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Last Updated on September 26, 2022

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

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

A stellar work ethic and the aspiration to do well are two ways that perfectionism can show up in the life of the individual who has it. This, on the other hand, can lead to overwork and overextension.

Burnout can occur if you work too hard and do more than what your job requires. Perfectionism and overachievement are common causes of burnout, which can impair your performance at work as well as your mental health.

Although being perfect is what many people strive to be, there are disadvantages to it when you become obsessed with it. You must learn to take life a little easy and not be so bent upon getting things done the right way, that you start losing your peace of mind over it. Learn to be more adaptable.

Hence, it is important to understand and judge when to stop the perfectionist tendencies and when to start cutting yourself some slack. This article is for you if you are looking for ways to stop being a perfectionist and give some time and patience to yourself.

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 the insatiable need to satisfy your own or others’ standards for oneself.

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, judgment, 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 put your perfectionist tendencies to good use? How can you recognize your desire, ambition, and motivation while avoiding unnecessary stress, frustration, and pain?

How to Stop Being a Perfectionist in 9 Steps

If it is coming in the way of your mental health and relationships, both personal and professional, it is time you learned to let go of perfectionism. Here are 9 ways you can get accustomed to the transition and stop being a toxic perfectionist.

1. Acknowledge

Becoming conscious of your perfectionist mindset, thoughts and tendencies is the first step in overcoming perfectionism. Pay attention to how you think about perfectionism and take a moment to reflect. Want to progressively work on how to stop trying to be perfect?

You may even want to jot down these thoughts in order to comprehend them better. We will be better equipped to combat our tendency toward perfectionist thinking once we become more conscious of the way we talk to ourselves about it.

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

    2. Understand

    In addition, understanding why you push yourself to the limit is essential for learning how to stop being a perfectionist. Whether or not it serves your higher self, perfectionism serves some part of you, as with any other habit.

    It’s a potent mix of anxiety (such as “what if I get it wrong?… it’s got to be perfect or else…”) and excitement (“if I nail this, then…”) for me. Also, the lack of self-confidence is a factor.

    It is okay if you don’t know how to not be a perfectionist. There is a first time for everything. One of the first steps toward changing your perfectionist tendencies is to become aware of the beliefs that are fueling your tendency to be such. Your beliefs and those you feed are entirely up to you.

    Many strive to be perfect to fill a need for love or a lack of self-esteem. The perfectionist’s behavior comes from the fear of getting rejected.[3]

    Take Action:

    Consider what motivates you to be flawless. Trying to understand why you are a perfectionist – no matter how difficult or unpleasant it becomes – is likely to benefit you in some way.

    3. Identify Consequences

    Based on an article, perfectionism can cause low productivity, troubled relationships, lack of confidence, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts.[4] This dedication to which you take pride might be costly. When you recognize and acknowledge the repercussions of your perfectionism, it motivates your mind to take action.

    The psychology of perfectionism has been studied extensively and found quite complicated. Although perfectionists strive for perfection, they also have higher levels of motivation and conscientiousness than non-perfectionists.

    These people are more likely to set rigid and unrealistic expectations for themselves and their work, to be critical of their own conduct, and to believe that their self-worth is contingent on their ability to perform well. The best way out of this cycle is to take up active measures on how to overcome perfectionism.

    They may also have an all-or-nothing attitude toward their performance and believe that they are only worthy of praise if they perform flawlessly. According to a Harvard research[5], perfectionism is more likely to experience high levels of stress, exhaustion, and worry.

    Take Action:

    Determine three negative effects of perfectionism on your life, work, health, and relationships.

    4. Know You Are Enough

    Perfectionists’ inability to accept the flaws in themselves and others triggers their need for perfectionist behavior, which hinders letting go. [6]

    Being kind is the best approach to accepting oneself and helping cease striving to be flawless. It’s important to talk to yourself like a well-wisher about your strengths and weaknesses.

    Make a point of praising yourself for little accomplishments instead of being disappointed by everything you have not yet achieved.

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    Your new mantra: progress over perfection

    Take Action:

    Recognize your accomplishments, abilities, and qualities. Write down three things you’re excellent at and three things you appreciate about yourself every day for 30 days. Personality attributes (kind, caring, hardworking); strengths (writing, speaking, your profession); or day-to-day or lifetime accomplishments are examples.

    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 (Step-by-Step Guide)

      When it comes to high achievers, the pursuit of an objective can be as much of a thrill as completing the objective itself. The opposite is true for perfectionists, who only see the end objective in mind.

      As a result, they can’t appreciate the process of learning and growing because they’re so focused on the result and avoiding failure that the process to learn how to overcome perfection becomes necessary.

      There is a strong correlation between toxic perfectionism and adolescence. According to research, college students facing high demands [7] sway towards perfectionism at a cost to their well-being.

      Overworking yourself can make you burn out quickly and hinder the growth process even more. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to take some time to relax and reflect on our actions and results.

      An overachieving perfectionist mindset may make it easy to dismiss relaxing as a waste of time. Sleep and lighthearted hobbies, on the contrary, are essential for recharging your mental and physical batteries and reinvigorating your sense of purpose. Maintaining a healthy work-life balance is essential to achieving your goals.

      Take Action:

      Ask yourself, “Did I do the best I could [with what I had, with what I knew]?” the next time you feel bad about something you’ve previously said or done badly.

      Allow yourself to let go, move on, and utilize your time and energy to make things better next time if the answer is a resounding yes.

      6. Switch

      Many perfectionists tend to ruminate [8], which is the process of repeatedly pondering an issue or notion without ever coming up with a solution. Anxiety is a factor.

      Ruminators are often very less forgiving of themselves. It’s bad for you, and it’s counterproductive. Ruminating does not equal issue solving. As an alternative, search for ways to break the chain.

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      Be careful if you’re thinking about a former occurrence, such as a conversation with a coworker. You may not have a clear picture of what is going on because you still don’t know how to stop trying to be perfect.

      You can’t rely on what your ruminating mind tells you since you tend to dwell on the negative. Give yourself a chance to get your bearings before deciding what to do. As human beings, it’s possible that sometimes things are being  “blown out of proportion.”

      It is often best to spend just 30 minutes doing a mundane but necessary chore to break the chain of anxiety-driven events and avoid wearing yourself out.

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

      Take Action:

      Make the change and figure out what matters most to you. Perhaps purpose, compassion, joy, fulfillment, contribution, or love can take the place of your need for perfection. What resonates with you the most?

      7. Embrace Failure

      When things don’t go as planned, perfectionists typically find it difficult to go on. Even when something isn’t flawless, it might be tough to accept it.

      High achievers, in contrast to perfectionists, are less fearful of failure. Failure is a frightening prospect for these people because they put so much weight on results and are so disappointed by anything less than perfect. It’s also difficult to start something new because anything less than ideal is perceived as a failure.

      While it is not in our hands to determine the outcome of our efforts, it is in our control to learn from mistakes and develop a mindset that helps us rise above failure.

      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:[9]

      “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.”

      You will fail a lot in your life if you are learning and striving (which you most certainly are). You’ll make errors, screw up, and disappoint people.

      Remember that you committed a mistake, but you are not the error when this happens.

      8. Celebrate Imperfection

      Many people’s sense of worth and success is based on their accomplishments, but focusing solely on the final product can prevent us from fully appreciating the journey.

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      If you’ve always wanted to try something new, don’t just do it because you think you’re good at it or because you want to please others. You can always perfect it later, but the time to recognize and learn from imperfection will not return.

      Focusing on the process alleviates some of the stress of achieving a goal. Not only does it matter whether you win, but also if you are recognized for your efforts. Even if the result isn’t flawless, certain things are worth doing.

      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.[10]

      “His disability was not a disadvantage, but a valuable asset,” Napoleon maintained. He also believed that “every misfortune contains the germ of an equal gain.”

      “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

      To get someplace worth reaching, you can’t take the easy road. You can get clarity and perspective by taking a step back. Reflection and strategic thinking are key to getting things straight.

      Every three to six months, take a step back and assess where you are. The finest long-term approach may include taking a step backward at first glance. Look at your life and job in the context of your entire life instead of becoming buried in the details of your work and personal life.

      People who are most successful keep their eyes on the present and constantly evaluate their short-term objectives in light of their long-term objectives. Those who have taken a deliberate step back will be able to move forward with joy. Keep in mind your long-term goals when planning your day-to-day actions.

      You might believe you’re an outlier when multitasking, but that’s not the case. Stop attempting to juggle too many tasks at once. This wastes time and resources, but it also causes stress, which you already have a lot of.

      Key Takeaways

      “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.” – Anne Lamott

      Perfectionism is not about achieving excellence but rather about achieving the impossible, the unreachable, and, finally, the unachievable through a relentless pursuit of perfection.

      The truth is that perfectionists are headed for disaster. Perfectionism, according to the widely recognized definition, is an inclination to consider anything less than perfection unacceptable. You need to find your truth to how to overcome perfectionism.

      And, it is very important to acknowledge the difference between being particular about things and being a toxic perfectionist. Once you realize that you are on the latter side, it is time to reflect on your actions and take measures to realize how to stop being a perfectionist and let go of such harmful tendencies.

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      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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