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How to Overcome Perfectionism

Image by Mitya Kuznetsov (license).

One of the most common and destructive thought habits I have ever encountered is perfectionism.

It holds you back from actually getting all the way to done with a lot in life. It may hold you back from even trying to do something because you feel you have to do it perfectly.

And it tears your self-esteem apart.

So what can you do about it?

In today’s article I would like to share 3 of the most effective things that have helped me to replace this habit with something better.

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.

Good enough in this case will most often mean that you have done a very good job on an important task or project. But that you do not have to do it perfectly.

And good enough will in some cases just mean that you have done a good enough job on some small task for example. There are many things to do in life or in a week so make choices so that you can use your limited energy and time in a smart way.

Reminder: buying into myths of perfection will hurt you and your life.

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 unhelpful choices and avoid causing myself and other people unnecessary pain.

Set your own bar and surround yourself with human standards.

Instead of setting the bar for yourself – or letting other people set that bar – at an inhuman standard set it at a human level.

We all fail. We all have trouble reaching our goals sometimes. That is OK and very human.

Don’t obey the bar that someone else have set for you. They may have set it out of the goodness of their hearts – or not, to for example maximize profits – but if the old standards do not work for you then it is time to find a better standard for yourself.

So set the bar at a level where you feel motivated but where you do not have to achieve inhuman results to like yourself and to be satisfied.

Then choose to take small steps and day by day and week by week rearrange your world so that it becomes more and more supportive of you and of human standards.

Reduce or cut out media sources that make you feel worse or like you have to live up to perfect standards. Replace them with magazines, blogs, books etc. filled with optimism and motivation but also kinder and more realistic expectations and standards.

Do the same thing with the people in your life. Spend more time with people who are kind, who like to grow and like living a good life in a balanced, positive and mentally healthy way.

This is your life. You decide. So set and surround yourself with the standards that help you to both do good and to feel good.

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  • Wes April 4, 2013, 1:56 pm

    Henrik, nice post and great information. Thanks for sharing! I often remind myself that “excellence is not perfection”, that way I can strive for excellence with the understanding that it may not be perfect.

    • Henrik Edberg April 9, 2013, 2:08 pm

      Wise reminder, thank you for sharing it and for your kind words, Wes!

  • David Goldstein (@Davidbgoldstein) April 4, 2013, 3:34 pm

    All very useful and your suggestion of cutting out media sources that make you feel you must to live up to perfect standards is especially helpful.

    I have one other point to add that I’ve found helpful and its that:
    There is beauty in imperfection since it shows our unique touch as humans.

    Thanks for posting this!

    • Henrik Edberg April 9, 2013, 2:09 pm

      That’s a truly wonderful additional point, thank you for adding it!

  • Vincent Nguyen April 4, 2013, 6:02 pm

    It’s funny, I spent the last four years surrounded by perfectionists. I personally saw firsthand the effects it has on people and it sucks. It’s hurtful to say, but even though they were perfectionists, their results weren’t great. I can only imagine the daily stress this added to their lives by not being able to meet their own expectations and even fall far below it.

    Personally, I aim for AMAZING each and every time, but I am realistic in the sense that I understand it’s not possible to achieve amazingness all the time.

    • Henrik Edberg April 9, 2013, 2:11 pm

      Yep, my experience with perfectionism has been similar to what you describe about the people around you. I got worse results than I do now but had more stress.

  • Joe Consterdine April 4, 2013, 11:25 pm

    I think it’s important to set your own bar. As long as you’re doing something you’re passionate about then there’s nothing wrong with wanting to achieve the best you possibly can.

    As long as you realise certain goals take a long time to require, then hopefully you shouldn’t become too frustrated along the journey. This is the reason doing things you’re passionate about is so important, because at the beginning you may not get the results you’d hoped but because it’s your passion you’ll have the motivation to carry on.

  • Cassie K. April 5, 2013, 8:39 am

    I find this article to be very relatable at this point in my life. I am in my 20’s and am in the process of better understanding myself. I tend to compare myself to others who surround me or on social media networks. This can be very detrimental to my self-confidence and can result in self-loathe if I don’t meet the high expectations that I feel are being set.

    I have also found myself in need of withdrawing from media that does not benefit me or make me feel good about myself. Media can be very deceiving and I find it best to stir clear of Facebook or Instagram in order to avoid comparing my lifestyle to others and creating unnecessary jealousy.

    I also believe it’s extremely important to surround yourself with people that will benefit you and help you grow as a person, rather than involve yourself with people who will only bring you down. I have found this to be very significant to my happiness and well-being.

    • Henrik Edberg April 9, 2013, 2:13 pm

      I am glad to hear that the article helped you out and that you figuring yourself out and what will help you with your well-being.

  • Uche Unogu April 7, 2013, 2:27 am

    These are great points Wes. To add to this brilliance, I also think its important to set a ship date. Don’t miss this date no matter how “un-ready”, you think the product is. Just ship and revise it over time. That way perfectionism does not keep your best ideas from getting out to those that need it. Thanks again for sharing this post.

  • Jared April 7, 2013, 9:48 pm

    Very helpful ideas! Many times our thoughts of perfectionism prevent us from taking action toward our goals. I’ve found that taking VERY small actions, without feeling pressured about doing more than that at a time, can lead to productivity with less perfectionism during the process. A lot of times our perfectionism is about wanting to perfect it all at once, rather than just doing one aspect of the task in the moment and choosing our next step from there. When we view the entire task as one complicated step, we can get lost in our thoughts about how difficult it will be.

    Here is an article I wrote on freedomlieswithin.com about perfectionism:


  • Marianne Lütcherath April 8, 2013, 3:31 pm

    Hi Henrik that was a great practical post, Good stuff, Thanks, Marianne

  • Kael April 8, 2013, 9:10 pm

    We take ourselves far too seriously and place far too much value on what we do each day. It is almost to the point where we think our actions are so mighty and powerful that is places into our ego, instead of letting go and acknowledging it is ‘just okay’ and always will be room for improvement.

  • Renee April 9, 2013, 12:56 am

    The media suggestion it so true. We are so inundated with images of what we “should” be or what our lives should look like that our expectations become unrealistic. The gap between perfect and reality is the source of a great deal of unhappiness. Thank you for the reminder.

    • Henrik Edberg April 9, 2013, 2:15 pm

      Glad you found it helpful, that gap is indeed easy to miss or forget about.

  • Lauren Taylor April 9, 2013, 11:31 am

    You are perfect the way you already are. But there’s always room for growth – which will only add to the perfection in your imperfection.

    It’s all contradictions and the way you want to see it :-)


  • Todd Woodward April 10, 2013, 1:12 pm

    Thank you for this article. It came at very much needed time.

  • Pete April 11, 2013, 10:31 pm

    If we are after perfectionism to satisfy our self then we will never properly reach that point.We will ALWAYS feel that we can do it or be it Better.
    This places a huge & largely unnecessary burden on our selves causing great stress.
    When you want something to be “Perfect”,what do you really want?

  • rose April 13, 2013, 5:17 am

    This is so relatable to some one I know everything has to be perfect and it makes me feel like I haven’t done a good enough job or its like I get judged

  • Paul Davies April 14, 2013, 4:35 pm

    Great message about perfectionism. It’s caused me some bad problems over the years, but some of my friends have been completely destroyed by them wanting perfection. A friend of mine, in university, would rather not submit coursework than submit something which was not ‘perfect’. This meant that instead of getting a B or C grade she got a F. Just shows how self destructive perfectionism can be. It’s one of the things I try to talk about on my blog.

  • Joanne April 16, 2013, 12:06 pm

    Wow, this is just what I needed. One of the areas I struggle with most is pulling the trigger on something because I don’t feel like it is perfect. The result of this is usually nothing gets done. You’ve shown me that it’s much better to just be good so thank you :)

  • Abby April 19, 2013, 9:58 pm

    Thank you for the great information! I can definitely relate to this post. I’ve struggled with perfectionism for many years, and you’re right – it holds you back from actually getting all the way done with a lot in life. As a college student, I’m constantly stressed because I receive so many assignments between my six classes. I’ve been on the Dean’s List every semester in college, but I get upset with myself if I get a B in a class. This semester has taught me to “go for good enough” because I’m in such time-consuming classes. Getting into that mindset was hard at first, but it’s helped my stress levels immensely. Instead of spending all my time and energy on one project, I’ve been completing one project and moving onto the next. Great advice. Thanks again!

  • Nick Goodall April 21, 2013, 3:09 pm

    Although I like the idea of stepping away from a perfectionistic nature, and a lot of the time it would do us good – you can’t build an iPhone if you take the ‘good enough’ approach.

    Some places it has it’s uses, granted, but then I think there are times (likely more professional) that require the tiny nuances to be ironed out. But hey, that’s just my thoughts!

  • lucy May 26, 2013, 2:02 pm

    What you have said is so true, most people feel they can’t live up to the expectations of others, I know that’s how I felt for many years that I wasn’t good enough and that I couldn’t do things as perfectly as others… then I realised that how I see things about myself and how others see me are totally different, I’ve found that lots of other people feel the same about themselves when they compare themselves to me, so we all have the same worries, we are not alone… the trick is to do your best and have fun while you’re doing it, as long as it makes you happy then as far as I’m concerned that is perfection… thanks for the great Blog! can’t wait for the next instalment

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