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 was 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 the need to always be perfect is essential for achieving a healthier mindset and enhancing your overall well-being. 

Let’s explore effective strategies and techniques for overcoming perfectionist tendencies and avoid feeling anxious, stressed, and pressured to be perfect.

Table of Contents

What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is the striving for flawlessness and the setting of excessively high standards for yourself. Perfectionists often have a fear of failure and a strong need for approval. While perfectionism can sometimes lead to high achievement, it can also be a significant obstacle to effective time management.

Perfectionists tend to view tasks in black and white, either believing they can achieve perfect results or that their efforts will be completely inadequate. This all-or-nothing thinking can lead to procrastination and avoidance, as perfectionists may fear that they cannot meet their own unrealistic standards.

What Is the Cause of Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is a complex trait that is influenced by a combination of genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. While the exact causes of perfectionism are not fully understood, research suggests that several factors may play a role.

These factors can be divided into 3 types:

  • Genetic
  • Environmental
  • Psychological

Let’s take a closer look at each type.

Genetic factors:

  • Studies have shown that perfectionism tends to run in families, suggesting that there may be a genetic predisposition to the trait.

Environmental factors:

  • Parental expectations: Parents who set excessively high standards for their children or who are overly critical of their children’s performance may contribute to the development of perfectionism.
  • Cultural factors: Cultures that emphasize achievement and success may contribute to the development of perfectionism.
  • Peer pressure: Perfectionists may be more likely to associate with other perfectionists, which can reinforce their perfectionistic tendencies.

Psychological factors:

  • Fear of failure: Perfectionists may be driven by a fear of failure and a need to avoid criticism.
  • Low self-esteem: Perfectionists may have low self-esteem and believe that they need to be perfect in order to be worthy of love and acceptance.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD): Perfectionism is often a symptom of OCD, a mental health disorder characterized by intrusive thoughts and repetitive behaviors.

What are the Signs of Perfectionism?

Perfectionism can manifest in various ways, and individuals may exhibit different combinations of signs. Here are some common signs of perfectionism:

  1. Setting extremely high standards: Perfectionists often set unrealistic and unattainable standards for themselves and others. They may believe that their work or performance is never good enough, even when it objectively meets or exceeds expectations.
  2. Excessive focus on details: Perfectionists may spend an excessive amount of time on minor details, often at the expense of completing tasks efficiently or meeting deadlines. They may also be overly critical of their work, nitpicking over small flaws or inconsistencies.
  3. Difficulty delegating tasks: Perfectionists often have a hard time letting go of control and trusting others to complete tasks. They may believe that no one else can meet their high standards or that delegating tasks will result in inferior work.
  4. Procrastination and avoidance: You may procrastinate on tasks or avoid starting projects altogether due to fear of failure or not meeting your own expectations. You may also avoid seeking feedback from others, fearing that it will be critical or negative.
  5. Sensitivity to criticism: As I was saying above, perfectionism comes with a sensitivity to criticism, even when it is constructive. Perfectionists may perceive criticism as a personal attack on their abilities or worth, leading to feelings of shame, guilt, or anger.
  6. All-or-nothing thinking: Perfectionists often have an all-or-nothing mindset, viewing their work or performance as either perfect or a complete failure. They may struggle to accept mistakes or setbacks, and their self-esteem may be heavily tied to their perceived success or failure.
  7. Overwork and burnout: Perfectionists may drive themselves to work excessively long hours in an effort to achieve their high standards. This can lead to burnout, exhaustion, and physical or emotional health problems.
  8. Difficulty enjoying accomplishments: Perfectionists may have difficulty enjoying their accomplishments due to their constant focus on what they haven’t yet achieved. They may feel dissatisfied even when they have achieved significant goals, as they always strive for more.
  9. Comparing themselves to others: Perfectionists may frequently compare themselves to others, often believing that they are not as successful, talented, or intelligent as others. These comparisons can lead to feelings of inadequacy, envy, and self-doubt.
  10. Difficulty setting boundaries: Perfectionists may struggle to set boundaries between work and personal life, as they may feel constantly driven to work or improve themselves. This can lead to neglecting their personal relationships, hobbies, and overall well-being.

The Negative Impact of Perfectionism

Perfectionism can significantly impact your emotional, psychological, and social well-being, often negatively. Perfectionists typically experience high levels of stress and anxiety due to their unrelenting pursuit of flawlessness and fear of failure. This persistent stress can manifest physically, causing symptoms like headaches, muscle tension, and fatigue.

Another consequence of perfectionism is decreased self-esteem. The continuous comparison to unattainable standards often leads to feelings of inadequacy, resulting in negative self-talk and a reduced sense of self-worth. Additionally, perfectionists may engage in procrastination or complete avoidance of tasks. The fear of not meeting their own high expectations can result in missed deadlines and setbacks in academic or professional pursuits.

Perfectionists also tend to struggle with enjoying their accomplishments. Their focus on what remains unachieved overshadows their successes, hindering their ability to savor victories and feel genuinely satisfied. This mindset can also strain relationships, as perfectionists often impose their high standards on others, leading to conflict and resentment.

The mindset associated with perfectionism increases the risk of mental health problems like anxiety disorders, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The chronic stress and dissatisfaction can also lead to physical health problems, including digestive issues and sleep disturbances.

Creativity and exploration are often limited in perfectionists due to their fear of making mistakes and a strong focus on predefined goals. This fear stifles creativity and hinders the willingness to explore new ideas or take risks. Additionally, their reluctance to trust others and a need for control can impede effective delegation and collaboration in group settings.

Lastly, perfectionists often view mistakes not as learning opportunities but as failures, preventing them from gaining valuable insights from their experiences and progressing. This perspective can be a significant barrier to personal and professional development.

Does Being a Perfectionist Have Any Advantages?

While perfectionism can be detrimental, it does have some positive aspects, though these benefits are often overshadowed by the negative impacts. One notable advantage is the high motivation and dedication that perfectionists exhibit towards their work or goals. Their drive stems from a strong desire to achieve excellence and avoid failure.

Perfectionists also tend to have a remarkable attention to detail. They can identify even minor imperfections, which can be particularly advantageous in professions that require precision, such as healthcare, engineering, or the creative arts.

Another positive trait is their strong work ethic. Perfectionists are often willing to invest long hours and significant effort to reach their goals. This dedication can lead to success in various life areas, including academics, careers, and personal projects.

In terms of decision-making, perfectionists are less likely to make impulsive decisions. They typically take time to consider their options and weigh the pros and cons thoroughly, which can be beneficial in avoiding negative outcomes.

Lastly, perfectionists often set high standards for themselves and others. This pursuit of excellence can result in higher-quality work and increased productivity, which can be advantageous in both personal and professional contexts. However, it’s crucial to balance these positive aspects with the potential for negative consequences that often accompany perfectionism. 

What Influence Does Your Perfectionism Have On Your Team?

Perfectionism can be a double-edged sword for leaders, offering both potential benefits and significant drawbacks. While it can motivate individuals to strive for excellence and maintain high standards, it can also hinder their ability to lead effectively. Here are some of the key disadvantages of perfectionism in leadership roles:

  1. Unrealistic Expectations and Micromanagement: Perfectionistic leaders may set unrealistic expectations for themselves and their teams, leading to frustration and resentment. They may micromanage tasks, stifle initiative, and create a culture of fear of failure. This can stifle innovation, creativity, and the development of individual capabilities.
  2. Failure to Recognize Incremental Progress: Perfectionists often focus on the end result rather than the process, overlooking the value of incremental progress and learning opportunities. They may dismiss partial achievements or improvements, demotivating their teams and hindering overall growth.
  3. Suppression of Creativity and Risk-Taking: The fear of making mistakes or falling short of perfection can stifle creativity and innovation. Perfectionistic leaders may discourage experimentation, risk-taking, and new ideas, leading to a culture of conformity and stagnation.
  4. Overly Critical and Negative Feedback: Perfectionistic leaders may provide overly critical and negative feedback, damaging team morale and hindering the development of their employees. Their focus on flaws and imperfections can create a hostile work environment and discourage open communication.
  5. Inability to delegate and develop Others: Perfectionists may struggle to delegate tasks and responsibilities, believing that they can only do things perfectly themselves. This can lead to burnout, hinder the development of other leaders, and limit the overall effectiveness of the team.
  6. Focus on Process Over Relationships: Perfectionistic leaders may prioritize process and procedures over building strong relationships with their team members. They may fail to recognize the importance of empathy, trust, and emotional intelligence in fostering a collaborative and productive work environment.
  7. Lack of Resilience and Adaptability: Perfectionists may have difficulty adapting to changing circumstances and responding to unforeseen challenges. Their rigid adherence to standards and procedures can prevent them from navigating change effectively and seizing new opportunities.
  8. Focus on Short-Term Results Over Long-Term Growth: Perfectionistic leaders may prioritize short-term results over long-term strategic goals. They may rush projects, overlook the bigger picture, and fail to invest in the development of their teams and the organization’s growth.

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 toward 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 for 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 toward 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 life and mindset.

Can Good Time Management Skills Help You Beat Perfectionism?

Yes, good time management skills can be a powerful tool in overcoming perfectionism. Perfectionism often stems from an inability to prioritize tasks effectively and manage time efficiently. By developing effective time management skills, perfectionists can reduce their stress, improve their productivity, and learn to accept that perfection is unattainable.

Here are some specific ways that good time management skills can help you beat perfectionism:

  • Setting realistic deadlines to not get overwhelmed
  • Prioritizing tasks
  • Learning to say no

Setting Realistic Deadlines to Not Get Overwhelmed

Perfectionists often set unrealistic expectations for themselves, which can lead to procrastination and feelings of inadequacy. Setting realistic deadlines allows you to break down large projects into manageable chunks and focus on making progress rather than striving for perfection.

Prioritizing Tasks

Perfectionists often struggle to focus on the most important tasks, instead getting bogged down in minor details. Prioritizing tasks based on urgency and importance helps you focus on what matters most and avoid getting sidetracked by less critical items.

Learning to Say No

Perfectionists often feel compelled to say yes to every request, which can lead to overwhelming workloads and a sense of burnout. Learning to say no allows you to protect your time and energy for the tasks that truly matter to you.

Perfectionism Is Anything But Perfect

Perfectionism can become 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 impossible 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, and then getting frustrated when you are not able to reach them in a way that you deem 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 exhibit 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

There are 3 types of perfectionists:

  • self-oriented
  • other-oriented
  • socially-prescribed


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 perfection, we must find meaning and joy in the precious things that we DO have.
By focusing on what’s missing, you can’t appreciate what you 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 you might free yourself from its grip if you practice self-compassion. 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.

Can Perfectionism Lead To Feeling Overwhelmed?

Yes, perfectionism can lead to feeling overwhelmed. Perfectionists set extremely high standards for themselves, often exceeding what is reasonable or achievable. This can lead to a constant feeling of inadequacy and failure, as they are never able to meet their own expectations. Perfectionists are often terrified of making mistakes, as they see it as a reflection of their worth. This fear can lead to procrastination, avoidance, and ultimately, a sense of being overwhelmed by the task at hand.

Do Perfectionists Sabotage Their Goals?

Yes, perfectionists can often sabotage their own goals in numerous ways. Perfectionists often set extremely high standards for themselves, aiming for flawlessness when setting goals that may not be attainable. This can lead to discouragement and a sense of failure, even when progress is made.The fear of making mistakes is another major obstacle for perfectionists when setting goals. They believe that any imperfection reflects poorly on their abilities, leading to procrastination and avoidance of challenging tasks.


While there may be some instances where striving for excellence can be beneficial, excessive perfectionism is generally considered a weakness. It can lead to excessive stress, anxiety, and poor self-esteem, hindering personal growth and overall well-being.

In small doses, perfectionism can motivate and drive you to achieve high standards. However, when taken to an extreme, it becomes detrimental, hindering progress and preventing you from enjoying your accomplishments.

Perfectionism can significantly impact mental and physical health. It can lead to anxiety, depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and chronic stress, which can manifest in physical ailments such as headaches, muscle tension, and sleep disturbances.

Overcoming perfectionism can lead to significant improvements in mental and physical health. It can reduce stress, anxiety, and improve self-esteem, fostering a more positive and fulfilling life. Additionally, it can promote flexibility, creativity, and open-mindedness.

The journey to overcome perfectionism requires gradual self-awareness and conscious effort. Identifying perfectionistic tendencies, challenging negative self-talk, setting realistic goals, and accepting imperfections are key steps in letting go of this self-limiting mindset.

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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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