How To Overcome Perfectionism: 8 Simple Steps

This is the last part of a 3-part series on why being a perfectionist isn’t so perfect and how we should deal with it.

How To Overcome Perfectionism

“I just try to be the best I can be and hope that is the best ever.” – Tiger Woods

“The true perfection of man lies not in what man has, but in what man is.” – Oscar Wilde

(This is a continuation of my personal experience with perfectionism, from living with it to realizing its negative impact on my life)

Overcoming Perfectionism in My Life

After I realized the downsides of perfectionism and how it was negatively affecting my life, I figured it was high time I start overcoming perfectionism instead of letting it erode into myself.

Stewardship at work

Instead of fussing over everything at work, I would start assessing whether a particular task would make any huge difference in the bigger picture. If the answer was no, I would let it go. Versus driving myself endlessly, I embraced the mentality that work would never end and there was always the next day to continue working. That marked the first step where I started to become the steward instead of my own slave. At the same time, I developed faith in my co-workers’ abilities in their area of work and learned to delegate work out to them. This was my first step toward overcoming perfectionism.

Positive mental health

I learned to accept mistakes, learn from them and move on to what is actionable. While I would still feel eaten up inside when things do not turn out the way I envisioned, the downtime I experienced from that became shorter and shorter, while the backlash of self-blame became milder and milder. Consequently, I started to feel more relaxed and more positive.

Rewarding, meaningful relationships

As I shed the sharp edge around me, I found that I was beginning to foster extremely close, meaningful and real relationships based on trust and respect with my co-workers and people around me. My warmth as an individual, which had always been inside of me, started to emanate through to others. Interestingly, I noticed people whom I had only known for a short period of time would start openly share their inner thoughts and feelings with me. It was an extremely rewarding and pleasant feeling, to say the least.

Improved quality of life

The thing is, none of these changes came with any trade-offs. In fact, it came with loads of trade-ons. By overcoming perfectionism, it has made me better and stronger than I was before. I am more effective and efficient than I was. I stop getting lost in the minor details and keep my eyes on the larger picture. By not beating myself for mistakes, I am happier and much more positive. Today, I get so much more out of my relationships and life.

Most importantly, I still have my ideals, visions and BHAGs which I strive and aim toward. Overcoming perfectionism didn’t mean that I had to forgo all my goals. The only change is I no longer turn them into unhealthy obsessions nor get hung up over what is not within my control. Instead of crippling me, my perfectionist alter-ego has turned into my ally.

And if I did it, you can do the same too. If you realize you are a perfectionist, you can stop letting them bind you down. As deeply embedded the perfectionist mindset may be in you, you can start overcoming perfectionism.

How To Overcome Perfectionism: 8 Simple Steps

Here’s your eight steps to overcome perfectionism, for life.

1. Be aware of your motivations for perfection

To overcome perfectionism, first understand why you are a perfectionist. Why are you a perfectionist to begin with? To what end does your perfectionism serve? Review the 3 common motivations for perfectionism. Chances are, you will find that your underlying motivations for perfectionism are likely tied to an aspiration to be a better person, to be the best you can be, and to do right by others.

Knowing these motivations serve to remind yourself of why you strive for perfection to begin with, after which you can use them to cross-check with your behavior and see if your perfectionist tendencies actually serve you or pull you away from your vision of yourself.

For example, say you are a perfectionist because you want to achieve your best results in everything you do. Say you are preparing a presentation and you can’t seem to finish it because you keep finding things to edit. More specifically, these things you keep mulling over are little, nitty-gritty things, which don’t make a difference to the overall output.

It helps to review these questions: How does your obsession with trivial details help you to achieve your best results in life? Could you actually spend that time, elsewhere, in a more meaningful manner that enables you to achieve better results?

Make sure your perfectionism doesn’t turn into a self-sabotaging tool. Read: Are You Self-Sabotaging Yourself? (Understanding Self-Sabotaging Behavior and Breaking It)

2. Recognize that ideals are directions, not absolutes

Neurotic perfectionists tend to beat themselves up incessantly over little setbacks and thwarts to their plans. They tend to see them as “failures”; in their minds, they think: “If I don’t achieve my goal or vision, that means I’ve failed. There is no point in doing any of this anymore. I have no way to rectify this situation. It’s a lost cause.”

As a perfectionist, you should recognize that your ideals are directions to work towards and not absolutes which you need to achieve. It is not your ideals that are the problems here; it’s your attachment towards them which need correction.

Ideals are very good. Whatever ideals you have, continue to hold them. Set BHAGs (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) because they drive you in your growth. Commit yourself to said ideals and goals. At the same time, don’t attach yourself to them. They are meant as to inspire, guide, and bring the best out of you, not to make you feel bad about yourself. If you ever feel bad about not achieving a certain ideal or goal, review your attachment with it, and let go of this attachment.

3. Respect and love yourself

Are you beating yourself over something that could have been better? Let go of all these negative thoughts in your mind. You did what you could within that particular context. Recognize you are an individual with your own rights and integrity versus subjecting yourself to all the self-abuse and self-depreciation. Treat yourself with the respect you deserve.

Read: Are You Self-Sabotaging Yourself? (Understanding Self-Sabotaging Behavior and Breaking It)

4. Focus on the big picture

Overcoming perfectionism requires you to start seeing the forest for the trees. Use prioritization techniques such as Time Management Matrix (Stephen Covey, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) to aid you in identifying tasks which you should do and tasks which you should abandon altogether. For the tasks which you need to be involved in, use the 80-20 principle to help you gauge when to stop. Whenever a particular task is taking too much of your time, it is good to ask yourself ‘Does this matter in the bigger scheme of things?’. If it doesn’t, chuck it.

5. Focus on what can be done

Forget about mistakes that were made in the past which you cannot do anything about. Learn from them and move on; obsessing over them does not change anything at all. Realize that the time you spend thinking about your mistakes actually takes you away from time which you can have spent on more productive things instead! Stop worrying about things that are not within your locus of control, such as the future or perceptions by others. Plan for contingencies but beyond that, do not waste your time harping over it.

Read: 13 Helping Points When Things Don’t Go Your Way

6. Delegate and let go

Have faith in other people’s abilities and delegate tasks to them. If they do not seem to be doing a particular task right, teach and help them instead of taking over entirely. Teach a man how to fish so there is more fish for everyone, rather than doing all the fishing yourself and limiting the total output.

Read: Your One-Stop Guide To Outsourcing: Why You Should Outsource and How To Get Started

7. Enjoy the entire process

The process is the longest part of achievement – enjoy it! Find ways to lighten it up – learn to laugh at yourself, take things positively, rest/eat/sleep/play when it is time to, take part in enriching recreational activities, do not deprioritize your social gatherings or time off from work.

Read: How To Be Happy: 10 Timeless Principles for Lasting Happiness

8. Celebrate the victories and progress made

Give yourself a pat in the back for everything that you do, regardless of the outcome. Reward yourself or other people if a good job is done. Give credit where credit is due. Wholeheartedly celebrate your victories when they come along—you have rightfully earned them!

By the way, I still think that humans are perfect – it is in the imperfections that I see perfection. :)

Get the manifesto version of this article: How To Overcome Perfectionism Manifesto

This is the last part of a 3-part series on why being a perfectionist isn’t so perfect and how we should deal with it.

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  • http://tarotmastershimure.blogspot.com/ SHIMURE

    Nice article, especially the following point.

    6. Delegate and let go.

    A lot of perfectionist and managers are unable to do this. as such they do not produce quality work or fail in their tasks.

    =====================================

    An example would be found in ancient chinese history.

    Prior to the founding of the Han dynasty, there was a civil war between 2 different leadership styles.

    One leader was Xiang yu. He was a capable man, very good at martial arts, and military warfare. A perfectionist in battle. However, he does not trusts his sub-ordinates and very very proud.

    The other Leader was Liu Bang, incapable in battle, a coward, but a very good sales man and never gives up in face of adversity. He has a capable wife and uses the advice of his subordinates. After 4 years of battle. He triumphed over xiang yu…..

    This is one example of a perfectionist is Zhuge Liang….

    He is perfect in everyway. But he did not trust his subordinates and eventually he died due to exhaustion.

    ===================================

    Learning mistakes is good but never commit the same one over again…..

    Steve jobbs was asked why he did not fire a particular purchaser over an error of S$20,000.00.

    His response was if i were to fire him, i would lose a staff who has learned a S$20.000.00 lesson.

    ==============================

  • http://personalexcellence.co Celes

    @Shimure: Thanks for sharing the story! The quote from Steve Jobs is classic!! It’s really all about perception!
    @Jirel: Hi Jirel, welcome and thanks for such a kind comment! :) I’m glad you found the post helpful! Like you, I used to be really anally retentive about minor errors, such as capitalizations and what not as well. Looking back, gosh – living life that way was such a chore. Taking things easy and focusing on the big picture just makes everything so much more fun :) Hope to see you around! :)

  • LBJirel

    Hi Celec,

    Here is something that is very helpful. This is my first visit of your blog and am very impressed by your writing styles, information you have put in posts etc.

    Said, this is my first visit, I have read three series post about perfectionist.

    Let me say that I already knew that I am perfectionist type person. Exactly I don’t know why I am so…one reason I think is that my parent and society have very high expectation from me due to my ability I had during school days. As you have written, I had done something which even my seniors thought were impossible. At that time, that ability naturally came to me.

    But, later I failed in some field. One thing that I think still shows that I am quite perfectionist is that I do not like those writing with small letters in the beginning of sentence and with spelling mistake(I may make this latter mistake bacause English is not my primary language). I believe there should be the capital letter in the beginning of the sentence and if it is not the case, it makes me annoyed with that writing. Similarly, in doing everything I like to be done that in perfect way.

    Of course, there are both positive and negative sides of this in my life. For now, I have decided to learn from those mistakes and take things in normal way that will help me to avoid those negative aspects from now on.

    Wonderful post(s)!

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  • Hypnos

    If you are the first type of perfectionist (“fierce desire for growth”, in Part 1), #2 on this 8-step plan seems awfully difficult. How can you achieve the idealized growth if you settle for achieving something less than the ideal?

    Any ideas/suggestions?