Perfectionism is one of the most restricting, paralyzing habits. I should know, I’ve been battling it for a good part of my life. But it’s been getting easier, and I’ve learned that it’s actually possible to beat this. So to help you do the same, I want to share 7 insights on how to overcome perfectionism!
How to overcome perfectionism – it’s up to you
Before we dive into the tips, let me say some general truth about overcoming perfectionism. This is up to you. It can be easy to say “Oh, I cannot do this or try that, because (insert excuse here).”
That is understandable. You are trying to change a behavior you used for a long time because it gives you some sense of security. But without you confronting these fears, you cannot get rid of your perfectionism.
Prepare for going out of your comfort zone with some of these tips. It is possible, but you’ll have to put in the work!
1. Beat perfectionism by failing on purpose
To make good on my promise about getting out of your comfort zone, let’s start with the tip that was the hardest for me to implement. But also the most efficient for beating perfectionism.
Find an activity where your perfectionism is holding you back or slowing you down. For me, that could be, for example, writing this blog post. Now, instead of polishing it till perfection, proofreading 10 times and then having someone else proofread it, too, I am just going to publish it.
Basically, I remove my “security behaviors”. Does that mean it might not be perfect? Absolutely! There could be some typos in here. Or it might even read a little awkward in some places.
So you could say that I purposefully open up to the possibility of making mistakes I could avoid.
How does that help you to overcome perfectionism?
This helps because it teaches my brain that even if I make mistakes, nothing horrible is going to happen. You see, perfectionism is often an irrational fear of what happens if you make a mistake.
While you rationally know that you won’t die, your brain treats it as if. So by putting it into the “dangerous” situation over and over again, it will learn that there is no reason to panic.
This will also help you to actually get things done. Perfectionists are the worst procrastinators because they wait for the perfect time and the perfect output. If you change your mode to just outputting something, your productivity will skyrocket!
2. Recognize your cognitive biases
A cognitive bias is
“a mistake in reasoning, evaluating, remembering, or other cognitive process, often occurring as a result of holding onto one’s preferences and beliefs regardless of contrary information.” [source]
In other words: a cognitive bias is a way of thinking that is irrational, but we are so used to thinking that way that we do it anyways.
We all have biases like that and some of them actually make our life easier. But there are also quite a few that hold you back and lead to anxiety and depression. Would you be surprised to know that these kinds of biases are exactly the kind of perfectionist thinking we are trying to overcome here?
It is not by chance that perfectionists have a strong tendency towards anxiety and depression. So let’s look at those biases a little more in detail and find out if you recognize yourself in any of these.
Signs of perfectionism: cognitive biases
- Black-and-white-thinking: In your mind, no grey zones exist. Everything is either awesome or awful. You are not okay with failing sometimes. If you fail once, you feel like a failure. Period.
- Thinking in “should”: Ah, this one is so me! Do you keep finding yourself thinking “I should do this” or “I should be like that”? That’s “should-thinking”.
- Overestimating probabilities: “If I call in sick, everyone will think I am faking it.” “I probably forgot to pack something for my vacation, even though I’ve been going through my checklist 200 times.”
- Catastrophic thinking: “If I don’t manage to do this presentation without a mistake, I will probably never be able to come back here.”
3. Challenge your beliefs
Now that you learned about these cognitive biases: Do any of these sound familiar to you? And reading them like this, can you realize how irrational they sound?
Make it a game in your mind to notice when you fall into these thinking patterns. And then challenge them. Ask yourself: Is this really true? Is it reasonable? Who says you “should” be like that? Is it really you? Or some part of your brain trying to find a pattern that doesn’t exist?
This might sound easy now that you read it. But doing that in everyday life actually takes quite a bit of self-awareness. Do keep practicing it though. Working on the way you think is the only way you can overcome perfectionism!
4. Change your perspective
Another important step on our path to find out how to overcome procrastination is to learn how to change your perspective on yourself. Usually, we hold ourselves to much higher standards than anyone else.
So to get away from this crazy perfectionism as soon as it’s about us, change your perspective a little bit. See your problem from a friendly outsider’s perspective. What if a very good friend or sibling was in your situation?
How would you estimate the situation then? What would you advise them to do? How would you think about them if they made a mistake? Would they be a total failure to you?
5. Consider the big picture
Another exercise that really helps me a lot when I get stuck in wanting to make everything perfect is to ask myself how much it matters in five years.
If you do mess up on your presentation, will it really change the course of your life drastically? If you forget to pack the cute sundress for your beach vacation, will that be what you will tell your grandchildren about?
And, if you think it is going to be really bad, ask yourself if you can survive it? Is it really going to be a catastrophe?
Considering the big picture of things challenges almost all of the typical cognitive biases of perfectionists. So do this deliberately to find out if you are maybe freaking out over details that don’t really matter that much.
6. Learn to compromise
Are you able to compromise? Most people would answer yes to this question. And most of us are when it comes to agreeing on something with a partner, friend or family.
But us perfectionists need to work on compromising with life a little better. Our standards are so high that no one can meet them, making us unhappy and constantly disappointed.
Work on lowering your standards to a point where it might not be perfect anymore, but still acceptable. You might be surprised by how much easier life can be this way!
7. Reward yourself, even for imperfect things
This step is important to keep you motivated. But it is also a training exercise in itself. Acknowledge that working on overcoming perfectionism and your old ways of thinking is hard work.
So plan regular rewards for yourself into your schedule. And make sure that you give yourself these rewards, especially when things are not going perfectly.
Got more ideas on how to overcome perfectionism?
Let me know in the comments! And make sure to share these tips with a fellow perfectionist!