end goal and avoiding failure, that you don’t enjoy the process of growing and learning along the way
  • Fear of Failure
    Failure is a scary prospect because so much emphasis is placed on reaching the end goal and nothing but perfection is good enough.
  • Playing it safe
    Doing what you’re already good at so you can be sure of success, and avoiding new things in order to not fail
  • Procrastination
    Fearing failure so much so that you have difficulty completing tasks, give up easily or fail to do anything at all
  • Defensiveness
    Responding to criticism in a defensive manner rather than using the feedback to aid future performance
  • Low Self-Esteem
    Overly self-critical of yourself. This trait can also push others away leaving you feeling isolated

Tips for Overcoming Perfectionism

  1. Making mistakes is a fantastic learning tool and helps you to improve. Instead of criticising yourself, embrace mistakes and focus on the positives.
  2. Set realistic goals for yourself and others. This does not mean having to sacrifice the end result, but setting smaller goals that are more manageable can help to alleviate stress. Remember to reward yourself when you reach these goals.
  3. Try to enjoy the learning process of reaching a goal rather than just concentrating solely on the end result.
  4. Adopt a growth mind-set and stop seeing mistakes as failures – they are a normal part of the leaning process.
  5. Constructive criticism can help provide you with the tools to improve. Take on this advice and use it as a helpful stepping stone to develop.
  6. Challenge your negative thoughts. Replace self-critical thoughts with more realistic and helpful statements – “Nobody is perfect and all I can do is my best”.
  7. Try to worry less about the details and look at the bigger picture – “Will this still matter tomorrow/next week/next year”.
  8. Try something new! Taking up a new hobby can often mean you will start at beginner level and the likelihood of mistakes is high. Focus on enjoying something new and learning another skill, rather than striving for a perfect outcome.

No one is ever really perfect! Perfection is an unattainable goal. It’s not realistic and frankly, it’s damaging.

We all need to embrace our imperfections and failings (we’re only human!) and choose to be happier and healthier versions of ourselves. Once we realise that perfection is not achievable, we’re able to relax, enjoy life and become our best self.