How to quit being a perfectionist
Do you find yourself dismissing your efforts if they aren’t 100% right?
Most of us recognise that perfectionism can make it harder to achieve anything, but recent studies have shown there is a better way. Healthy striving is the positive version of perfectionism, and it leads to a healthier state of mind. Want to know how?
Perfectionists often claim that, without perfectionism, they won’t be successful but perfectionism often leads to procrastination (putting things off) because it makes you fear failure. Healthy striving is much more likely to get results.
Holding yourself to impossible standards means you count everything even slightly imperfect as a ‘failure’ so failing becomes pretty much inevitable. A healthy striver thinks of imperfection as an opportunity to learn and improve and enjoys and values the process of doing something rather than just the end goal.
Valuing effort and growth over achievement is definitely the key to achieving more. Here’s how to tell the difference.
Signs of perfectionism
- Fear of failure and its consequences (disapproval, being prevented from reaching further goals, etc)
- Obsessing over failure or mistakes
- Being defensive
- Comparing yourself to everyone else
- Depression, dissatisfaction, feeling unworthy or worthless
- Avoiding starting projects you fear won’t go well (which may be all of them!)
- Believing you can and should easily conquer every problem
Signs of healthy striving
- Enjoying the process
- Fixing and learning from mistakes and carrying on
- Appreciating and using constructive criticism
- Setting reasonable goals and finishing them before moving on to the next
- Learning from failure and trying again
Perfectionism is associated with cognitive distortions; ways of thinking that are based on negativity and which may not even be accurate, like jumping to the conclusion that you must have done something wrong when your boss asks to speak to you, even though you know you haven’t. This type of thought pattern can lead to depression and anxiety.
How to become a healthy striver
If you’re a perfectionist, you might think of a mistake at work (we all make them) as showing that all of your work must be just as bad as that bit, and mistakes might feel much more important than they really are. Try looking critically at your negative thoughts, and separate facts from opinions; ‘I didn’t do very well on that’ versus ‘I’m stupid’. Try imagining that the facts apply to another person and ask if you would call your best friend stupid for that particular error.
Remind yourself that a whole project doesn’t have to be perfect the first time. It isn’t always possible to hold a whole complicated idea in your head at once; writing down ideas will help you see what parts need working on. Another pair of eyes on your notes will help too – ask a friend. If you’re struggling, try approaching the idea in a different way, or break the task down into smaller pieces.
Focus on the bigger picture as well as the details. Yes, details can be important but don’t get so bogged down in them that you lose sight of why you’re doing what you’re doing.
If you do make a mistake, don’t be too upset. Once you’ve found it, it can be solved; everyone makes mistakes and has blind spots. Apologise if necessary, and graciously respond to any offer to fix the problem (you don’t have to accept help if you don’t feel it’s necessary, but refuse politely).
If you really feel bad, remember much bigger mistakes than yours have been solved; the Hubble Telescope was originally nearly useless when it went up because of a tiny mistake in the lens but with a bit of creativity it was corrected.
With practice, you will be able to view mistakes as chances to learn and appreciate when you did do your best. Remember you don’t have to deal with worry alone; talk to a friend, or to a counsellor or therapist: and if you want help or support as you swap your perfectionism for healthy striving, please get in touch.
Debbie Waller is a professional hypnotherapist, specialising in stress, anxiety and related issues. She also offers EMDR which is used for trauma, PTSD, phobias and OCD and publishes hypnotherapy-for-ibs.co.uk for those interested in using hypnotherapy to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Debbie owns a multi-accredited hypnotherapy school, Yorkshire Hypnotherapy Training and offers further training for qualified therapists via CPD Expert. She is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words and The Hypnotherapist's Companion, editor and contributor to the online magazine Hypnotherapy Training & Practitioner, and co-author of The Hypnotherapy Handbook.
For more information on any of these services, phone 01977 678593.
Researcher & drafter: Rachel Waller.