“You’re such a perfectionist!” Has somebody ever said that to you—or several somebodies? Maybe no one needs to point it out because you are well aware of your perfectionism.
Wanting things to be perfect—our work, appearance, even dates–might seem like a worthy pursuit. After all, we live in a flawed world, so it’s natural for us to want to make our individual lives as flawless as possible. But persistent perfectionism can bring with it lots of problems: guilt, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, and high blood pressure.
If you are a perfectionist and tired of trying to reach impossible standards, start with these steps:
1. Be aware of the underlying beliefs that drive your need for perfection. Maybe you grew up with impossible-to-please parents, or with overachieving siblings, or as part of a strict religious community. Often just realizing the roots of your perfectionism will begin the process of overcoming it.
2. Never compare yourself to others. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, successes and failures. You are a unique individual and will never be exactly like anybody else.
3. Learn the art of flexibility. Dealing gracefully with unexpected pressures and unfair demands will help you set realistic expectations.
4. Accept imperfections in others. Practicing compassion for other people is good training for learning to show compassion for yourself.
5. Retrain your brain. Perfectionists have become conditioned to think in terms of black or white, good or bad, all or nothing. If you’ve learned unhealthy mental patterns, you can also learn new and healthy ones.
6. Listen to your thoughts. Beware of those automatic thoughts that shout, “You’re not good enough! You’re going to blow it!” Identifying those thoughts is a step toward countering them with more reasonable ones.
7. Don’t negate the positives. Even situations or events that don’t go as well as you hoped have positive aspects. Acknowledge and embrace them.
8. Receive compliments. If your boss, friend, or date offers a sincere compliment, resist the urge to minimize or deflect: “Thanks, but. . .” A simple thank you—without the but—will do just fine.
9. Try not to obsess about what other people think. Chances are that you are harder on yourself than others are.
10. Strive for excellence, not perfection. Excellence means always doing your best and holding yourself to high standards while realizing that perfection is unattainable.
11. Recognize your self-worth. Most people have their sense of value tied to performance and accomplishments. We’ll gain freedom if we can learn that real worth is based on intrinsic qualities.
12. Take courage from brilliant failures. Some of the most significant innovations and inventions came from people who dared to risk failure and often did so spectacularly.
13. Acknowledge your limitations to yourself. Easier said than done, for sure, but doing so provides a balanced and healthy perspective of who you are.
14. Maximize your mistakes. The best antidote for feelings of failure is the vow to grow and learn from mistakes.
15. Get help from a professional. Undoing years of unhealthy patterns is not easy. Change sometimes requires the help of someone trained to guide you.