How to Stop Being a Perfectionist (+ Why It’s Dangerous)

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Effortless" by Greg McKeown. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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

In the absolute sense, perfection is impossible to achieve. Therefore, striving for the abstract ideal of perfection is unhealthy as it can lead to negative outcomes such as procrastination, toxic comparisons, and burnout.

Here’s how to stop being a perfectionist, according to Greg McKeown.

How to Resist Perfectionism: Embrace Mistakes

According to McKeown, perfectionism prevents progress: If you try to get everything right the first time, you accomplish very little. Instead, by simply starting a project, embracing the mistakes, and fixing them quickly, you’re much more productive. To be less demanding of yourself, do the following:

  1. Be kind to yourself: Instead of criticizing yourself for failures or mistakes, commend yourself for your accomplishments. 
  2. Lower your expectations: When working on a project or task, have the courage to begin without worrying about how bad it is.

More Strategies to Avoid Perfectionism

McKeown believes the perfectionist standards we set for ourselves are unrealistic and unproductive. In The Gifts of Imperfection, Brown delves further into the dangers of perfectionism and how to combat them. She argues that perfectionism is really about controlling how others see us. We try to project a perfect image of ourselves to gain acceptance from others. But perfectionism is dangerous because it’s impossible to be or seem perfect, and to try to do so is to set yourself up for failure. Thus, like McKeown, she argues that you must have lower expectations of your own perfection—to be happy and successful, you must continue to move forward while acknowledging that you’ll make mistakes along the way.

Also like McKeown, Brown explains how to stop being a perfectionist by embracing mistakes and practicing self-compassion. She further advises coming to terms with your shame and vulnerability. You must not only embrace mistakes but also the negative feelings that come with them. A perfectionist tries to avoid things like shame and judgment, but if you accept that such feelings are unavoidable, you take away their power and control over you. 

How to Stop Being a Perfectionist (+ Why It’s Dangerous)

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  • Why you don't need to hustle and burn out to achieve your goals
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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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