Trying to be perfect all the time can be exhausting. Feeling like you’re never measuring up can wear you down in ways you didn’t think were possible. If you let it, perfectionism can negatively impact your self-esteem, affect depression and anxiety, and promote other forms of maladjustment.
The good news is there are healthy ways to manage your perfectionism.
What Does It Mean to Be a Perfectionist?
Simply put, perfectionism is a need to be perfect, and according to the American Psychological Association, it correlates with anxiety, depression, and even eating disorders. The worry and fear associated with perfectionism can be costly in terms of your physical and emotional well-being. It can also have a detrimental impact on your relationships because you tend to burden others with the same unrealistic standards you place on yourself.
The Irony of Perfectionism
According to Brene Brown, “Perfectionism is a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us, when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from taking flight.”
Perfectionism often leads to the opposite outcome of what you were fighting so hard to achieve. This is because perfectionists tend to worry so much about failure that they either never get started on or they get stuck halfway into their endeavors. They are constantly undermining themselves and getting in their own way—not exactly a fertile ground for creative growth.
How to Tell if You’re a Perfectionist
If you’re a perfectionist, chances are you already know it. But if you’re wondering, “Could this be me?,” here are five common perfectionist tendencies:
- You don’t settle for second best.
- You give up on tasks you don’t think will turn out perfectly.
- You are overly critical of mistakes.
- Your world falls apart when you don’t achieve perfection.
- You don’t like asking for help.
Are There Any Benefits to Being a Perfectionist?
A healthy dose of perfectionism can propel you toward achieving your goals. But there’s a giant leap from a healthy pursuit of your dreams to striving to meet hopelessly unrealistic standards. The key is to find balance and to relax into a place where good enough becomes the new perfect.
Here are five practices to help you manage your perfectionism:
1. Avoid Comparing Yourself to Others
As Theodore Roosevelt once said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.”
People tend to make assumptions about others’ lives based on little or no evidence, which can make you feel like you’re not enough. Thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever before to compare yourself to others. But the truth is, you’re telling yourself fictional stories.
This game of comparison is one you’ll never win. The best and quickest way to shift these destructive thought patterns is to practice gratitude. Think of all of the amazing things you have in your life and hold your focus there. Try this every morning before you get out of bed to start your day on a positive note. You may just find that practicing gratitude on a regular basis leads to more abundance than you ever thought possible.
2. Relish in Making Mistakes
There are dozens of examples of well-known people who have tried and failed hundreds of times, only to go on and accomplish great things. Theodor Seuss Geisel (known as Dr. Seuss) is a beloved children’s book author whose books have sold more than 600 million copies worldwide. But did you know that 27 different publishers rejected his first book?
Making mistakes and stumbling along on your journey is part of the human experience. It means you’re getting out there and trying. Mistakes are opportunities to help you grow and can even open new doors.
3. Let Go of an “All or Nothing” Approach
Trust and appreciate the process. This is where the beauty lies and the learning thrives. This is how you learn what works and what does not. Embrace the steps and celebrate the missteps you take during the process. This is the best way to get to where you want to be.
Think about your favorite author. Is every one of his or her books the best book you’ve ever read? No. Some are better than others, some missed the mark, and many are hovering right around the middle.
4. Focus on Practicality
A good way to think of this is to aim for good enough. Being perfect is impossible, so why not embrace reality? Perfectionists can get stuck in the weeds, obsessing over making every detail of their lives perfect and forgetting about the big picture.
Imagine that you set a goal to eat more healthfully. You begin scrutinizing every single morsel of food you put into your mouth; you beat yourself up over eating that cookie at work; and you feel guilty about the way your sweet potatoes were prepared (who doesn’t like sweet potato fries?). In other words, there is no balance, and because this is an impossible way to live, you give up, thinking that you’re never going to eat healthier.
Instead, try the 80/20 rule—eat healthfully 80 percent of the time and allow yourself to mindfully indulge in life’s culinary pleasures the other 20 percent.
5. Practice Self-Compassion
Above all else, cut yourself a little slack. For a perfectionist, negative self-talk comes easily. It can feel natural to berate yourself when things don’t go as planned. The antidote for this is to embrace yourself, flaws and all, wholeheartedly. Practice self-care and make your physical and mental health a priority. Repeat a mantra before you fall asleep each night: I am enough.
Taming your perfectionist tendencies might be a lifelong practice. And that’s OK. Just remember to remind yourself, over and over again, that you are perfectly imperfect, just the way you are.