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Last Updated on November 27, 2020

How to Stop Being a Perfectionist (Step-by-Step Guide)

How to Stop Being a Perfectionist (Step-by-Step Guide)

If you’ve found your way to this article, I’m guessing you consider yourself a perfectionist. And if you’re reading about how to stop being a perfectionist, you also know your drive for perfection can be as much a curse as it is a blessing.

Like any natural force of nature (e.g., wind, fire, or water), too much of anything can lead to chaos. When the rain waters the earth, for instance, think about how it revives and brings new life to everything it touches. But excessive rain can cause flooding and leave a trail of devastation in its wake.

The same principle is true with perfectionism. You already know the benefits of being meticulous, detail-oriented, conscientious, and successful. The challenge comes when pursuing these things does not lead to a sense of well-being and fulfillment.

Continually striving to get everything right and be the best can come at a high cost and affect your personal relationships, health, and well-being adversely.

I’ve worked with many highly-successful people quick to identify themselves as perfectionists — striving for the perfect life, the perfect relationship, the perfect body, the perfect email, the perfect image, or to be the perfect student, the perfect wife, the perfect employee… You get the point.

They are talented people whose relentless drive has helped them achieve many great things. Although others may be in awe of their achievements, they talk about feeling stressed and anything but perfect.

Listening to clients’ experiences, I’ve seen very clearly that striving for perfection is destined to bring pain, exhaustion, and a sense of failure because it is unattainable. There’s no finish line, checkbox, or wrap party. (Even if it were attainable, and there was a party, would there be anyone left to celebrate with?)

What Is Perfectionism?

The dictionary defines perfectionism as “the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.” One study describes it as “an irrational desire to achieve along with being overly critical of oneself and others.”[1] Perfectionism is an unrelenting need to meet your or others’ expectations of yourself.

Refusal. Irrational. Unrelenting. These words represent difficult feelings for anyone to live with daily. These feelings can be attributed to the underlying fear and belief that they will never be good enough.

As author and speaker, Brené Brown shares on Oprah’s Lifeclass:[2]

“When perfectionism is driving, shame is always riding shotgun and fear is the annoying backseat driver….[perfectionism] is “a way of thinking…if I look perfect, live perfect, work perfect, do it perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, criticism, blame, judgement or ridicule…perfectionism is a 20-ton shield that we carry around hoping it will keep us from being hurt. When in truth, it keeps us from being seen.”

So, how do you harness your perfectionist powers for good? How do you honor your drive, ambition, and motivation without causing undue stress, frustration, and pain?

How to Stop Being a Perfectionist in 9 Steps

As you read the following steps, remember that it isn’t about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, it’s about thinking deeper and wider about how you can keep those high standards without experiencing negative consequences.

1. Acknowledge

A mentor once told me that awareness is 90% of the solution.

When you are aware, and you acknowledge something in your life, it loses its power over you. When you bring it from an unconscious pattern to a conscious choice, you are now back in the driver’s seat.

how to stop being a perfectionist

    2. Understand

    Seek to understand what fuels your perfectionist nature. What’s your core driver?

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    There’s a reason why you are striving for perfection. Perhaps you learned that you needed to achieve that somewhere along the way or someone praised you at some point, and such comments made you feel worthy, validated, and recognized.

    Many strive to be perfect to fill a need for love, or a lack of self-esteem. I learned that much of my own perfectionist behavior came from my fear of getting rejected, even though it was ironically causing the rejection I was trying to avoid.[3]

    Take Action:

    Consider what drives your perfectionism. Being a perfectionist – no matter how painful or problematic it becomes – is likely serving you in some way, so try to understand the reasons behind it.

    3. Identify Consequences

    Based on an article, perfectionism can cause low productivity, troubled relationships, lack of confidence, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.[4] This drive you pride yourself on can come at a cost. When you identify and acknowledge the consequences of your perfectionism, it compels your mind to want to do something about it.

    How is perfectionism impacting your health and wellness? Have you missed opportunities to do something new out of fear that you wouldn’t do it perfectly? Is your pursuit of perfection causing friction in your relationships with your partner, kids, or friends? How is this trait sitting with your co-workers?

    As a leader and team consultant, I’m highly aware of how those perfectionist tendencies can be career-limiting if not recognized and managed.

    Take Action:

    Identify three negative consequences of perfectionism on your life, career, health, or relationships.

    4. Know You Are Enough

    Many people beat themselves up for not being ‘enough’ of something; for example pretty, fit, rich, successful, at home, etc. This is the inner critic’s voice. But guess what? That little voice that tells you that you’re not enough is wrong!

    You are enough. You are more than enough. You were born enough and will always be enough. You are deserving of love, happiness, and success, regardless of the things you do or how perfect you are. It might not be believable right now, but deep down, some part of you knows this to be true.

    I know it’s not easy. As a perfectionist, you tend to see what’s wrong before you see what’s right, including the one wrong question on the test, the single typo in your winning presentation to the team, or the three pounds you didn’t lose versus the seven you did.

    But instead of focusing on what went wrong, why don’t you acknowledge all the things you’re doing right? At least do that before you try to figure out how to make future improvements!

    Your new mantra: progress over perfection

    Take Action:

    Acknowledge your successes, talents, and strengths. Every day for 30 days, write down three things you are good at and what you like about yourself. These can be personality traits (kind, loving, hard-working); strengths (writing, speaking, your job); or wins from the day or lifetime achievements.

    Check out these articles for more tips, insights, and strategies to build your self-esteem and confidence.

    5. Do Your Best Every Day

    how to stop being a perfectionist

      Over the years, Dad has shared countless words of wisdom with me. However, “do your best every day” is the piece of advice I rely on the most. I’ve called my dad many times, worried about something that happened, beating myself up or second-guessing a decision. Here’s how our conversation goes every time:

      Dad: Did you do your best?

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      Me: Yes.

      Dad: That’s all you can do. You can’t control what happens from here.

      That’s it. Simple, right? But if you really stop to think about this, it’s a powerful way to stop being a perfectionist.

      When you do your best, you can rest, knowing you did everything you could. You can live with no regrets. Sure, you might want to do things better next time, and there are likely areas of improvement, but it’s just that — next time. You can’t change what has already happened, so using energy to beat yourself up about it achieves absolutely nothing.

      Take Action:

      Next time you beat yourself up over something you’ve already said or done imperfectly, ask yourself,

      “Did I do my best that I could [with what I had, with what I knew]?”

      If the answer is a resounding yes, then permit yourself to let go, move on, and use your time and energy to make things better next time.

      6. Switch

      Replace perfection with something more significant and attainable.

      Take a conversation I had with a friend of mine about my daughter, who is a successful and awarded competitive gymnast.

      Friend: Is she going to be in the Olympics?

      Me: No, she isn’t.

      Friend: Then, why does she spend so much time at the gym?

      Me: Because she loves it.

      Friend: Yes, but if she’s not going to the Olympics, why the waste of time and money?

      Me: Well, you run your own company, right?

      Friend: Yes.

      Me: Will your company be the best and most recognized one in your industry?

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      Friend: No, of course not. You know we’re a small company.

      Me: If you are aware of that, why would you keep the company running at all?

      That’s when she got it, but I was still concerned by her logic.

      “If my daughter won’t be THE BEST in the ENTIRE WORLD, why would she even do the sport at all?”

      Is this what our kids are hearing from us? If they won’t play NFL football, sing on a sold-out stage at Madison Square Garden, or display their work on the Guggenheim, why on earth would they continue pursuing sports, singing, or art, respectively?

      If you talk with my daughter, you will quickly learn that she does the sport because she loves the challenge. It pushes her body to the limit, and she finds joy, satisfaction, and purpose by going to the gym. I love that she loves it and know that she is learning life lessons that will serve her future success.

      Why not replace your drive for perfection with something much deeper and more significant?

      Take Action:

      Make the switch and identify what’s really important to you. Perhaps you can replace your drive for perfection with purpose, kindness, joy, fulfillment, contribution, or love. What resonates the most with you?

      7. Embrace Failure

      You’ve likely heard countless stories of successful people who have used their failures as a stepping stone for success.

      Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because his editor felt he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Oprah Winfrey was told she was “unfit for television.” And, in the words of Michael Jordan:[5]

      “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

      Most successful leaders, entrepreneurs, and elite athletes will tell you that failure has made them successful. Embracing failure is, of course, easier said than done.

      In one of my first jobs out of college, I worked on a project to get more people into a program I helped create. I was convinced it was awesome, and we could easily fill seats. I spent time, money, and energy trying to get it off the ground but to very little effect.

      I was embarrassed, defeated, and felt like a complete failure: I had let the company and myself down. One day, wallowing in self-pity, I called my mentor and told him what had happened.

      He said,

      “Tracy, failure is an event, not a person.”

      That single sentence has stuck with me throughout my career.

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      If you are growing and striving (which you likely are), you will fail a lot in your life. You will make mistakes, mess up, and let others down.

      When that happens, remember that you have made a mistake, but you are not the mistake.

      8. Celebrate Imperfection

      What if your greatest weakness was actually your greatest strength? What if your adversity is your advantage?

      In the famous 1937 personal development book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, Napoleon talks about his son, Blair, who had a birth defect. He had no physical signs of ears and was destined to be deaf and mute.[6]

      Napoleon believed, “His affliction was not a liability, but an asset of great value.” He also thought that “every adversity brings with it the seed of an equivalent advantage.”

      While he had no idea how his son’s affliction could become an asset, Napoleon had faith that it would. And he was right — Blair went on to lead an incredible, successful life. He attained his hearing and lived life on a mission to bring hope and help to the deaf and hard of hearing, positively affecting millions.

      Think of all the people who have overcome imperfections. Think of those who have inspired you many times. Often, our vulnerabilities and ability to overcome struggles and fears can create not only inspiration and hope but also a connection with others.

      “We cannot connect through this façade called perfection. Now more than ever, we are craving connection, but it is in the imperfect moments that our hearts speak to each other and the lessons are learned.” — Petra Kolber

      9. Step Back

      Chances are, sometimes your perfectionism gets a hold of you. Like a runaway train, you don’t even realize you are wasting time, money, or energy on something that doesn’t need to be perfect.

      When this happens, here are a few proven ways to get perspective.

      • Don’t do an A+ job on a C-level task. Identify what’s needed and decide on what is really important. After that, let the rest go. In economics, this is called the law of diminishing returns. It is the point at which the level of profits or benefits gained is less than the amount of money or energy invested.
      • Learn to satisfice (yes, that is a word). In his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Barry Schwartz talks about the power of satisficing instead of maximizing. Maximizers want to make the absolute best decision, while satisficers seek to find what is “good enough.” They know there is never a perfect choice, so they seek a decision that meets most of their needs or requirements. When you learn to satisfice instead of maximizing, you can make better, faster decisions with less regret.
      • When all else fails, meditate. Meditation has become the cure for all that ails you, and there’s a good reason why. It allows you to calm your thoughts, achieve greater clarity, reduce fear and anxiety, and create a silence that enables you to access your true self. Simply put, meditation will help you quiet your perfectionist tendencies, reduce your worries, and return your mind to a healthy state of balance.

      We Are All a Work-in-Progress

      You are human. Simply by being a human, you cannot be perfect.

      We are not finished “things” — we are ever-evolving beings. There will always be room for improvement, mistakes, and something new to learn. Like Sisyphus rolling his rock up the hill, perfectionism is never-ending.

      How to stop being a perfectionist when you are already one?

      Instead of focusing on perfection, focus on the learning, the growth, and the journey, and strive to be the best version of yourself every day.

      I’ll leave you with this beautiful passage from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life:

      “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”

      More on Ending Perfectionism

      Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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      Tracy Kennedy

      Lifehack's Personal Development Expert, a results-driven coach dedicated to helping people achieve greater levels of happiness and success.

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      Last Updated on November 27, 2020

      10 Types of Unnecessary Fear That Block Your Success

      10 Types of Unnecessary Fear That Block Your Success

      When our mind and heart are taken over by unnecessary fear, our life grinds to a halt. Fear debilitates us and blocks us from taking positive action to move forward. Many types of fear can seep through our daily life unnoticed and unchecked.

      Most common types of fear are unnecessary fears. This means that, unlike instinctive fear, these types of fear are mostly a fabrication of our mind or instilled through past experiences.

      Unnecessary fear can and must be identified and avoided. They serve no real purpose apart from hindering our actions, goals, and progress in life.

      Here are the top 10 kinds of unnecessary fear that should not block you anymore.

      1. Fear of Failure

      We all fear failing in something at some point in our life. This can include fear of failing in a job interview, a business venture, a relationship, reaching a goal, and so on. The problem arises when it becomes a fear of failure in general[1].

      Some of the most successful people have a different perception of failure. They are detached from failure as though it has no consequence to their lives. In other words, failure does not say or imply anything about them or their work. It is only another important step towards their goals.

      How to Overcome This Fear

      Say, for example, a job opportunity arises unexpectedly. This is the job you have been wanting for a long time. You are called for an interview. Pressure builds up as you fear you might lose the golden opportunity.

      You fear failing. How do you shake off that creeping fear, knowing that it can only debilitate you?

      One important thing you need to do is to let go of thinking or putting too much importance to the outcome.

      Stop linking future outcomes to the event. Let go of any expectations and just focus your attention on the thing itself.

      2. Fear of the Unknown

      When something is unknown or unfamiliar, such as the future, it poses a subtle threat and becomes one of the common types of fear and causes anxiety. Yet, this fear or anxiety is clearly an irrational response to a situation.

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      It has no real definition or substance. It’s fine to be cautious about something unknown, but fear of the unknown is only a way of missing out on the many opportunities and thrills life has to offer.

      How to Overcome This Fear

      You have to face the unknown with interest but not suspicion or distrust.

      If you’re deciding to make a life change, what’s next is unknown, but should you believe that the future is waiting to rip you apart? Or should you trust your instincts and your heart telling you that it’s going to be fine?

      For more on how to overcome the fear of the unknown, check out this article.

      3. Fear of Change

      One of the most common types of fear, and one which is closely linked to the fear of the unknown, is the fear of change. It keeps us stuck to our comfort zone. A lot of the rewarding stuff in life comes from pushing yourself out of your comfort zone and into the next level.

      It requires the courage and resolve to accept what’s new and to let go of the mental and emotional attachments to the old.

      How to Overcome This Fear

      It happened to me many times: changing careers, quitting my full-time job, changing my lifestyle, etc. At first you feel you don’t have the energy or will to change. Then comes the turning point, like a kid learning to swim.

      She is holding with one hand to the pool’s edge, with an intense fear. She hesitates, and then she lets go of the edge, plunges into the water, and is swimming unaided by nothing but her own will.

      Dive into change a few times to help your mind understand that it’s really the only path to the life you want.

      4. Fear of the Haunted Past

      The past can be a ghost, haunting us. We even create fictitious parallel pasts, pasts that could have happened but did not. Learning from the past is necessary, but fearing it is certainly not.

      What is fear of the past? It’s the fear of reliving certain negative emotions connected with your past, such as guilt, regret, and resentment. These emotions can be quite disturbing, but their power over us can be dissolved if we consciously remind ourselves that the past has no place in the present. It is what it is.

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      How to Overcome This Fear

      Let’s say you have a regret that comes to haunt you every now and then from your past. How do you vanquish that specter from the past?

      By forgiving yourself and by accepting that you are a being with feelings and beliefs in constant change. The “you” ten years ago was a different person than the “you” now. The link between them is only in your head. Forgive your past self for what it was, and the link will be broken.

      5. Fear of Disapproval by Others

      As social creatures, we have been brought up from a young age to regard others’ thoughts and opinions about us and what we do, which has created several types of fear. It becomes part of our life’s equation. Stretched outside of its purpose, considering what others might be thinking or feeling about you can become a stumbling block.

      This is especially true when you fear that others might disapprove of your ideas, choices, and behavior.

      How to Overcome This Fear

      For instance, whenever you are making a decision, such as changing your look or following a new lifestyle, and you feel the fear of disapproval by your peers, catch yourself being fearful. Remind yourself that you are free and not chained to other people’s views.

      Try some mindfulness meditation to build self-confidence. Once you have a solid base of confidence, it will be hard to shake.

      Check out this article for more tips on how to build self-confidence.

      6. Fear of Rejection

      In relation to fear of disapproval by others, another of the types of fear is fear of rejection, especially rejection from those who are close to your heart. Fear of rejection can only cause emotional blockage.

      How to Overcome This Fear

      This involves a lot of practice in vulnerability. Only through an openness to the possibility of being rejected can we truly obtain the kinds of relationships and connections with others that we want.

      Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, once wrote:

      “Vulnerability is not winning or losing; it’s having the courage to show up and be seen when we have no control over the outcome. Vulnerability is not weakness; it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

      You can hear more of her thoughts on vulnerability in this TED Talk:

      https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_the_power_of_vulnerability?language=en

      7. Fear of Losing Control

      People often feel miserable after feeling that they have been disempowered by others. They feel weak, hurt, and lost. This can come out of a bad relationship, physical or verbal abuse, and even ridicule.

      The truth is that we never lose our power and control to others. We give it away.

      How to Overcome This Fear

      When you feel you are losing your power to others, for example in an argument with your boss at work, remind yourself that you are the only signatory of that transaction.

      Put the argument aside, and confront the person when you are emotionally recollected and more conscious.

      8. Fear of Heartbreak

      Heartbreaks can form emotional scars, and those scars can linger for many years to the detriment of closing us off to new relationships and experiences. What you need to understand is that past heartbreaks are only trapped emotional energy that need to be released.

      Once the connection between past and future is broken, the fear is dissolved.

      How to Overcome This Fear

      When you fear that you will be heartbroken, instead of withdrawing, do exactly the opposite. Try to open your heart to the person or situation. Allow it to happen.

      When you respond to situations with an open heart instead of fear, things will change dramatically, and the relationship will open up in ways you never expected. With each new heartbreak, you will learn more about what you want out of a relationship, which will help lead you toward a healthy, happy relationship.

      9. Fear of Success

      This may sound strange, but yes, fear of success is one of the common types of fear, and it’s an unnecessary fear. It’s not well known because it is a very silent fear. Fear of success is basically the fear of not being able to handle, or live up to, the positive change that comes from success.

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      It’s an obvious drawback, since fear of success will impede success.

      How to Overcome This Fear

      Many people have been at the door of succeeding in something but gave up on it at the last minute because of this fear. This is generally more problematic for women. One study pointed out that “women insufficiently self-promote because they fear backlash for behavior which is incongruent with traditional gender roles”[2].

      For women, overcoming this fear will involve pushing against societal expectations that women are less successful than men.

      For anyone, overcoming this fear involves telling yourself that you are up for the challenge of what’s to come, that you are capable of whatever life brings you. Then, start feeling good about all of your successes.

      Learn the 6 Types of Fear of Success (And How to Overcome Them).

      10. Fear of Love

      Of course, this is one of the well-known types of fear. It holds us back from opening our heart to others and finding happiness. Fear of love is born out of a combination of other fears, such as fear of rejection, fear of heartbreaks, and fear of success.

      The obvious drawback of this unnecessary fear is that it holds you back from giving and receiving love—one of the strongest currencies in personal affairs.

      How to Overcome This Fear

      If you feel you are afraid to express love to somebody, imagine two simple scenarios, one where you give out love, it is reciprocated, and you are both happy. The other is where you refrain from loving (because of this or that excuse) and that love remains forever a lost chance for happiness.

      Both are hypothetical, but you have the power to make one of them actual. Which one would you choose?

      Final Thoughts

      These types of fears are unnecessary fears that will ultimately hold you back from living your best life. If you identify with one of them, take care of your mental health and start following some simple steps to overcome them and move toward the life you want.

      More Tips on Overcoming Fear

      Featured photo credit: Priscilla Du Preez via unsplash.com

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