Overcoming Perfectionism: 7 Things I Had To Learn To Stop Being A Perfectionist
Dear readers, overcoming perfectionism has been one of the BEST things that ever happened to me, so I’m excited to finally get around to writing about it.
I was a perfectionist for a long time and guess where it got me? No. Where.
It got me frustration. It got me exhaustion. It got me self-loathing. It got me procrastination to the point of paralysis. And it most definitely did not help one bit with my depression or anxiety.
Perfectionism had to get the boot in order for me to lead a healthy, happy life. But I will be honest and tell you that sucker didn’t leave voluntarily. It took a lot of work. It took going over the seven perfectionism cures I have listed below over and over and over again. Reminding myself of what I WANTED to believe every time perfectionism showed up knocking at my door requesting re-entry.
So simply reading my tips below will not cure you of perfectionism. But if you start paying attention to when you are letting perfectionism get the best of you… And if you keep reminding yourself of why perfectionist thinking isn’t working for you… And if you keep reminding yourself of the thinking you need to adopt instead… Over and over and over… It will eventually become second nature to you. The old beliefs replaced by the new.
And one morning you will wake up and say “I’m not a perfectionist anymore. I’m recovering.”
Overcoming Perfectionism: 7 Things I Had To Learn To Stop Being A Perfectionist
1. Let Go Of The Need For Everyone To Like You
In order to overcome perfectionism, I had to learn to let go of the need for everyone to like me.
I’m not only a recovering perfectionist, but also a recovering people-pleaser. And the two afflictions were very much intertwined for me.
I wanted to be perfect, so that everyone would like me. So that nobody would ever hurt me. I was hurt a lot as a child and I learned to please to make it stop. I wanted to be everything for everyone to protect myself from conflict.
But wanting to be everything for everyone is a futile goal.
First of all, you are never going to please everyone. No matter what. It’s just not possible. Different people want different things. Let them.
Second, you are not responsible for world happiness. That would be a too-tall order for one person to carry. You are responsible for your own happiness first and foremost, just like everyone else is responsible for theirs.
Third, if you are constantly molding yourself into what other people want you to be, you will give away any chance of an authentic connection. You will give away any chance of feeling truly loved and any chance of feeling like you truly belong. You will risk spending your life surrounded by the wrong people and never finding the right tribe for you. You will risk people loving you for some pretend version of yourself and never being known for who you truly are.
The only way to genuinely and meaningfully connect with others is to reveal yourself fully, imperfections and all, and be loved for the authentic you.
2. Fight The Urge To Compare
In order to overcome perfectionism, I had to learn to fight the urge to compare myself to other people. I had to learn to focus on my own journey.
I get that it’s pretty near impossible to never compare yourself to other people. It’s human nature to do so. I still do it from time to time. But it IS possible to put up a hell of a fight against this tendency and not let it rule your life.
First of all, life is not a competition. It’s not a “let’s see who can achieve the most perfection” race. If anything, life is about finding happiness and I can tell you from personal experience that happiness has absolutely nothing to do with perfection.
Second, comparing your journey to someone else’s journey doesn’t make sense, because you never have full information about someone else. Even when someone’s life looks perfect on the surface (ie. on Facebook), you never really know what they’ve been through or what their struggles are. We ALL have our own issues.
Third, comparing your journey to someone else’s journey doesn’t make sense, because the starting point for one person’s journey is never the same as another person’s. You were born into unique circumstances with a unique combination of personality traits and other characteristics. The gifts you have been given and the obstacles you have climbed over along the way are unique to you. Your situation is never the same as another person’s. Where you are on your journey can never be compared to where someone else is on theirs, because your starting line was not the same.
Focus on your own journey.
3. Reconsider The Standards You Are Measuring Yourself Against
In order to overcome perfectionism, I had to learn to objectively evaluate the standards I was measuring myself against.
And when I did this, I found two crucial flaws with my standards.
First, they weren’t my own standards. They were not based on my own values. They were based on my warped perception of what other people might want or expect of me. They were based on fear. Fear of other people’s judgment to be more exact. (OMG, my house is such a mess everyone will think I’m a slob!)
Second, the standards I was setting for myself were a lot higher than the standards I was setting for anyone else. Other people could fuck up all they wanted to. It was understandable and reasonable. But I wasn’t allowed the same luxury. (OMG, I’m a slob if I have a messy house, but other people with messy houses are probably just busy!)
Now, how much logic is there in that?
To keep my standards healthier, these are the types of questions I have learned to ask myself:
- Are these your standards that you have carefully considered and adopted, because they are in alignment with your values and life goals? Or did you get these standards from outside? From family? From friends? From society? Whose standards do you want to follow?
- Are you using the same standards on yourself as you are on others? Or are you expecting more from yourself than from anyone else? Is it fair to apply different standards? Or should you offer yourself the same level of compassion that you are giving everyone else?
4. Stop Trying To Be A “Well-Rounded” Person
In order to overcome perfectionism, I had to learn to let go of the goal to be good at everything. I had to stop trying to be a “well-rounded” person. I had to start putting more mental effort into my strengths than my weaknesses.
I used to spend an inordinate amount of time perfecting skills that didn’t come to me naturally. Housekeeping. Doing things with my hands. Being practical. Acting in the moment. Staying present. Socializing… I was putting so much energy and effort into “self improvement” (ie. trying to mold myself to be the opposite of who I actually was) that I had nothing left to give when it came to developing my natural strengths.
What a waste!
So given that this world needs your unique combination of strengths and given that we all have a finite amount of time here on this earth, it’s better for everyone for you to devote a majority of your time to honing your strengths and only a little bit of time to worrying about your weaknesses.
Focus on your strengths. Use them, improve them, share your gift with the world.
5. Adopt A “Work-In-Progress” Mentality
In order to overcome perfectionism, I had to learn to adopt a “work-in-progress” mentality.
Perfectionism is defined as the “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection”. If you go by this definition, there’s actually nothing wrong with having a vision of perfection in mind. A vision of perfection that you can work toward. It’s only when you refuse to accept not being there yet, that you have a problem in your hands.
For example, I have a vision for this website. A perfect bad-ass, best ever, self help website that solves ALL your problems. Am I there yet? No, I’m not anywhere even close yet. Do I cry myself to sleep every night over it? Hell, no. Do I beat myself up over it? Hell, no.
Because it’s a work in progress.
Have a vision of perfection if you wish, but let yourself have a growth mindset. Let yourself be a beginner. Let yourself be a life-long student. Let yourself make mistakes and learn from them. Let yourself work toward your vision one baby step at a time, while enjoying the process.
And don’t have a temper tantrum if it’s a very looooong process.
Which brings us to:
6. Revise Your Vision Of Perfection To Be More Realistic
In order to overcome perfectionism, I had to learn to objectively evaluate some of my visions of perfection. I had to learn to revise them to be more realistic.
Let’s take family life with kids, for example. I didn’t have a happy childhood myself, so I was hell-bent on giving my own kids the PERFECT childhood. We would be a kind and loving family. Everyone always supportive of one another. Everyone always kind and considerate. Nobody would ever argue. Nobody would ever get upset.
Realistic? Hell, no. Here’s the flaw in my perfect vision. Not only was I expecting myself to be perfect, but I was also expecting my children to come out of the womb as mini-adults with nothing left to learn. Automatically knowing exactly how to operate in the world and how to get along with everyone.
So, I edited my original vision with a pretty heavy hand until it looked more like this:
A perfect childhood is not the same as a problem-free childhood. A perfect childhood is at times messy and chaotic. It’s about growing and learning. Falling down and scraping your knee and bawling your little eyes out, but then getting hugs and kisses and running off to try again. Getting into arguments with your siblings and screaming at them in anger, but then agreeing to a compromise and playing together again.
Dear reader, if you want to overcome perfectionism, you need to learn to objectively question your own expectations. Ban words like “always” and “never” from your vocabulary. Replace them with words like “sometimes” “reasonable” and “realistic”.
7. Don’t Let Perfect Stand In The Way Of Awesome
In order to overcome perfectionism, I had to learn that trying to achieve perfection in everything was stopping me from achieving anything.
Perfectionism can easily turn into tinkering. You spend so much time obsessing over the details of Thing 1, that you never get to Things 2, 3, and 4.
Or even worse, perfectionism can turn into complete paralysis. You can’t be perfect, so you do nothing. You are so scared of making a mistake that you take no action.
This, if anything, is detrimental to happiness.
Yes, opening yourself up to imperfection is scary. Opening yourself up to making mistakes, failing, disappointing other people, being judged, being hurt. It’s scary.
But you know what’s even scarier?
A life spent trying to achieve the unachievable.
A life spent missing out on everything that could be awesome, because you are stuck stewing over perfection.