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Perfectionism is defined as the need to appear to be perfect.  Perfectionistic behaviour can cause you to stop taking action, leave you with piles of unfinished projects and lower your confidence and self-esteem. Perfectionism is a trait that causes you to strive for perfection, when in reality being perfect doesn’t exist.  In this article I’ll share what perfectionism is, show what causes perfectionism and share 5 proven tips on how to overcome perfectionism.  

Perfectionism can make people hold themselves to unattainable standards.  People with perfectionism are critical of themselves, which lowers confidence and self-esteem.  Perfectionism involves putting too much pressure on ourselves to achieve perfection in our day to day lives.  One of the most effective ways to overcome perfectionism is to accept you’re a perfectionist and stop feeling guilty about your perfectionism.

A perfectionist is someone who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection.  What causes perfectionism?  The causes of perfectionism are often a belief that your self-worth is is based on your achievements.  Common traits of a perfectionist include fear of disapproval, feelings of insecurity, feelings of inadequacy or having their self-worth and self-esteem tied up to achieving something perfect.

Perfectionism can make you feel trapped and stuck.  Many perfectionists would rather polish, update, get distracted and move onto something else rather than put something out into the world that isn’t perfect.

This burden of perfectionism leads to stress and overwhelm.  Having a perfectionist mindset holds many people back because of their inability to start something until they feel ready or feel they have the capabilities to take action. 

The things is, there is no such things as perfection.  If perfectionistic thinking is causing you stress and overwhelm, this article will share the steps you can take to start overcoming perfectionism.

What is perfectionism?

Perfectionism is defined as the need to achieve an ideal that doesn’t exist or the need to feel or appear to be perfect.   Perfectionism is created out of a vision in someone’s mind of what perfection looks like.  Perfectionists describe their behaviour as feeling fearful, feeling inadequate and being critical of themselves for not achieving perfection. 

Perfectionism can motivate you, but also hold you back.  When perfectionists create something that doesn’t achieve their view of perfection they are self-critical and find it hard to acknowledge praise or celebrate progress. 

Perfectionism can be caused by a number of different habits.  Perfectionists may have been told they weren’t good enough in the past so continually strive for higher performance in the present.

Examples of perfectionistic feelings include insecurity, inadequacy and being self-critical.  Perfectionism can also make you feel overwhelmed, anxious, fearful.

What causes perfectionism?

Perfectionism’s cause isn’t always clear,  People with perfectionism want everything to be perfect and constantly strive for an impossible ideal that simply can’t be reached.  People with perfectionism are overly critical of themselves, and often feel inadequate, because they haven’t reached the impossible ideal they set for themselves.

There are many causes of perfectionism.  Being a perfectionist can make you feel fearful, inadequate and unhappy with your life.  Causes of perfectionism include:  

  • Fear of disapproval 
  • Anxiety and overwhelm
  • Perfectionistic tendencies in a family 
  • High expectations 
  • Fear of failure
  • Impossible to achieve demands
  • Constant tweaking until perfect
  • Ensure everything is just so and in the right place
  • Overly organised to cover any single eventuality

Habits of perfectionism

There are many habits of perfectionism.  Perfectionists hold themselves to unrealistic high standards that can’t be reached, which often causes overwhelm and procrastination.  Perfectionists want to make everything perfect so they tend to procrastinate on starting important projects or taking the necessary action to achieve their goals. 

People with perfectionism are often getting ready to get ready because they don’t know where to start or what first step to take.   Perfectionists want to learn everything or have the right capabilities before actually getting started. 

Perfectionism can stop your progress from achieving your goals and dreams and impact your happiness, confidence and ability to get anything of importance done.

Many perfectionists create piles of unfinished work.   This unfinished work can lead to feelings of guilt, inadequacy and dissatisfaction with everything around them.

Perfectionism makes people refuse to decide and commit to anything.   When teamed up with procrastination it can create a double dose of fear, avoidance self-criticism and self-doubt.  Read more on how to stop procrastinating

How to overcome perfectionism: 5 simple tips   

Here are 5 ways for perfectionists to overcome perfectionism. 

1. Recognise your perfectionism 

The first step to getting rid of perfectionism is to acknowledge that you’re a perfectionist in the first place.  You can do this by reframing how you approach your projects and goals.

Perfectionists create an ideal picture focus in their mind of what the perfect result looks like.  If you want to overcome perfectionism, focus instead on the value your idea or project can provide.

Overcoming perfectionism starts with leading and being in motion, rather than living in fear.  To get into motion, focus on speed of implementation, rather than constantly polishing and perfecting.

Focus on what you’ve actually achieved and the progress you’ve made, rather than feeling inadequate about what you haven’t done. 

You do this by understanding the importance of what you’re doing, and understanding the difference the result will create in your own life and that of others. 

People often procrastinate because they don’t know where to start, or what first step to take.  Once you know the outcome you want to create, jump back to the beginning and lay out one action step or communication you can make.  what the project is,   Then take the first step to move forward. 

We don’t achieve bigger and better goals by talking about what we’re going to do, and then procrastinating on taking the first step. To get rid of perfectionism, take the time to think about the results you want to create and lay out your action plan. 

2. Narrow your focus

Perfectionism often happens when we’re spread too thin.  To overcome perfectionism start narrowing your focus.  Decide on your most important and then become fully committed and emotionally engaged in only those projects.

If you have too many things on your mind and too many smaller projects to complete, your focus will be off.

Being perfect is the enemy of the good, but so is being distracted.

If you have too many other things to worry about, you’ll feel stressed and overwhelmed, which can cause perfectionism to set in.

It’s better to focus on a small number of important projects and see them through to completion.

Then you can turn to the next important project or idea.

3. Challenge being perfect with excellence

Anyone that knows me and works with me knows that I’m all about high performance and value creation.

But excellence and high performance are not the same as perfection.

Perfection is simply an unattainable goal, an ideal made up in our minds.

It’s much better and more satisfying to complete a project simply by doing great work.

If you have the mindset that it can’t be good enough and you can never be satisfied you miss out on really contributing to people’s lives, instead of locked in your own mind.

4. Shift your mindset 

If you live in a world of ‘Should Do’ you may never really be sold on the project and be emotionally engaged enough to complete it in the first place.

However, if you come from a place of ‘Want To’ you have chosen to make this project an area of focus for you.

You will then be far more emotionally engaged to take committed, focused action to complete the project.

Before you start anything, ask yourself “Do I really want to work on this project?”

5. Practice saying no more often 

One of the biggest challenges for perfectionists is that they think they have to do everything themselves.

This may be because they feel other people won’t meet their expectations or standards so they’re better off doing everything themselves.

This might mean learning a new skill which takes time.

That skill will also have to be developed perfectly.

So, things just stall and don’t move forward.

If you’re a perfectionist focus on finding collaborators to help bring your project or idea to fruition.

Focus on what you do best and then work with other people on everything else.

This could be a team member, outside expert or friend.

The point here is to get the thing you want done finished.

We often can’t do it alone and collaborators will speed up implementation.

Summing Up

In this article I shared 5 proven ways to overcome perfectionism.  If perfectionistic thinking is causing you stress and overwhelm, remember you can use these tips to manage your perfectionism.  

To stop perfectionism it’s important to focus on progress not perfection and that good enough is often the best way forward towards achieving your goals. 

Now I’d love to hear from you.

What one thing causes perfectionism for you? 

What’s one tip from this article you’ll start using today? 

Let me know in the comments. 

Read also:

23 important ways to be strong-minded

Overwhelmed at work? 10 strategies to beat stress

How to stop procrastinating: tips for procrastinators 

The productivity guide: my top productivity tips 

8 time management tips to manage time effectively 

About the Author

Mark Pettit is a small business coach to business owners who want to simplify their time, energy and focus so they can multiply their freedom, impact and results. 

Get more articles, tips and tools to help you simplify your time to multiply your results on the blog.

Sign up to my Time For What Matters newsletter to get the best tips and tools to overcome perfectionism and procrastination.

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