Perfectionism. It’s a word that sparks an image of impeccable standards, meticulous attention to detail, and an unwavering commitment to excellence. Sounds great, doesn’t it?
However, there’s a flip side to this coin. You see, being a perfectionist can sometimes hold you back from moving forward, keeping you stuck in a rut.
Having high standards for yourself can be seen as a good thing, but it can also become a barrier on your life journey. Wanting to avoid mistakes and be perfect can make it hard to get started and slow down your progress.
Sometimes, you might even struggle to finish what you’ve started because you’re always aiming for something that’s impossible to achieve.
In this article, I’m going to share some actionable tips to help you break free from the chains of toxic perfectionism. It’s time to let go of the unrealistic standards and self-imposed pressure that’s weighing you down.
Let’s dive into how you can start living, working, and achieving on your own terms.
What Is Perfectionism Exactly?
Perfectionism, as defined by the American Psychological Association, is “the tendency to demand of others or of oneself an extremely high or even flawless level of performance, in excess of what is required by the situation.” It’s like setting a bar so high that it’s nearly impossible to reach.
Being a perfectionist doesn’t mean you’re striving to be your best but rather striving to achieve an unattainable ideal. It’s like trying to win a race where the finish line keeps moving further away.
For example, let’s say you’re working on a project. A perfectionist would spend hours obsessing over every single detail, fearing that even a tiny flaw would make the entire project a failure.
This level of pressure and expectation doesn’t just lead to burnout—it’s also related to a variety of mental health problems like depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. It’s a heavy burden to carry.
12 Strategies to Ditch Toxic Perfectionism and Get Unstuck
1. Learn to Spot Perfectionism and How it Slows You Down
Perfectionism can often creep in unnoticed. It may start with a strong desire to do well, which is perfectly healthy. But when this desire morphs into an obsession for flawlessness and begins to dictate your self-worth, you’ve entered the realm of perfectionism.
An example of this is spending extra hours on a task, obsessing over minor details, while ignoring the bigger picture. You might constantly need to recheck, redo, and refine your work, without ever feeling satisfied with the output.
This is the difference between striving for excellence and being trapped in trying to get it perfect.
Perfectionism can also slow your progress and leave you feeling stuck.
For instance, if you’re planning to start a fitness journey, you might get caught in the trap of researching the perfect workout plan or waiting for the perfect time to start. In reality, there’s no perfect time or plan; just starting with what you have and improving along the way can lead to progress.
This is a classic example of perfectionism hindering progress. Instead of making strides towards your goal, you’re stuck in the cycle of planning and waiting for the perfect moment that never comes.
Giving up on the need for perfection can really push you forward and open up a whole new world of possibilities. You’ll come to realize that it’s totally fine not to be perfect—it’s actually pretty liberating.
2. Bring Awareness Into Your Self-Talk
Negative self-talk and perfectionism share a symbiotic relationship — they feed off each other, creating a complex cycle to break.
You might find yourself caught in a loop of self-criticism and high expectations, where your inner dialogue constantly pushes you to be ‘perfect.’ This constant need to achieve perfection stems from a deeply ingrained belief that you must be flawless to be loved and valued.
To recognize these harmful thoughts, pay attention to your inner dialogue.
If you find yourself thinking things like, “I can’t make a single mistake,” or “I’m not good enough to do this,” you’re dealing with negative self-talk.
Remember, these are not facts but merely thoughts.
Try to consciously counter these thoughts with more positive and realistic ones. For example:
- “It’s okay to make mistakes; that’s how I learn,” or,
- “Being liked for who I truly am is more important than striving for an idea of ‘perfection’”.
3. Notice When You’re Procrastinating
Being excellent at what you do and having high standards is great.
But sometimes, it can become a problem when it stops you from taking action and getting things done. You end up stuck in a loop of not doing anything.
This is when perfectionism turns into procrastination, which is like an invisible chain that keeps you trapped in the world of planning and waiting instead of actually doing things.
You strive for flawlessness, and when that seems unattainable (because, let’s face it, it is), you push back deadlines, delay starting tasks, or worse, abandon them altogether. It’s a vicious cycle, and the first step to breaking it is acknowledging it’s there.
Notice when perfectionism is morphing into procrastination.
Maybe you’re delaying a project because you don’t think you can meet your overly high standards.
Or you’re spending too much time fine-tuning details instead of moving forward. For example, you might be taking ages to start writing your novel because you think your plot or character development isn’t “perfect” yet.
It’s important to recognize this behavior for what it is – procrastination disguised as perfectionism – and remind yourself that it’s better to start imperfectly than not to start at all.
4. Focus on Excellence Instead
As a perfectionist, the idea of “ditching your perfectionism” may initially sound like you’re being told to “lower your standards” or “do subpar work.”
I understand that this can feel counterintuitive and even uncomfortable. After all, you take immense pride in the quality of your work and have a deep-seated commitment to delivering the best. But what if you aimed for excellence instead?
Pursuing excellence is about doing your best, learning, and growing. It is a journey where mistakes aren’t a sign of failure but opportunities to learn and improve. It focuses on progress instead of perfection.
For example, in a work environment, a perfectionist might spend hours agonizing over a single presentation slide, striving for absolute flawlessness.
On the other hand, someone focused on excellence would invest their time efficiently across the entire presentation, ensuring clarity and impact and delivering a well-structured and informative presentation on time.
When you’re too focused on being perfect, you can loose sight of the bigger picture. Excellence, however, keeps you grounded and encourages constant growth and development.
5. Embrace a “Done Is Better Than Perfect” Mentality
Sometimes, trying to be perfect can lead to paralysis.
Sometimes we get so caught up in the little details (that sometimes don’t matter at all) that we lose sight of the big picture, you know? We’re so focused on the small stuff that we forget about our ultimate goal.
The fear of producing something less than perfect can be so overwhelming that you end up not producing anything at all.
This is the crux of the problem with perfectionism – it’s a mentality that often stops you from taking action, leads to procrastination and slows down your progress.
Think of it this way: a completed project with a few small errors holds more value than an immaculate plan that stays trapped in your mind or on a piece of paper.
It’s time to let go of the idea that perfection is the ultimate sign of success. Instead, recognize that action, however imperfect, is the cornerstone of progress and accomplishment.
Understand that every step you take, no matter how small or imperfect, is a step towards growth.
It’s better to have a finished project with room for improvement than an unfulfilled idea waiting for the elusive ‘perfect’ moment.
6. Remember That We All Start Somewhere
We often forget that every master was once a beginner. Everyone who’s achieved greatness has, at some point, stood exactly where you are right now, filled with uncertainty and self-doubt.
They’ve been scared, overwhelmed, and unsure. They’ve made mistakes, faced setbacks, and learned from them.
Just like you, they started with nothing more than a dream and the courage to take the first step.
So remember, it’s okay to feel lost, it’s okay to make mistakes, and it’s okay to be a beginner. Because every beginning, no matter how small or daunting, is the start of an extraordinary journey.
In our quest for perfection, we often put pressure on ourselves to have it all figured out right from the start. But let’s just pause for a moment and understand that it’s okay not to know everything; it’s okay to be unsure.
Remember, every journey begins with a single step. So, take that step. Start your journey. And trust the process.
7. Practice Being Imperfect in Lower-Risk Scenarios
One of the best places to start practicing imperfection is in your personal life, with friends or family. They love and accept you for who you are, not what you do.
Try to loosen up a bit, maybe tell a story that doesn’t have a punchline, or share a meal that didn’t turn out perfectly.
The key is to experience and acknowledge that it’s okay if things are not always perfect. You might find that others hardly notice your “imperfections,” or if they do, it doesn’t change their opinion of you.
Another great scenario is in new learning environments. Sign up for a class or workshop that interests you, where you’re a beginner and not expected to be perfect. Embrace your mistakes as part of the learning process, and pay attention to people’s reactions when you slip up.
If they notice, they’re most likely to respond with empathy rather than judgment, offering advice or sharing their own experiences of learning.
Practicing imperfection in these scenarios can help you realize that it’s not just okay to be imperfect, but it’s a natural and important part of growth.
8. Set the Right Priorities
Sometimes, in our quest for perfection, we need to remember to appreciate the importance of being efficient and quick.
Let’s say you have a project at work with a tight deadline. Instead of obsessing over every little detail, what really matters is getting the job done on time. Your teammates would probably value your ability to finish tasks efficiently and promptly rather than stressing over every single detail being perfect.
Remember, sometimes, the quest for perfection can lead to paralysis. Don’t let that happen. Prioritize speed and efficiency when they matter most, and let go of the need to always be perfect.
9. Picture the Worst-Case Scenario
Let’s take a moment to think about the worst-case scenarios that worry you.
Most of the time, they’re not life-or-death situations but rather problems that can be solved with some time and thought. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of ‘what ifs’ and blow things out of proportion.
As a perfectionist, you might automatically imagine the worst outcomes if things don’t turn out perfectly.
But remember, these scenarios are often scarier in our minds than they would be in reality. Striving for perfection can sometimes make things seem worse than they actually are.
So, take a closer look at these imagined scenarios. Understanding they likely won’t happen can actually help us ease the pressure we tend to put on ourselves to be perfect.
10. Uncover Its Underlying Beliefs
Toxic perfectionism can often be rooted in beliefs that we sometimes underestimate. One of these beliefs is the fear of judgment or failure, which can stop you from stepping out of your comfort zone and taking risks.
For example, you might avoid tasks where success isn’t guaranteed because you worry that any failure will reflect poorly on you.
Another common belief tied to toxic perfectionism is that your worth depends on your achievements. This can lead to constantly striving for the next big accomplishment, feeling like your value as a person hinges on it. However, it’s important to shift this mindset.
Start by acknowledging and understanding these beliefs.
Then challenge them by reminding yourself that making mistakes is a normal part of learning and growing. Your worth is inherent, not tied to your achievements. You’re much more than what you accomplish, and it’s okay to embrace imperfections along the way.
11. Keep Track of Your Imperfect Achievements
Remembering that the journey to success is filled with imperfections is super important.
So here’s the thing: achievements don’t always have to be perfect to be valuable.
By recognizing and celebrating your not-so-perfect accomplishments, you start breaking down the walls of perfectionism, one brick at a time.
These accomplishments show how brave you are for embracing imperfections and enjoying the learning process.
And guess what? Keeping track of your imperfect achievements also helps you develop a growth mindset, which means believing that you can improve your skills with dedication and hard work.
A growth mindset is about loving learning, being resilient, and understanding that mistakes are just stepping stones to success.
Remember, even the most successful people have had their fair share of ups and downs. It’s their persistence and ability to learn from their experiences that made them who they are today.
12. Talk It Out
There’s no shame in seeking help when you’re struggling.
If you’ve tried to deal with perfectionism by yourself but haven’t gotten very far, it might be a good idea to get help from a professional. Therapists are experts who have special training to give you tools and strategies to handle perfectionism and make it less of a problem in your life.
Therapy can be a safe space for you to express your fears and anxieties and gain insights into patterns of perfectionism.
Working with a therapist can help you develop healthier coping mechanisms and guide you in the journey of self-acceptance.
Keep in mind that reaching out for help is not a sign of weakness but a testament to your strength and determination to improve your life.
If perfectionism is causing undue stress and unhappiness, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.
Cons of Being a Perfectionist
1. Perfectionism can affect your health negatively
Did you know that being a perfectionist can take a toll on your physical health as well?
Studies have linked perfectionism to cardiovascular disease. The constant pressure to meet unrealistically high standards can take a toll on both your mental and physical health.
2. Perfectionism makes you a procrastinator and keeps you stuck
Often, being a perfectionist means you’re waiting for the “perfect” moment to start: the perfect idea, the perfect skills, the perfect time. But in waiting for everything to align perfectly, you end up procrastinating and stalling your progress. It’s just not practical or efficient.
What is the main cause of perfectionism?
Perfectionism can stem from a variety of sources. It could be a result of low self-esteem, where you’re striving for perfection to validate your worth.
Your upbringing could also influence it if you were held to high standards as a child, you might carry these expectations into adulthood.
Anxiety disorders may also drive perfectionism, as you may feel a need to control your environment to alleviate anxiety.
Is perfectionism a mental problem?
Perfectionism isn’t necessarily a mental disorder, but it can contribute to mental health issues if left unchecked. That being said, there are plenty of strategies and resources available to help manage perfectionism.
If it’s causing significant distress in your life, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.
The Bottom Line
Perfectionism can keep you stuck and hinder your progress.
It might be time to reassess your approach if you find yourself constantly striving for perfection and it’s holding you back from your dreams – whether it’s changing careers or starting a business.
Remember, every expert was once a beginner, and every masterpiece started with a single step.
Don’t let the fear of imperfection prevent you from taking that first step. You are more capable than you think, and it’s okay to learn as you go ❤️