How to Overcome Perfectionism: Strategies and Tips 

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Are you a perfectionist? What are the dangers of striving for perfection in everything you do?

Despite recognizing the impossibility of perfection, many people still hold themselves to unrealistic expectations in many aspects of their lives. However, striving for perfection is unhealthy as it can lead to negative outcomes such as procrastination, toxic comparisons, and burnout.

Here’s how to overcome perfectionism and learn to set yourself realistic standards. 

Understanding the Psychology Behind Perfectionism

Why do so many people fall prey to perfectionism? While unrealistic expectations may be to blame, there’s more to the story. Psychologists say that society’s increase in social media use, as well as greater academic and professional competition, have caused a spike in perfectionistic tendencies over the last 30 years.

Signs That You Might Be a Perfectionist

Before you can start fighting perfectionist tendencies, you need to recognize that you have them. Here are some warning signs to look out for:

– You frequently experience negative self-talk and blame yourself for every situation.
– You frequently compare yourself to others. 
– You hold yourself to a higher standard than the people around you.
– You base your self-worth on external achievements, like grades or awards. 
– You spend an excessive amount of time on tasks that shouldn’t take very long.
– You procrastinate often because you’re afraid of making mistakes.

While having high standards is necessary to drive progress, having expectations that border on perfectionism can actually hinder our performance. When we don’t meet our impossibly high standards, we experience self-loathing, abandon our plans, and return to old, counterproductive behaviors. 

Furthermore, research has linked perfectionism to increased vulnerability to depression and eating disorders, among other mental health conditions. Perfectionism may even be linked to suicide risk: Research conducted in Alaska found that almost 60% of suicide victims were perfectionists (according to people who knew them).

How to Overcome Perfectionism 

Perfectionism can be tricky to “diagnose” because it can manifest itself in a myriad of ways. Oftentimes, perfectionism “disguises itself” as something else, so you may not even suspect that you have a perfectionism problem. For example, you may think that you’re lazy because you procrastinate and delay work until the last minute. However, your procrastination may be a manifestation of a deeper problem—perfectionism. 

No matter how your perfectionism manifests, there are ways to manage, and ultimately, overcome it. But it will likely take a while because perfectionism tends to be an ingrained (and often unconscious) problem. 

Embrace Imperfection

According to Brené Brown, perfectionism is harmful because it’s founded on completely unrealistic expectations: You’re never going to be perfect (or even appear to be perfect). However, the perfectionist mindset won’t concede that it sets unrealistic standards. Instead, it tells you that you don’t appear perfect because you aren’t good enough, causing you to blame.

In her book The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown explains how to overcome perfectionism by practicing self-compassion and acceptance:

1) Practice self-compassion. According to Brown, showing yourself compassion can help you to embrace your imperfections, rather than punish yourself for them or work desperately to hide them. She also claims that engaging in positive self-talk—talk that is encouraging and kind about yourself and your flaws, rather than critical and judgmental—can be instrumental in staving off perfectionism. 

2) Accept shame and judgment. Accept that you, like everyone else in the world, will always be vulnerable to these negative emotions. After all, perfectionism is rooted in the idea that you can avoid these emotions. Once you realize that you can’t, it becomes pointless. 

How to Overcome Perfectionism: The Group Treatment Approach

On top of Brown’s recommendations, research has identified another successful approach to overcoming perfectionism: engaging in group psychological treatment. One study of perfectionist university students found that engaging in group counseling based around fighting perfectionism significantly reduced participating students’ harmful perfectionism, as well as their levels of anxiety and depression. Another study of adults also found that group therapy reduced perfectionism, anxiety, depression, and stress, with the positive results of the therapy still persisting three months after treatment concluded.

Even group therapy that isn’t solely focused on addressing perfectionism may be beneficial for perfectionists. One study found that group treatment for social phobia not only reduced participants’ social anxiety, but also had the side effect of reducing some types of perfectionism. 

TITLE: The Gifts of Imperfection
AUTHOR: Brené Brown
TIME: 42
READS: 112.4
BOOK_SUMMARYURL: the-gifts-of-imperfection-summary-brené-brown

Focus on Progress

When you focus on achieving a perfect outcome, you risk becoming short-sighted and getting stuck on one project or endeavor instead of moving forward. Focusing on the big-picture can help you avoid falling prey to this pitfall. 

To reorient your focus from perfection to progress, Matthew Rudy, Jason Selk, and Tom Bartow’s book,  Organize Tomorrow Today, recommends assessing what you’re doing well and what you can improve on. However, many people do this ineffectively because they assess themselves with a perfectionist mindset. They focus only on their shortcomings and ignore their accomplishments.

To help you focus on what you’re doing well as well as the ways you can improve, try writing an evaluation of your progress every day. You can refer back to the successes you’ve recorded whenever your confidence needs a little help. 

You should center your evaluation around the daily tasks you’ve completed: 

Step 1: At the same time every day, write down three things you did well in the last 24 hours and one thing you can do better in the next 24 hours. 

Step 2: Write down one action you can take to make the improvement you identified in Step 1. 

Step 3: Give yourself a rating from one to 10 based on how well you completed the three prioritized tasks on your to-do list. 

How to Overcome Perfectionism: The Bullet Journal Solution

To keep track of your progress, you may want to consider keeping a bullet journal. In The Bullet Journal Method, Ryder Carroll suggests two bullet journal solutions for combating perfectionism.
First, use your daily, monthly, and yearly reviews to track your progress by noting what you’ve accomplished and learned as well as how you can improve moving forward. (For example, maybe you managed to read two books last month, but this month you’d like to aim for five.) Then, record new goals and tasks based on your reflection.

Additionally, Carroll suggests that you create a customized section in your journal that focuses on imperfection and acts as a space where you can let go and focus on the present moment. While you can use the space however you want, he recommends focusing on activities that will make your notebook feel flawed: Draw with your eyes closed, write with a different pencil grip, or scribble random shapes and designs. 

Avoiding Perfection at Work

Perfectionism in the area of work is a subject worthy of a separate discussion. 

According to Seth Godin, striving for perfection in your work is a sign that you’re not being innovative enough. If you’re able to do a task perfectly, it means that you’re meeting someone else’s specific ideal expectations. 

However, the work that truly impacts people (and therefore is truly valuable) is that which hasn’t been done before. Instead of seeking perfection, try to do something original and impactful, even if it’s flagrantly “imperfect” by traditional standards.

In his book Linchpin, Godin gives a couple of tips on how to overcome perfectionism in your work:

Tip #1: Force Yourself to Finish Imperfect Work

According to Godin, the rarest skill is the ability to regularly finish projects and present them to the world on a predetermined schedule, no matter how “good” they turn out to be. Set a deadline for every single project you set out to create. Then, even if your work doesn’t turn out how you wanted it to or it doesn’t feel finished, release it into the world when the deadline arrives.

This skill is vital because most people are afraid of presenting imperfect projects. Consequently, they spend too long working on their projects and usually never finish them at all. Regularly sending out imperfect work is surprisingly effective, as imperfect projects often unexpectedly turn out to be a complete success despite their flaws. The proof of this process’s efficacy is all around us: We can see that people who create truly influential work typically do so only after publishing a massive amount of other work.

Tip #2: Calmly Embrace Negative Outcomes

According to Godin, you should also try to remain emotionally indifferent if your work is rejected by those around you or fails at positively impacting others. 

If you’re too emotionally invested in a single positive outcome while you work, you’re preparing to be upset if it doesn’t happen. This emotional lens warps your perception of the world and causes you to make harmful mistakes. Often, people who hope for a specific outcome deny the unpleasant realities in front of them to avoid negative emotions, causing them to ignore problems that they normally would be able to solve. For example, if you really want to believe that your boss has you in mind for a promotion, you may convince yourself that they’re more impressed with your work than they really are and neglect to put in the effort needed to get their attention.

Additionally, Godin argues that if you’ve already failed and there’s nothing you can do to fix it, spending time and energy worrying about that fact will only make it harder for you to work on your next project. To cultivate indifference in the face of failure, remind yourself that accepting what you can’t change and moving on is both the rational and productive thing to do.

Final Words

Perfectionism is an impediment to living your best life because the efforts to achieve the abstract ideal of perfection are doomed for failure. It’s only when you embrace your imperfections and focus on continual improvement that you’ll see a change in the quality of your life. 

If you enjoyed our article about how to overcome perfectionism, check out the following suggestions for further reading: 

Show Your Work!

In Show Your Work!, Austin Kleon argues that the best way to promote what you do is to publicly share it throughout your whole process, from the earliest phases to the finished product. You’ll also learn how to overcome perfectionism as an artist and how to handle criticism.


Procrastination prevents us from living a fulfilling life, yet we still do it—why? In Procrastination, psychologists Lenora Yuen and Jane Burka argue that we procrastinate to experience short-term relief from our fear of working on certain tasks. Fortunately, they claim you can beat procrastination and learn to live a more fulfilling life if you learn how to overcome perfectionism and develop a realistic perception of time. 

How to Overcome Perfectionism: Strategies and Tips 

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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