How to Overcome a Perfectionist Mindset

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Organize Tomorrow Today" by Jason Selk, Tom Bartow, and Matthew Rudy. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Are you a perfectionist? How does striving for perfection hinder your progress?

A perfectionist mindset eats away at your self-esteem and productivity. To combat perfectionism, focus on what you are doing well and how you’re improving over time.

Keep reading to learn about the dangers of perfectionism and how you can move toward overcoming perfectionist tendencies.

Combatting Perfectionism

The authors assert that assessing what you’re doing well and what you can improve on is an important step toward success. However, many people do this ineffectively because they assess themselves with a perfectionist mindset. They focus only on their shortcomings and ignore their accomplishments.

(Shortform note: This type of perfectionism doesn’t just affect your ability to succeed at work, as the authors suggest—it can also take a serious toll on your mind and body. Research shows that perfectionism increases the risk of and contributes to physical unhealthiness, depression, eating disorders, and anxiety disorders.)

To combat perfectionism, practice giving yourself credit when you deserve it. Don’t just focus on your mistakes—acknowledge the things you do well. Positive reinforcement is a much better motivator than negativity. Additionally, measure your success by the effort you put in, not by the results you achieve. If you do everything you can to reach your goals, that’s an achievement in itself. 

(Shortform note: To a perfectionist, rewarding yourself for your efforts even if they’re not perfectly successful may sound like lowering your standards and accepting mediocrity. However, as Brené Brown points out in The Gifts of Imperfection, it’s impossible to do everything perfectly. If you refuse to appreciate any of the things you do well or the effort you put in, you’ll inevitably feel perpetual shame—a very demotivating emotion. Instead, accept your imperfections as an avoidable part of being human, and you won’t feel as much shame.)

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.

Keep a Record of Your Progress

To help you focus on what you’re doing well as well as the ways you can improve, the authors recommend 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. 

(Shortform note: Consider writing all of your self-evaluations in one place, like a journal or a document on your computer. This will make it easy for you to reference your past successes so you can see how far you’ve come.)

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. (Shortform note: By identifying more successes than shortcomings every day, you’re working against the perfectionist tendency to emphasize the negative over the positive.)

Step 2: Write down one action you can take to make the improvement you identified in Step 1. (Shortform note: You can include the actions toward improvement you define in your self-evaluations on your three-item to-do list for the next day.)

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. (Shortform note: Having evaluations based on numerical ratings will help you more easily track and quantify your progress over time.)

How to Overcome a Perfectionist Mindset

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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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