Perfectionism refers to a style of all-or-nothing thinking in which if something isn’t “perfect,” then it is perceived to be worthless. Although perfectionism can be partly responsible for success and high standards, it often leads to anxiety, frustration, and avoidance of important projects. Below are a few ways to re-think perfectionistic tendencies.
Take stock of the costs of perfectionism: Does holding yourself to an unrealistically high standard benefit or hinder you overall? Is it responsible for increased stress and exhaustion from working harder than you need to? When you fall short of perfection, do you feel demoralized? Recognizing the toll perfectionism can take on your quality of life may cause you to rethink your commitment to perfection. Is there really anything “perfect” about any of these negative consequences?
Fully consider what you think is so bad about making a mistake: Perfectionists are usually mistake-averse. This is problematic because mistakes can be powerful learning experiences. If you are unwilling to make a mistake, take a moment to consider what’s so bad about getting something wrong every once in a while? Could you live through it? Would you take steps to correct it? Could it improve your performance the next time? If so, maybe you’re making a mistake by not allowing room for mistakes.
Experiment with calculated imperfection: if you are afraid of the worst happening if you loosen your grip on the expectation of perfection, experiment with what would actually happen were you to shoot for average. Find something you do that you recognize is overly cautious, or something in which you have a tendency toward overkill. If you’re used to giving it 100%, figure out what 80% would look like and try it a few times. If you really were going way above and beyond before, it’s likely that no one will even notice.
Inventory Past Mistakes: take a moment to write out some of your more memorable past mistakes. If you tend toward perfectionism, your mind probably jumps right to regret. Instead of going with this reflex, write out all of the silver linings or positive outcomes that came about as a result of the mistake. Did you learn something from the mistake? Did the mistake make you more available to another opportunity that came along? Focusing on ways mistakes can be helpful might help you make a little more room for them and be a little easier on yourself with they happen.
Extend kindness to yourself: If your perfectionism is the result of a harsh internal critic, practice balancing the critic with a kinder, gentler voice. Give yourself permission to be “good enough.” Be warm toward yourself when you falter. If you learn to make mistakes less unpleasant by sparing yourself all of the negative self-talk, you may find they’re easier to handle.
Perfectionism can often trigger chronic depression or anxiety. The interventions above are part of cognitive behavioral treatment for perfectionism. Click here for more information about how cognitive behavioral therapy can help you.
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