Let Go of Perfectionism: 7 Powerful Tips That Will Help You

by Henrik Edberg


Image by Kevin N. Murphy (license).

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“Certain flaws are necessary for the whole. It would seem strange if old friends lacked certain quirks.”
Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

“Some of us (perfectionists, especially) fuss so much over making the ‘right’ choice, but in life, all that’s really needed is to make any’ good’ choice, believe in it, go through with it, and accept the consequences.”
Unknown

“People throw away what they could have by insisting on perfection, which they cannot have, and looking for it where they will never find it.”
Edith Schaeffer

While spending much time working on my new book during the last month I felt old thought patterns pop up. Perfectionism reared its unsettling and distracting head.

So I had to redirect my focus. Use a couple of techniques and strategies and remind myself of a few things to be able to avoid procrastination, stop the polishing and get the book done. I’ll share that worked for me below (plus a few tips that have been effective in the past).

1. Go for good enough.

Aiming for perfection usually winds up in a project or something else never being finished. So go for good enough instead. Don’t use it as an excuse to slack off. But simply realize that there is something called good enough and when you are there then you are finished with whatever you are doing.

So find a balance for yourself where you do good work and don’t slack off but at the same time don’t get lost in trying to improve and polish something too much. How to find that balance? I have found it through experience.

2. Have a deadline.

A few months ago, I set a deadline for when my book should be finished. I had realized that just working on it and releasing it when it was done would not work. Because I could always find stuff to add to it. So I had to set a deadline.

Setting a deadline gave me a kick in the butt and it is generally good way to help you to let go of a need to polish things a bit too much.

3. Realize that you hurt yourself and the people around you by buying into myths of perfection.

By watching too many movies, listening to too many songs and just taking in what the world is telling you it is very easy to be lulled into dreams of perfection. It sounds so good and wonderful and you want it.

But in real life it clashes with reality and tends to cause much suffering and stress within you and in the people around you. It can harm or possibly lead you to end relationships, jobs, projects etc. just because your expectations are out of this world.

I find it very helpful to remind myself of this simple fact.

Whenever I get lost in a perfectionist headspace I remind myself that it will cause me and my world harm. And so it become easier to switch my focus and thought patterns because I want to avoid making stupid choices and avoid causing myself and other people unnecessary pain.

4. Accept that you are human and so is everyone else.

Set human standards for everyone and accept that life is like that.

Everything and everyone has flaws and things don’t always go as planned. You can still improve things but they will never be perfect. And realize that you won’t be rejected if things or you aren’t perfect. At least not by reasonably well-balanced human beings, like most people actually are in reality.

5. Compare yourself to yourself.

Comparing yourself to other people on a regular basis can easily lead to feeling inferior. There will always be a lot of people ahead of you in any area of life. So compare yourself to yourself. See your improvement, see how far you have come. Appreciate yourself and focus what you have done and are doing rather than what everyone else is doing.

6. Do what you think is the right thing.

So you realize that perfectionism will harm you and you try to avoid it. But people and media and the society around you have an influence over how you think and feel.

One of the best ways I have found to practically lessen that influence is by doing the right thing as much as possible. When you do that other people’s expectations have less and less power of over you and you get in control instead.

Because by doing the right thing your esteem of yourself goes up and other people’s opinions about you and life will matter less to you. Instead of their influence being like a tsunami flooding over you it flows right over you. Or bounces off you. Because now you have become stronger, more certain in who you are and you are not so easily swayed by external forces.

7. Live in an environment of human standards.

Emotions are contagious. So is perfectionism. Even though you can lessen the impact that your environment has you can also work at the other end of things and shape your environment to lessen the influence of perfectionism.

Read magazines with realistic expectations. Reduce the perfectionism in your world by reducing or cutting out the media sources that every week try to reinforce it in you.

Spend less time with nervously perfectionistic people and more time with people who are trying to improve themselves and/or are living a good life in a positive, healthy and relaxed way.

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{ 28 comments }

Parker Lee | howtomingle.com June 24, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Hi Henrik,

I definitely agree, as a society we’re constantly striving to be “perfect,” but in reality, settling for “good enough” is sometimes the best policy :)

Cheers!
–Parker

Louise Altman June 24, 2010 at 8:09 pm

Hi Hendrik,
Really enjoyed this post – a good reminder for a “recovering” perfectionist!
In so many of our seminars we meet people who are struggling with the “myths” of perfectionism like a monkey on their backs. It is so easy, especially in today’s driven workplaces, to constantly evaluate oneself against what isn’t getting done.
You are so right to point out that emotions are contagious. And emotions of comparison can be so insidious and energy draining.
We are finding that supporting people in developing greater self-empathy is criticially important. When you say compare your self – to yourself – so true – and hopefull when they are it is to their kindness, most loving and best sense of themselves.
A really good post that I will be tweeting!
Best,
Louise

Amanya Jacobs June 24, 2010 at 8:18 pm

When you write that perfectionism can cause harm to yourself and to others, you remind us of the most important reason for staying away from it. Thanks.

Joshua Noerr June 24, 2010 at 9:17 pm

I always look for precision versus perfection. I used to run in circles working on things to the point where they would never get done because they were never perfect. What I learned is it really was my ego getting in the way.

Now though, I can be happy with precision, and good enough. If it is good enough, and it helps people, I can sit back and be satisfied. Maybe I’m just getting old ; )

Abubakar Jamil June 24, 2010 at 10:40 pm

Henrik,

I do believe that one should aim for being perfect as that makes us do things more effectively but I can understand your point of view that there is a limit to it.

Very often people get so caught up in trying to be perfect that they lose the flow and their effectiveness. I think all such people should heed your advice. :)

Tim D June 25, 2010 at 1:30 am

As a writer, I really struggle with this….The best way to crack this is an externally-imposed deadline. I’ve done a couple 48-hour film festivals that required me to crank out a short script in less than 12 hours. And I always seemed to do it…even if I was mired in writer’s block the day before. Really helped me get going on my own projects

Tim D
http://www.momentary.org
free mobile gratitude journal

Javed June 25, 2010 at 6:10 am

Outstanding article!

Chris Bott June 25, 2010 at 2:28 pm

Thats a very good article. At the end of the day we are all flaws human beings and this alone has gave me great empathy toward others. This has made a big improvement on my life as I always look for the truth behind emotions and actions and always know that we all make mistakes, have issues and want the same core things, were all human so NEEDING to be perfect which surly is just to be better than others and to look good is no longer needed. The biggest problem is that almost all anxiety comes from worrying what others will think of you.

HowToPlaza June 25, 2010 at 8:13 pm

Imperfections can be beautiful and that’s what makes us more human. I’m not saying we should encourage mediocrity (it especially abounds on the Internet) but if we become too obsessive about perfection, then instead of expressing, we’re perfecting, and then the real feeling and intention is gone. Well said.

~~ Sarah ~~

John June 26, 2010 at 5:17 am

I think “go for good enough” and “set a deadline” will work wonders for perfectionists. If there’s a deadline, and the willingness to accept “good” rather than expecting perfection, a lot of the pressure to continue working at a project will go away.

Roman Soluk June 26, 2010 at 11:43 am

I like your second point to have a deadline. When being a perfectionist without it we would stuck when doing something.

Thanks for sharing this post, Henrik!

Marija June 26, 2010 at 6:49 pm

Excellent as usual. Just what I needed.

Stijn June 27, 2010 at 12:17 pm

Hi all, Henrik,
The tips are a great help to find a balance between “not good enough” en “perfect”. Thanks for that.
For a true perfectionst, I’m afraid that doing something that’s not perfect might leave him with an unsatisfied feeling. You’re doing thing good enough, but you’re unhappy because it doesn’t answer to your standards in an emotional way rather tha a rational one.
Anyone has some experience with getting over that hurdle?
Have a nice weekend.
Bye,
Stijn.

pd June 27, 2010 at 5:19 pm

I’m perfect.

Lucky Balaraman June 28, 2010 at 5:48 am

Perfectionists can often contract the dangerous”paralysis by analysis” disease. As John said, deadlines and “good enough” are good preventives.

Petey Silveira June 28, 2010 at 5:45 pm

Another good reminder Henrik! As a therapist I find perfectionism to be rampant in the majority of people I work with! It’s particularly tough with working with a couple. The other partner always feels less than because they see the standards of what they’re up against! Often times it takes away motivation to even try to meet their partner’s needs!
As an author I give myself the gift of being less than perfect…that’s what my wonderful editor is for!!
Much love and light!

Unmaskd June 28, 2010 at 6:27 pm

Perfectionism implies ignoring a very simple fact about our lives. Facing that fact — not just hearing about it, but really facing it — sets you free.
http://bit.ly/umotive

Henrik Edberg June 28, 2010 at 8:05 pm

Thank you for adding all those tips and insights, guys! :)

Purushyottam Ghosh June 28, 2010 at 10:31 pm

You know what, each and every word of your article rung so true in my ears, and the reason is that I used to be a hardcore perfectionist once upon a time. Eventually though I realized (through counseling) that my “perfectionism” is doing no good but simply increasing my stress levels. Ever since I have stopped fussing over trivia and life has certainly become simpler and a lot less stressful for me. Keep up the good work. :)

Tasneem R June 29, 2010 at 9:02 am

Yes by flushing out this ‘perfectionism craving’ from our life we can have a much stress free life . Thanks for the reminder ! When you say that we are human and so is everyone else , it really makes me feels good and forgiving :) We must not forget that nobody can be perfect . So being relaxed would be a better idea!
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Kip June 29, 2010 at 7:18 pm

One great end-run around perfectionism is to leave that worry to someone else! Outsoruce it!

Honestly, if you worry about something not being perfect one great tool is to delegate someone to proof or review your work for any problems (Make sure they don’t suffer from perfection paralysis). By delegating this task you can rest a little easier knowing that if you do make a mistake, it will get caught.

Thedropoutkid June 30, 2010 at 1:01 am

I think perfectionism is good and bad. It’s good to want to be the best. But it never good to want to be so good, you leave yourself at the starting point. Never finishing the race. Its more about doing your best and knowing you will achieve your goal when the time is right. If you don’t have it now, then continue. Because as long as you think you can have it, while working towards it. Then you can achieve.

Nea | Self Improvement Saga June 30, 2010 at 3:43 am

Great post. I particularly like what you said about comparing yourself to yourself instead of comparing yourself to others. All we can do is be the best possible version of ourselves. That’s real success!

Billy June 30, 2010 at 4:26 pm

I totally agree, persuit of perfection will get you nowhere. It is an endless battle. Nothing is perfect. If things were perfectthere would be no wars or battles with colleagues or trials and tribulations in life. Great post there.

Riz July 3, 2010 at 10:02 pm

I usually have a problem comparing myself to other people, more specifically comparing my achievements to those of others. Its always difficult then to not set high standards for yourself and then feeling bad about it if you cant live upto them!

I think its true that we should try and compare to ourselves only as there always will be someone ahead of you. Difficult to do!

Lisa July 4, 2010 at 7:38 am

I was just in a situation the other day where I had to let go of my perfectionism to regain my sanity. When I was finally able to let go of it, it felt like a breath of fresh air.

finallygettingtoeven.com July 4, 2010 at 7:30 pm

My TYPE A personality sometimes is my own worst enemy. I try to remind myself that everything will be okay even if it is not quite ‘perfect’ but some days I can’t seem to listen to myself. Great post, thanks!

happiness July 6, 2010 at 9:46 pm

Number 4 is golden…Once we accept that each one of us is human and remind ourselves. There is less reason to feel inadequate when not perfect. We’re supposed to grow as humans, develop wisdom from trials and live life in new ways we wouldn’t have known without previous mistakes. How can you do that if you know everything? When we understand our nature, and give up the robot mentality, life will be smoother- it could even be happy ;)

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