BY DR. JENNIFER SULLIVAN
DO YOU often spend excessive time tweaking a work project, obsessing over the smallest details? Do you engage in harsh self-criticism and feel like you’re never “good enough”? Do you spend excessive time on tasks and fear making mistakes? If so, you may be dealing with perfectionism.
Perfectionism is a common struggle where individuals set extremely high standards for themselves, strive for flawlessness, and focus intensely on details. Perfectionists typically engage in harsh self-criticism and feel dissatisfied with their accomplishments. Perfectionism fuels self-criticism, low self-esteem, and a negative self-image, impacting mental well-being and happiness.
Additionally, perfectionism often leads to chronic procrastination, spending excessive time and effort on tasks, missed deadlines, increased workload, and decreased productivity, which, in turn, results in excessive stress, anxiety, job dissatisfaction, and over time, burnout.
By incorporating these science-based strategies, you can begin to break free from the shackles of perfectionism:
1. Embrace “Good Enough”: Perfectionists tend to think in black and white. Something is either perfect or a complete failure—there’s no middle ground. To overcome this, try embracing the concept of “good enough.” Recognize that perfection is elusive and striving for it can hinder your progress. Instead, aim for excellence, but allow room for mistakes and learning.
2. Challenge Your Inner Critic: Your inner critic can be the harshest of all judges. It’s that nagging voice that tells you nothing you do is ever good enough. But your inner critic is often inaccurate and unfairly negative. Take a step back and objectively assess your achievements. You’ll likely find that your work is better than you give yourself credit for. Also, remind yourself that most people appreciate effort and genuine intentions more than flawless results.
3. View Failure as a Learning Opportunity: Failure is not the end of the world; it’s a stepping stone to success. Embrace the fact that no one is perfect, and that mistakes, flaws, and imperfections are part of the human experience. Instead of fearing mistakes, see them as an opportunity to learn and grow. When you make a mistake, take the time to reflect on what went wrong and how you can improve in the future.
4. Set Realistic Goals: Perfectionists tend to set lofty, unattainable goals that can leave them feeling defeated. Instead of aiming for perfection, aim for progress. Break down your goals into smaller, achievable steps. Celebrate progress along the way rather than fixating on the final outcome.
5. Practice Self-Care and Self-Compassion: Overcoming perfectionism doesn’t mean working harder or longer. In fact, it often means the opposite. Perfectionists tend to neglect self-care, leading to burnout. Make sure to take regular breaks and engage in activities you enjoy. Taking time to recharge will actually make you more productive in the long run and will help prevent burnout.
Remember to be as kind to yourself as you would be to a close friend. You wouldn’t berate your friend for a minor mistake, so don’t do it to yourself!
6. Seek Support and Guidance: Don’t hesitate to seek support from friends, family, or a therapist. Sharing struggles and receiving guidance from others can be empowering.
Overcoming perfectionism is a journey, not a destination. It’s about finding the balance between perfection and contentment. By challenging your inner critic, practicing self-compassion, setting realistic goals, embracing mistakes, and seeking support, you can lead a more fulfilling and less stressful life. Remember that imperfection is a part of life and that no one is immune to it. Embrace imperfection and remember that it’s okay to be beautifully imperfect.
Changing the Conversation is a monthly column by Jennifer Sullivan, Psychologist and CEO of Sullivan + Associates Clinical Psychology, that focuses on normalizing mental health issues through education and public awareness. It appears on the Healthstyle page on the second Tuesday of each month.