We know perfectionists set impossibly high standards for their performance, and when they don’t reach those standards, they relentlessly criticize themselves for failing. Perfectionism is rooted in fear of failure and worrying about making mistakes.
This means perfectionists are motivated by a strong sense of duty and obligation, rather than enthusiasm or a healthy challenge. They are preoccupied with the possibility that others might disapprove of them and their actions – some even describe this as “working scared.”
Because of this, perfectionism can be closely related to depression and low self-esteem. We always strive to do our best, but we also need to acknowledge that perfect doesn’t exist.
This week we’re beginning season 6 of the Productivity Paradox podcast, and I’m so excited about our theme for the next 13 weeks: Turning Stumbling Blocks into Starting Blocks. Perfectionism is such a big, prominent stumbling block, so we’re starting with this topic.
While I give a lot more detail and actionable strategies in episode 066, I’ll give you the top 5 things you can do right now to fight against your perfectionism! If you need to start slow and just choose one or two of these – that’s OK! It’s important to just begin!
5 Things You Can Do to Take Action Against Perfectionism
Change your relationship with your goals
Perfectionists often feel weighed down by their goals because of a sense of fear that you may not succeed or reach your high standards. Let go of that fear and understand the positive outcomes of your goals so you can feel motivated by them. Find a sense of excitement and joy as you work towards completing them.
- Remember that goals aren’t meant to be unbreakable absolutes, they’re meant to be adjustable guides toward your mission and vision (both of which can change over time).
- Perfectionists often make their goals into a representation of their worth and then, of course, beat themselves up when they don’t achieve them. This causes some perfectionists to decide goal setting just isn’t for them and stop altogether, while others fall into a depression where over and over they beat themselves up for not reaching goals that were unattainable in the first place.
- Treat goals as guides on your path of self-improvement, rather than absolutes. Not achieving goals doesn’t mean you’re a bad person – you are more than your goals and achievements as a whole person. Continue to set big goals and keep the big picture in mind. Achieving a particular goal isn’t as important as the progress you make toward the goal.
Give yourself containers
Set a time budget by setting a limit on how long tasks should take. Since perfectionism causes you to work on a task until it’s “perfect,” it’s important to set boundaries. Estimate how long you think a task should take and set a timer for yourself to work on and complete that task – consider even setting for half of that time estimate and work against that time limit.
- Perfectionists tend to not understand the amount of inherent value of a task and believe that all tasks are equal. But it’s not true – all tasks don’t require the same amount of effort and time. Think about the priority levels we’ve talked about.
- Immediate, Important & Insignificant – It’s really a matter of separating the important from the merely urgent. We talked about this in episode 62… many people are prioritizing the wrong things. To figure out which category to assign these tasks to, ask: “how important is this really? If I spend a good portion of my time at a high level of work, will I get a return on my investment? How much time do I have to spend on this?” Be realistic and brutally honest.
When failures happen, focus on learning
Understand that without failure you wouldn’t be as successful as you are. Instead of ruminating on long past mistakes, think about how you’ve learned from them.
- Give yourself grace, too. Are these things really failures or are you setting the bar too high? Setting it so high, it’s unachievable?
- John Lennon once said he was “dissatisfied with every record the Beatles ever ****ing made. There ain’t one of them I wouldn’t remake… including all the Beatles records and all my individual ones.” This feeling can take on a life of its own, and many famous musicians have expressed similar sentiments, including Lady Gaga and Michael Jackson.
- Working with a constant sense of dissatisfaction and unhappiness with your work is exhausting. And defeating. Try to enjoy the progress, victories, mistakes and failures. Take time to celebrate. This shift in thinking causes perpetual gratefulness for all your life experiences and encourages you to strive for progress rather than striving for perfection and focusing on what you lack.
Compare yourself to yourself
Don’t compare yourself to other people around you or on social media. Track your improvement in different areas and see how far you’ve come. Regularly look back at what you’ve overcome and learn to appreciate everything you’ve done, rather than what everyone else is doing.
- Focus and take action on what you think is the right thing. Too often, we’re perfectionists because of people around us, media and society and how they influence how we think and feel. You can start to lessen this influence by doing the what you think is the right thing as much as possible. This makes other’s expectations have less and less power over you and allows you to take charge more in your life.
- You can also lessen this influence by cultivating your environment. Try to recognize and reduce sources that trigger perfectionism. What websites, TV shows, podcasts, magazines, and books do you spend a lot of time with? If any of them have unrealistic or negative views on you or life (or cause them in yourself), choose instead to spend more of your time on sources that lift you up and support you.
- In the same vein, try to recognize who in your life might be influencing you. Spend more of your time with people who are also trying to improve themselves/are living a positive, healthy and relaxed life.
Look at the big picture.
Figure out the things that are necessary to achieve your big picture goals and focus on those action items, not the small details that won’t add up in the long run. Make time to focus on your life as a whole and including your personal health and relationships, not just your work life.
- Think of and list out three things you’re doing right. This shifts the focus from things you aren’t doing well, which perfectionists tend to ruminate on. What three things have you done right within this goal, this day, or in your life? Focus on them and repeat this exercise whenever you have negative self talk. When you do this exercise often, it will become a natural thought process to recognize your own strengths. Make this a part of your daily download. – works for me (if time).
Stop blaming yourself when things don’t go your way and instead recognize that you did your best. This is again breaking the black and white, all or nothing mentality – you recognize that while things didn’t go your way you still did your best. Both things are true, not one or the other.
Focus on taking action – figure out what the smallest possible action is that you can take and take it. Too often perfectionism turns into procrastination and waiting for the “perfect” moment, which never comes.