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How To Prevent Perfectionism From Ruining Your Life

Photo by JOSHUA COLEMAN on Unsplash

Perfectionism can be great, but it does come with some pretty major downsides. Perfectionism has been linked to procrastination and distress in students.

If you want to get your perfectionism under control, then this post is for you. Here are 9 helpful tips and tricks from industry experts on how to combat perfectionism. 

#1 Understanding failure is a necessary step in achieving success

Something that is exponentially worse than failing is the fear of failing. Think of Abraham Lincoln, arguably one of our nation’s greatest leaders. What many people don’t know is that over the course of almost 30 years, Lincoln lost his job, failed to open a business, was defeated in the State Legislature, failed to achieve his party’s nomination and lost 3 more elections and races before becoming the 16th president of the United States.

He didn’t need to be perfect to win the nomination and go on to achieve incredible feats – he just needed to overcome his fear of failing; a willingness to get up and try again.Just because you may not be able to do something perfect or you might fail at it – not trying to even take the first step will hold you back in so many aspects of life. Confronting and overcoming the fear of failing is one of the strongest ways to combat a perfectionist attitude that may be holding you back.

Contributors: Mark Wildes from Beyond the Instant

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#2 Behavioral Experiments and Exposure to Imperfection

One of the best strategies for overcoming perfectionism involves challenging perfectionistic behaviors. For example, if you re-read emails three times before sending them, perhaps your challenge will be setting a limit of only re-reading emails two times before sending them, or even sending an email with a known small typo. 

If your perfectionistic behavior involves not inviting friends over unless your apartment is immaculate, maybe your challenge involves inviting someone over without deep cleaning it, or even with some things not put away. 

If your perfectionistic behavior is arriving to all appointments 30 minutes early, maybe you want to leave later and experiment with arriving closer to the time of the appointment. Expect that you will have some increased anxiety. Practice tolerating the anxiety. Afterward, you can evaluate the outcome and whether it was as bad as you predicted. (Most likely no one even noticed the typo or the books left on the coffee table.) 

Like many with clinical perfectionism, you might find that the outcome is not so bad and that the benefits of reducing your standards a little far outweighs the risks. You may gain a lot of time for other things!

Contributors: Lauren Muhlheim from Eating Disorder Therapy LA

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#3 Understand where it comes from

I think the key to combating perfectionism is to finally understand where it comes from: It comes from a place of fear, which is something we don't need in our lives.  And most of us can acknowledge this and know that fear is bad and wrong and we need to combat it.

But also. Fear is just a signal. It's not an event in itself. It has no power in itself. It's just a feeling, waiting to be acted upon, and that's all. And - fear is really just a signal that we love something; we hold it dear. What I mean is, we fear loss of control, so we up the perfectionism. We fear failure, so we go for the perfect response. But we fear, in the first place, because we hold ourselves dear. And we value ourselves. Yes, perhaps too much, or with a misguided approach, but really? Our intentions are good.

So, every time we exhaust ourselves, aiming for that perfection myth, it is simply because we know we are of worth. It comes from a loving place.  A place of protection. Perhaps it was the best we could do at the time, but now that we KNOW all this. we can do something different.

Contributors: Dana Bowman from MomsieBlog

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#4 Form a well-defined vision and stick with it

In my experience, the best way to combat perfectionism is to form a well-defined vision, and work until you reach that vision - but no further.

Contributors: Nick Rubright from Dozmia

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#5 Good enough is good enough

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The expectation that we need to deliver perfection stops us from ever starting, we self sabotage through self criticism that leads to procrastination and robs us of the affirmation gained from getting the job done. If we allow ourselves to feel the fear without recrimination, step back and objectively acknowledge it as part of the process, part of being human, then choose to carry on despite it, we provide ourselves with an opportunity to overcome those fears. 

For example, Technology giant Apple, when they release a new Iphone know there are flaws in the product, but they don’t wait until the product is 100% perfect to release it, they’ve developed the product to a standard that is good enough for 294 million people world wide (as of 2015). The less than perfect product standard does not stop us buying and appreciating the technology. It is unlikely that the good people at Apple go home and cry into their pillows because the newly released piece of tech has a bug, they just get on with making a better product for the next release. It will never be perfect but it is definitely good enough.

Contributors: Emmanuella Grace from Find Your Voice

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#6 Stop being overly critical

The key to combat perfectionism is to stop being over critical about the work and passing on the judgement authority to a number of people in your circle. When you become the sole decision-making authority for a task, it’s natural to beat yourself up by thinking you have created something run of the mill, unoriginal or completely trashy and bogus. The idea of perfection is quite subjective and no matter how hard you try to get over, it’s natural to end up feeling the work hasn’t come out as expected. You must allow yourself the permission to start and see the end result in a completely new light. First and foremost, supply these parameters to your task:

  • Good Enough: This will be your Minimum Viable Product with a set of initial features and your job will only be working it up to one or two levels.
  • Delightful: Once the perfectionist mindset starts taking over, push yourself out of the task and leave the decision making authority to your peers or others working with your team. Watch out for a feedback from their lens of experience and commit to making improvements thereafter.

Contributors: Ketan Kapoor from Mettl

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#7 Fine line between a passion and perfection

Lots of folks with eating disorders or obsessive-compulsive tendencies seem to be perfectionists. The deep dive into perfectionism can be combatted with a little prevention. There is a fine line between a passion for a subject or an activity and a compulsion to do that perfectly every time. If you have a hunch that you may be a perfectionist in any area of your life, ask a close trusted confidante if he or she thinks you are a perfectionist in that arena.

Once you receive a positive answer, you may want to step outside your normal routine and habits and shake up your life a little. For example, if your hair has to be blown dry and styled perfectly every time you leave the home and this makes you late for events, try allowing yourself to be chic with a messy ponytail and a hat.

If you just have to have the home looking like the cleaning lady left five minutes ago, try staying in bed later than usual and read in bed rather than getting up right away to make the bed. The things we do out of our usual routine can teach us something about ourselves, and can also prevent us from going down the rabbit hole of perfectionism, which can lead to behavioral disorders if left unchecked.

Enlist the help of the trusted friend or family member again, and ask if they can help you change up the habits which are creating perfectionism and thus not allowing a flow of spontaneity and happiness in your life.

Contributors: KJ Landis from Superior Self

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#8 Understanding perfectionism & Tips To Combat It

Perfectionism is a mental drive to make something perfect and is on a continuum, some have it more than others. This drive results in actions the person will take, some good and some bad.

There are good and bad components of perfectionism. The good is obtained if the perfectionist puts in a lot of work to perfect the product. However, there are many bad mental and behavioral components of perfectionism.

The bad comes from the experience of anxiety regarding the product not being perfect.  Anxiety can make working on the project so miserable that a diminished amount of work is done. Perfectionism can paralyze a person into not attempting the task. Perfectionism can also result in less production because the product is withheld due to perfectionism fears. Perfectionists often argue that it takes a lot of work to accomplish something and this is correct, but you do not have to be burdened by perfectionism to put in a lot of work.

Tips to combat perfectionism:

  1. Do not give up the good in the quest for the perfect.  Many times perfectionists will not take an action or release a product because they want to make it perfect. They need to realize that perfection is an illusion and appreciate the good things that they can contribute for immediate use. There is a tremendous loss to individuals and society from this type of behavior.
  2. Analyze your need for perfection and consider alternative thoughts that will create alternative thoughts and behaviors.  This can lead to discovering ways to address the need that will support goal directed behavior.
  3. Look at the cost associated with not taking action or releasing a product due to perfectionism. Look at the cost to you of not making some suggestions or the cost to others of not having your product to help them.

Contributors: James I. Millhouse from Atlanta Psychological Associates

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#9 Perfectionism serves an outdated purpose

Perfectionism always has a positive intent but its purpose has passed by the time the individual realizes that this way of thinking is problematic. Perfectionism is a way of thinking that generally starts in childhood for two basic reasons. First being perfect brings me praise. Secondly, being perfect keeps me out of trouble. Since this way of thinking is effective and is practiced throughout childhood to survive an often dysfunctional family it is very difficult to shed as an adult.

The way to combat perfectionism is to see why perfectionism developed initially and that the need for this manner of thinking is no longer necessary. Once the individual realizes the need for perfectionism no longer exists they can discard it as they did other things from childhood they no longer need.

I use the illustration of a parachute. In the air it’s the only thing keeping you alive but on the ground, it’s the last thing you want to carry around.

Contributors: Monte Drenner from MTC Counseling

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