Overcoming Perfectionism

Overcoming Perfectionism

April 20, 2022
Shari Steinbach
Career DevelopmentHuman Resources

By Shari Steinbach, MS RDN, RDBA Contributing Editor

There is an important different between being a high-achiever versus a perfectionist. While high-achievers are motivated to do their best, perfectionists are motivated by fear and can be paralyzed by thinking they may fail. This fear of failure can actually be so terrifying, that perfectionists may procrastinate taking action or simply avoid taking action altogether. And because of the unattainable standards perfectionists set for themselves, they often experience diminished self-esteem and excessive stress. If you have perfectionist tendencies, here are some ways to overcome.

  • Be aware of your tendencies – During work or at home, slow down and pay attention to your thoughts around perfectionism. Listen to your self-talk, and be aware of the ways you are letting perfectionism take hold in your life.
  • Allow yourself some mistakes – What you do well is icing on the cake, but you only learn and grow by making mistakes. Think of mistakes as necessary to help you develop into the person and professional you want to be.
  • Focus on the positive – Have you ever completed a project or presentation and can only remember what you know you did wrong? Make a conscious effort to focus on the good by identifying 2-3 positive things you appreciate from each work activity.
  • Set reasonable goals – Perfectionists often set unrealistic goals because their standards are so high. Try to set SMART goals that will leave you feeling less stressed and more confident in your ability to reach them. Make goals realistic, but challenging in a healthy way.
  • Accept constructive criticism – Taking all criticisms personally can lead to low self-esteem for perfectionists, but like mistakes, constructive criticism can help you learn and grow. Try to take a different look at criticism and consider it indespensible to help you do better.
  • Focus on meaning – Rather than trying to do everything perfect, shift your focus to finding meaning in what you do. If your work brings you joy and purpose, then it doesn’t really matter if it’s not perfectly done.
  • Eliminate negative influences – In today’s world it is important to monitor how things like social media or television can reinforce perfectionism. Avoid sources that glorify “hustle culture” to help you move away from feeling the need to be perfect.
  • Seek therapy - If you do find yourself continuing to struggle with perfectionism, therapy can help. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) in particular has been shown to be effective for reframing your thoughts. Therapy can also help you to identify and understand your tendencies toward perfectionism and provide you with the right tools to move out of the perfectionism cycle.