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3 Common Obstacles That Keep People Stuck in Perfectionism, and How to Overcome Them

Image by Mike Bailey-Gates (license).

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

“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

One of the most common and destructive thought habits but also one that is often celebrated in some form in society is perfectionism.

I have had many battles with it. Many of you have emailed me about it throughout the years.

Perfectionism can be very destructive. It can drain one’s self-esteem and become so overwhelming that it gets you stuck. And so little action is taken and few things are ever finished.

So what can you do about it? How can you replace it and minimize it in your life?

In this article I’ll share three obstacles I have faced, how I have overcome them and how that has helped me to raise my own self-esteem and minimize the perfectionism.

Just going along with the perfectionism and not seeing the full extent of it.

If you just move along in the same old rut and don’t question the perfectionism and what it is doing to you then it will likely stay with you.

And that goes for any negative habit. You have to see it from a broader perspective. You have to see and feel what the real negative impact of it has been and will be to be able to change.

This often happens naturally at some point in people’s lives when they have had enough or a crisis hits and making a change becomes inevitable.

But you can get a broader view and wake-up call today if you like too.

Here’s what you do. Ask yourself:

  • How will my life look in 5 years if I continue to stay on the same perfectionist path as now?
  • How will life likely become worse for me and maybe even for the people around me?

It may be uncomfortable but try to see the negative consequences as vividly as you can in your mind to kickstart your motivation to get going for that positive change.

Try to not just to see the future as detailed and as vividly as you can but also to find your very personal reason(s) for making the change.

For example, minimizing the perfectionism will help you to improve your self-esteem. That is great. But to really find the heart of your motivation keep looking for a few more minutes for the more personal answer.

That answer could be that by finally getting a handle on the perfectionism your current or future relationship with a partner could become more relaxed and happy. Or maybe you want to make this change to not have to fear that you’ll transfer an unhealthy and self-esteem damaging habit to your daughter or son.

The habit of comparing yourself to other people.

When you compare yourself to someone else then you may feel good for a while. You are in better shape, have a nicer car or house or a better social life than someone else.

But if you do that comparison often then it becomes very hard to not start to compare yourself almost automatically in a negative way too. You may discover that someone at work else has an even cooler car than you. That the neighbor’s new boyfriend is in even better shape than you. That someone else makes more money than you.

And now you don’t feel so good anymore. And since there is always someone that is better than you at most things in the world this becomes a habit that may make you feel inferior no matter how well you do.

What you can do instead is to compare yourself to yourself. It won’t work every time but little by little – if you remind yourself of the benefits of doing this – you can replace the old habit.

When you feel the need to compare yourself and your progress to other people and their progress in some way then remind yourself of how it will hurt your self-esteem in the long run. And then take a minute or two to compare yourself to yourself instead. See how far you have come.

Appreciate the effort you have put in and be inspired by the small and bigger things you have accomplished so far.

An environment of inhuman standards.

Emotions are contagious. So is perfectionism.

So one of the smartest and most effective things you can do is to shape your environment to lessen the influence of perfectionism.

Take small steps and rearrange your world so that it becomes more and more supportive of you and of human standards rather than perfect standards.

Reduce the perfectionism in your world by reducing or cutting out the media sources that every week try to reinforce it in you. Read magazines, blogs, books and watch TV-shows and movies with kinder and more realistic expectations that resonate with you.

Spend less time with nervously perfectionist people. And spend 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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  • Ashlee Stalling December 4, 2012, 9:05 pm

    Perfectionism is a hard thing to let go of. I find myself really struggling with that. Mine though comes from wanting to do too much for people and trying to make it perfect so they can’t judge me. I have recently been reading Lisa Selow’s A Rebel Chick Mystic’s Guide and it has helped me try to get back to my true self by my own rules. And that has helped me curb my perfectionist side some! lisaselow.com if anyone wants to take a look at her book. Thanks again for this post, it was a great read for me today!

  • David Landen December 5, 2012, 5:05 am

    It is a good idea to ignore the media and the picture that they paint of what you should be. There is so much emphasis put on material possesions and keeping up with your neighbors. I think we would all be better served by focusing on being the best we can be with the talents we have been given.

  • Jorge Blanco December 7, 2012, 12:03 pm

    The key to battling perfectionism is to become comfortable in your own skin and to accept that fact that perfectionism cannot be achieved even by the people who label who is perfect, because it is subjective and will keep on changing as standards change.

  • rob k December 9, 2012, 3:29 pm

    Nothing wrong with striving for perfection. A quality one would expect from one’s dentist, pilot or surgeon. At least professionally.

  • Nikki December 10, 2012, 3:09 pm

    I’m guilty of this myself…

    My perfectionism tendency tends to come out in relationships or in work situations. I feel that if it’s not ‘perfect’, it’s not worth the effort. My thinking can be quite black and white in this way. As such, it means you can walk away from a lot of oppportunities because it’s not ‘perfect’, which can be another way of saying, ‘I don’t feel confident enough to handle this if I can’t control it’.

    I think perfectionism is a strategy of control which makes us feel confident in theory.

  • Louise December 12, 2012, 2:40 pm

    Good thing that I’m not a perfectionist, but I want to keep things in order :p

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