How to Beat Perfectionism Before It Beats You


I used to struggle to start writing. I used to sit there and think about perfecting every line, thought, or idea. The truth of the matter is that as long as I tried to write that perfect line, sentence, or paragraph, I was pretty much sitting in front of blank pages for most of my day, frustrated that nothing good is being written, feeling that I am not making enough progress and fearing that no article or book is actually going to be written.
That’s the problem with perfectionism — we focus on what’s missing or broken and can’t make progress.
Striving to be your best is wonderful. The problem with perfectionism is that like anything else taken to the extreme, it is harmful. Very harmful.
The pressure to become better has turned into an epidemic. The World Health Organization links severe anxiety disorders to the unrealistic standards we hold for ourselves.
Perfectionism does not lead to being happier or more successful. But it does lead to frustration, anxiety, and disappointment.

Perfectionism, while often associated with high standards and a desire for excellence, can also lead to anxiety and hinder personal growth. Overcoming perfectionism is essential for achieving a healthier mindset and enhancing overall well-being. Let’s explore effective strategies and techniques for overcoming perfectionism and managing perfectionism anxiety.

How to Overcome Perfectionism

How to overcome perfectionism starts with recognizing that perfection is an unattainable goal. Embrace the idea that it’s okay to make mistakes and that imperfections are part of being human. Challenge the belief that your worth is solely based on achieving flawless results. Shift your focus towards progress, growth, and the learning process rather than fixating on an unattainable ideal.

Developing self-compassion is crucial in overcoming perfectionism. Treat yourself with kindness and understanding when facing setbacks or making mistakes. Acknowledge that everyone experiences failures and that these setbacks provide valuable opportunities for learning and personal development. Practice self-forgiveness and let go of harsh self-judgment.

Setting realistic goals and expectations is another vital aspect of overcoming perfectionism. Break down larger tasks into smaller, manageable steps. Focus on progress rather than perfection. Celebrate achievements along the way, no matter how small they may seem. By setting attainable goals, you create a sense of accomplishment and build momentum towards your desired outcomes.

Managing perfectionism anxiety involves challenging negative thoughts and beliefs. Recognize and challenge the irrational thoughts and beliefs that contribute to your anxiety. Ask yourself if there is evidence to support these thoughts or if they are simply exaggerated or distorted. Replace negative self-talk with positive and realistic affirmations.

Practicing mindfulness and self-awareness can be powerful tools in overcoming perfectionism and managing anxiety. Mindfulness allows you to be present in the moment, accepting yourself and your experiences without judgment. Cultivate awareness of your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations, allowing yourself to observe them without attachment or criticism.

Seeking support from others is essential in overcoming perfectionism and managing associated anxiety. Talk to trusted friends, family members, or a therapist who can provide guidance and perspective. They can offer a fresh outlook, challenge self-defeating beliefs, and provide support as you navigate the journey towards overcoming perfectionism.

Remember, perfectionism is a habit that can be unlearned. Embrace the process of growth and self-improvement. Practice self-care, engage in activities that bring you joy and relaxation, and prioritize your well-being. Surround yourself with a supportive network that encourages and celebrates your efforts.

In conclusion, overcoming perfectionism is a journey towards self-acceptance, resilience, and personal growth. By challenging unrealistic expectations, practicing self-compassion, setting realistic goals, managing perfectionism anxiety, and seeking support, you can break free from the constraints of perfectionism. Embrace your imperfections, celebrate your progress, and cultivate a healthier and more fulfilling mindset.

Perfectionism Is Anything but Perfect

Perfectionism is an extreme form of self-abuse. It leads to overthinking and action paralysis, because if it is not perfect, what is the point? Perfectionists tend to overburden themselves. They find it difficult to delegate, even if that means neglecting their health, relationships, and well-being because they are on a mission to get the perfect outcome.
Do not mix perfectionism with setting high standards. Setting high personal standards and working hard toward them is a good thing. However, there’s a dark side to always aiming high — perfectionism is setting goals that are almost impossible, then getting frustrated when you are not able to reach them in a way that you deem as acceptable by these imaginary standards.
The anxiety and negativity that perfectionism brings with it can get overwhelming, but there is no reasoning with a perfectionist.  That’s why therapists and coaches know that asking people to lower their bar is pointless — they will ignore their advice. If you want to defeat perfectionism, you must understand and address the issues behind this increasing obsession.
Maria Shriver said- “Perfectionism doesn’t make you feel perfect; it makes you feel inadequate.” How true!
A study called “Perfectionism Is Increasing Over Time” found that young people today are more burdened than ever. Unhealthy perfectionism has surged, leading to eating disorders, depression, high blood pressure and thoughts of suicide. This is caused by a mix of excessively high personal standards (“I have to excel at everything I do”) and intense self-criticism (“I’m a complete failure if I don’t get that GPA or that score”).
The pressure to appear flawless is driven by the fear of failure, but also by our desire to be loved and admired.
Our need to please others has reached a new high too. Society today holds perfectionists up on a pedestal as role models more than ever before. Social media has become a space to pursue and achieve perfection — the more likes you get, the closer you are to feeling perfect.
Increasingly, young people hold irrational standards for themselves — they create unrealistic expectations for their academic and professional achievements, looks, and possessions. They have bought into the modern myth that their lives, including themselves, should be perfect.
Perfectionism is a growing epidemic. Studies among North American teens show that 3 in 10 exhibits some sort of unhealthy perfectionism. It is also life-endangering — those with higher scores on perfectionism are more likely to die younger.
Perfection is an impossible goal — you only set yourself up for failure and suffering. That’s the paradox of perfectionism. The more you try to win someone else’s validation, the worse you become.
Experts have found that perfectionism is more than an attitude or excess attention to detail — it has become a way of life that creates and amplifies mental issues. It’s a clear signal that we have a problematic relationship with ourselves.

The Three Types of Perfectionists

Self-oriented perfectionists adhere to strict standards while maintaining strong motivation to achieve perfection and avoid failure — they engage in harsh self-assessment.
Other-oriented perfectionists set unrealistic standards for others like partners, friends, or co-workers — they are very rigid when it comes to evaluating how others perform.
Socially-prescribed perfectionists believe that others hold unrealistic expectations for them — they can’t live up to external pressure and (perceived) harsh criticism.
The latter is growing at twice the rate of the other two, according to the study by Thomas Curran and Andrew P. Hill. Even worse, it’s the one most associated with anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts- they let others define their lifestyle.

Rethink Your Relationship with Yourself

We must rethink our relationship with ourselves (especially accepting that we are not flawless). It’s harder to get things done when we have zero tolerance for mistakes — people are more likely to procrastinate since they can’t screw up what they haven’t yet started.
Overcoming perfectionism requires reframing our relationship with life, others, and ourselves. Rather than seeking for perfection, we must find meaning and joy in the precious things that we DO have.
By focusing on what’s missing, we can’t appreciate what we already have.
Three steps you can take to move away from perfectionism
Perfectionism is not a rational emotion, and as such, it cannot be argued or reasoned with. Studies have shown that perfectionists are at a higher risk of several illnesses, both physical and mental and that self-compassion might free us from its grip. Therefore, perfectionism and self-compassion are very much linked.

Here are three steps that you can follow in order to pursue perfectionism less and love yourself more:

Step one, acknowledge that it’s bad for you; beating yourself up over every little error gradually chips away at your sense of self-worth and makes you less happy. You deserve better than this.
Step two– pledge to resist the temptation to beat yourself up for the sake of beating yourself up. When you’ve spent years cultivating this inner bully, you develop an unconscious reflex to put yourself down for every minor thing, no matter how ridiculous or absurd. It is a bad habit of the mind. Every time you start beating yourself up, tell yourself: “I am done beating myself up. How can I treat myself with love?”
Third Step, as part of that self-love, learns to be attentive to your own needs.
Ask yourself this simple question: “What do I need?”. In perfectionism, you focus on the unattainable perfect goal at the expense of your own mental and physical health. I want you to shift from focusing on the unattainable perfect goal of focusing on self-care: what do you need? Rest? Healthy food? A break? Company? A hug? A day off?

The challenge- self-love. The tool- be kind to yourself in at least one way every day. Your happiness is in your mind and your hands.

Dr. Michelle Rozen
Dr. Michelle Rozen

Dr. Michelle Rozen, Ph.D., is a highly respected authority on the psychology of change. She is one of the most booked motivational speakers nationwide as well as internationally, and a frequent guest on media outlets such as NBC, ABC, FOX News, and CNN on topics related to dealing with change in our world and in every aspect of our lives, so that we can do better and feel better.

Her most recent book, 2 Second Decisions helps people power through with their most challenging decisions through turbulent times.

Dr. Michelle Rozen consistently speaks for Fortune 500 companies and her clients include some of the most recognizable companies in the world including Johnson & Johnson, Merrill Lynch, Pfizer, and The U.S. Navy. She holds a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in Psychology and resides in the greater NYC area.

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