7 tips to address your inner perfectionist

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“People throw away what they could have by insisting on perfection, which they cannot have, and looking for it where they will never find it.” – Edith Schaeffer

In a recent post, we looked at how perfectionism can be a major obstacle to achieving a strong personal brand, and offered seven reasons to give it up.

Photo: Pixabay

As we mentioned (and it bears repeating), perfectionism and a desire to excel are two very different things. A desire to do your best is reasonable and flexible, whereas a need to be perfect is rigid, demanding and self-defeating. We tend to get ourselves in trouble when we try to be perfect because perfection is really an illusion.

Hopefully we’ve convinced you to work on that inner perfectionist. Here are seven tips on how to help you do just that.

1) Catch thoughts that fuel perfectionism (and handle them differently)
Certain negative thoughts often lurk behind perfectionism. Common culprits include:

  • Black and white (or “all or nothing”) thinking: seeing only extremes – no 
shades of gray
  • Should’s & Must’s: implying rigid rules and putting unreasonable, excessive demands 
on yourself and others
  • Catastrophising: blowing things out of proportion
  • Jumping to conclusions: assuming that we know 
what others are thinking or can predict the future.

These beliefs reflect an unhelpful style of thinking and can fuel perfectionism. Half the battle is catching them, which can be quite difficult as they are often lightening fast (they are called automatic thoughts). Challenge these thoughts using disputation (a cognitive behavioural therapy technique) and/or just notice them using mindfulness. Remember that helpful thoughts are realistic, flexible and adaptable.

2) Aim for “good ”
Perfectionism can usually result in a project never getting finished. Too much polish can actually be detrimental – not only does it delay things, but the number of mistakes can actually increase as we start to become exhausted. When you’ve reached a good stage, stop. It will feel uncomfortable, but the more you do it, the more your perfectionist brain will learn it can handle it.  Accept that “good” is actually better than perfect (which is not achievable as there’s always something more you could do, but that doesn’t mean you should do)! It is much healthier to strive to do your best while accepting that no one can be totally perfect. As Mark Zuckerberg reminds us, “Done is better than perfect.”

3) Don’t buy into “The Imposter Syndrome”
I hear this a lot in my practice, especially amongst high achieving professionals. Feeling like an imposter typically happens when we are feeling challenged. Rise to the challenge, accept that you are constantly growing and changing, and this is a good thing! Identify and challenge any underlying fear of failure or mistakes. Practice just noticing any “Imposter Syndrome” thoughts (again, mindfulness is good for this) without buying into them– and do the best you can by living in accordance with your values and professional standards instead.

4) Just do it…and set a deadline
Unrelenting standards can make tasks daunting, and perfectionists often avoid perceived failure by avoiding doing tasks. 
Challenge yourself to do tasks instead of avoid them. Learn to “make room” for worries about failure and mistakes and just do it. Setting yourself a time limit or deadline can help you “let go” without over-polishing or re-reading too much. If your perfectionist comes out when drafting emails, set a timer if needed. Do not go back and re-read what you sent unless you absolutely have to. This one requires some serious self-discipline.

5) Stop comparing yourself to others
Comparing yourself to others is a slippery slope as it often leads to feelings of inferiority. Instead, look inward. Recognize that you are a unique person with unique skills. Acknowledge your own progress in life and appreciate your own accomplishments rather than focusing on everyone else.

6) Practice being less than perfect
Mistakes can offer tremendous value. The Japanese call this “wabi-sabi”, which, in essence, is the art of finding beauty in imperfection. Give yourself permission to make mistakes (and even give yourself opportunities to intentionally make them!) so that your inner perfectionist will learn that your world won’t end. Practice seeing mistakes as an opportunity…to become better, to learn, and to discover yourself.

7) Celebrate the fact that you are human
As a product of being human, we are all flawed and fallible. When someone appears too perfect or polished, they can often come across as being superficial or even downright unlikeable. Remind yourself that people like hints of humanity. Remind yourself that perfectionism is an illusion. Remind yourself that the real world is different from the perfect world often portrayed in the media.

If you have perfectionist tendencies, practicing the above is likely to be very challenging, especially as you start to modify behaviors that seem to be positive and beneficial on the surface. However, as your inner perfectionist will hopefully start to see, these behaviours are actually holding you back from being efficient, productive and ultimately, achieving your potential.


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