How to Stop Being a Perfectionist

Two white boxes stacked on a dark brown wood tabletop

You take pride in your work and always strive to do your best. Nothing wrong with that, right?

But when you’re constantly striving to be perfect, it can actually impair your work and well-being, rather than support it.

Being a perfectionist can put too much pressure on our work and ourselves. Which can cause stress and make us feel overwhelmed. Perfectionism can also lead to procrastination—you’re reluctant to submit anything that doesn’t meet your exact standards. 

If you have a tendency to be a perfectionist, here are ways that you can stop being a perfectionist and shift your mindset about your work. 

Journal about it 

So much has been said about the benefits of journaling. Maybe it’s because we have a non-judgmental audience in our journals. Or that writing things down by hand feels so cathartic. But there’s just something about writing in a journal that feels so healing. 

And if you’re struggling with perfectionism, journaling may help you get to the root of the matter. Try free-writing or using a prompt to help you examine the issue. Maybe you’ll discover that it’s a fear of failure that’s driving you to be perfect. Or maybe you’ll discover that someone in your life had placed such high, unattainable standards on you.

While journaling may not solve all of our problems, it does help us better understand the underlying issue, and find a response to it.

Stop perfectionism with a deadline

Deadlines are great because they put a little fire under us. It may seem counterintuitive, but a little external pressure will actually help relieve the internal pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect.

A deadline forces us to act. So put it on a calendar or write it down in your planner. This will help you commit to finishing your task or project rather than trying to polish it into perfection.

Find an accountability partner

Accountability partners are also another great way to overcome perfectionism. When we promise to check-in with someone about our project or goal, we’ll feel compelled to honor our promise. So reach out to a friend or coworker that you trust and make sure to submit your draft or project at the specified time. 

Show your inner critic the door

Our inner perfectionist may actually just be our inner critic in disguise. Take a cue from author Louise Penny and silence your inner critic. She writes on her blog:

“I received a marvellous, and crucial, bit of advice when I was writing A FATAL GRACE, my second book. I was very afraid and edging toward writer’s block, so I went to see a therapist. I’m a huge believer in asking for help and accepting it. She said something I’ve never forgotten and that broke the fear. She said, ‘The wrong person is writing this book. The critic is writing it. You need to thank the critic, show her the door, shut it but don’t lock it, because you’re going to need her later. But the creative you needs to write the first draft. Just write. Don’t second guess. Don’t edit. Even if what you write is nonsense, just allow yourself that.’”

If you find your inner critic popping in from time to time, take a deep breath and try to dismiss the negative thoughts. Like a lot of habits, it will take time to get used to pushing the inner critic aside, but after a while the inner critic will have less power over your work. 

Empower yourself with positive affirmations

Julia Cameron, the author of the seminal creativity self-help book The Artist’s Way, talks a lot about the power of positive affirmations. With so many negative and critical thoughts swirling in our mind,  we forget to talk ourselves up. Positive affirmations can help us stop our perfectionist tendencies by allowing us to recognize that we are already capable and competent. 

You can recite positive affirmations out loud like a mantra or record them in your journal or put them on a post-it and display them at your workspace. You can check-in with your positive affirmations regularly or whenever you need a positive boost.

Make a list of nice things people have said about your work

So often, we remember the critical and negative things people have said about us, replaying them over and over in our minds. Yet we don’t give the same weight to compliments and praise that we have received.

Take a moment to go through old emails, letters, or performance reviews from people who have said nice things about your work or character. Maybe it’s an email from an old boss that said you did a terrific job. Or a teacher who complimented your efforts. Or a message from a friend who expressed gratitude for your friendship.

You can write these down in a journal or print out your favorite messages or copy/paste them into a document. Then, refer to this list whenever you need a confidence boost, and to remind yourself of your greatness. 

Give yourself low targets

The perfectionist in us wants to strive to paint the Sistine Chapel or write a Pulitzer-winning novel. Putting that amount of pressure on ourselves is bound to make us freeze. But when we set the bar low, we’re more likely to accomplish something. 

So if you’ve been putting off a big goal or dream project because it’s not meeting your standards, try lowering them. 

  • Instead of pressuring yourself to write a New York Times bestselling novel, try writing something that you yourself would enjoy reading. 
  • Instead of pressuring yourself to create a beautiful painting, try letting yourself paint for fifteen minutes.
  • Instead of pressuring yourself to create a presentation that will wow your CEO and land you a promotion, try drafting a few slides.

And try not to worry if the first draft or iteration turns out crappy. Early attempts are almost always bad. We can’t improve unless we have something to work on in the first place. 

Make a list of things you like about yourself

Perfectionism can cause us to equate our self-worth with our performance and productivity.

We need a reminder that we are valuable and amazing just because we are.

Set aside some time to write down all the things you like about yourself. It could be anything from the way you laugh to the way you always show up for friends or your ability to memorize random trivia or how you appreciate a good sunset. This list is a reminder of why you are awesome.

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