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

“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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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • These are all wonderful examples of how to move past perfectionism. I used to be a huge perfectionist and I still have the tendency from time to time. However, I have learned to associate more pain to perfectionism and this has kept me from falling back into my old pattern. I especially enjoyed reading your tip about not comparing ourselves to others because we will never truly be happy as long as there is someone out there better than us. It’s a very self defeating way to judge ourselves. Great article!

    • Glad you liked it, Will! Thank you for adding your tip on associating pain to not fall back into the old habit.

  • The comparison to others starts at such a young age as children learn from their adult leaders. They learn to compare their grades to others as teachers praise those who get “A”s. Coaches pat the top athletes on the back for a job well done when they score the game winning point. As adult leaders we need to look for opportunities to pat all kids on the back and praise those who raised their grades or just put in a great effort! Awesome post Henrik it really made me think about ow we raise our children.

    • Perfectly said Paul. Recognition of others should be given at every opportunity possible. Too many focus on the negatives rather than seeing the positives. Aloha

    • Very true! Awesome added thoughts to the article, thank you!

  • You are spot on with this. Perfectionism can be an incredibly self-destructive pattern. It’s like pouring water all over the fire that is action. The more people try to perfect each and every little thing, the less and less progress they actually make.

    I have a tendency towards perfectionism myself and it has sabotaged many projects of mine in the past. What I’ve found to help me with this weakness is to adopt a “ready . . . fire . . . aim” approach to my current projects. By making the conscious choice to act first (though not carelessly) and clean up any mistakes later, I’ve been able to avoid the inaction that results from worrying about making wrong decisions. Needless to say, I get much more done these days.


    • Thanks for the kind words and for adding that effective tip to the article, I use that one myself too.

  • Great post Henrik. I love the idea of rearranging your world to reflect more human standards. It’s so easy to be seduced by ideals influenced by the industries relying on our pursuit of perfection that we aren’t even sure what “good enough” is any more. I always remind myself that perfectionism is another form of procrastination- while I’m busy trying to make something perfect, I’m really just putting off getting it done. Thanks for another great post.

  • great write up. I agree that many people spend too much competing with others and envy the success of others which can be poisonous to one’s spirit. The main focus should be placed on the contribution you can give for the benefit of others.

    In Hawaii, we believe this is the true essence of the Aloha Spirit. The spirit of giving willingly and freely with compassion.

    Mahalo. Aloha. A hui hou.

    • I agree, the focus on contribution is much healthier. Both for oneself and for the people in one’s life.

      • Daniel McNamara

        The script of life

        From my experiences in life and lessons I have learned along the way from my trials, tribulations, mistakes and perceived mistakes by people I know. I believe I now have acquired enough knowledge, wisdom and experience to understand how to be successful in life and business.

        Coupled with my own information I have also read extensively the writings, teachings, comments and observations of many of the most intelligent and successful people who have ever lived ‘past and present ‘which are the lessons they acquired through their various experiences during their lifetimes.

        They all seem to have a remarkably similar message which would almost lead one to believe they were reading from the same imaginary script which I shall call ‘the script of life’.
        The findings and opinions which I have formed due to my own personal experiences of life are not too dis-similar to the learned people I have just mentioned. This informs me I am on the correct path.

        What the evidence and viewpoints seem to suggest is that positivity and a ‘positive attitude’ towards other people is ‘the key’. To expand on this theme it is suggested that it is not ‘what we do for ourselves’ which leads to personal success but in fact ‘what we do for others’ which will ultimately lead to ‘maximum’ self advancement. To live and work in a friendly, generous, giving and respectful environment leads to a harmonious and tranquil existence where the lines between work and play are not completely apparent.

        It is also suggested to acquire success one must ‘not’ chase success but instead aspire to add value to which ever task one is performing and to totally focus on the present. This ‘focused’ and motivated attitude will ultimately pay dividends as the value which is added will be appreciated by others which will in turn lead to success chasing one down. Over time the effect of this attitude multiplies and is self motivating. We have all heard the saying ‘success breeds success’. This is what this particular saying actually means.

        Respect for others regardless of position or stature is an essential component of success both in ones private and business life. One should adopt an attitude of communication and be approachable at all times to discuss, acknowledge or inform various viewpoints regarding experiences. I firmly believe ‘everyone’ has a lesson to learn and ‘everyone’ has a lesson to teach. However I have found I have learned much more from ‘listening’ than I have from ‘talking’.

        Other essential ingredients for success and self fulfillment are determination, perseverance and honesty. Any task which one performs should be done to the maximum of one’s ability with unwavering consistency. There may be disappointments along the way but one should remain focused and determined until each individual goal is achieved. It is not how many times one is knocked down that count’s but how many times one gets up which will eventually determine success or failure.

        Finally it is important to remember that………..

        Life is ‘not’ about the destination, it’s about the journey.
        Life is ‘not’ about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain.
        Life should ‘not’ be taken ‘too seriously’ because none of us are going to get out of it alive.
        Life is ‘exactly’ what one make’s of it.
        And finally they say in our final moments our life flashes before our eyes ‘make it a movie worth watching’.

  • Amy

    Thank you for this post!

  • Raj

    Hey, Its really helpful thank You .

  • Perfectionism is definitely a tempting habit to take up, and I’ve probably been guilty of all 3 of these mistakes at one point or another. I’m still working on adjusting my outlook and approach to life, but I found this article to be quite helpful in reminding me what my goals should be, and to be aware of some of the ways I might get sidetracked and caught up in perfectionism.

  • I used to be a perfectionist myself, but I realized that perfectionism just slowed me down. Instead I just follow my heart and let it go.

  • Henrik, Love the site. I started up a blog just recently and I want to have a strong sense of positivity in everyday living implemented in my blog like you have done. It’s very important to find positive emotions in everyday events to not only feel better, but for the sake of our health. Negativity and stress has a huge impact on our health and well-being. It’s so important to be positive about life.

    Great post, thank you!

  • Great point about comparing our progress to ourselves and not to others. Too often we find ourselves getting discouraged because there is always someone out there better than us. However if we just look at how far we have come then we will instead be encouraged to continue. Thanks!

  • I love this post.

    Being a perfectionist is a good mission, but only if you do it for other people.

    In case perfectionism is the voice of your inner ego, that’s a big problem. You may end up alone and asking yourself: I’m trying to do my best. Why nobody appreciates this?

    Because you’re stuck in your own thoughts.

  • Laura

    These tips are very helpful, thank you so much! Even though it’s pretty hard, when everyone else around you do that for you, even your own parents! It’s hard, but I’m really trying. You just need a person to remind you that you don’t need to be compared, and that person for me it’s you so thank you so much for doing this!

  • Interesting points Henrik. I particularly like what you said about selecting the right things to feed your mind with.

    Sometimes it is easy to get caught up in what Hollywood calls “perfection.” I have to remind myself that this is not a true representation of reality.

  • Perfectionism is an obstacle itself especially in accomplishing many serious tasks and projects. And this post is really helpful in avoiding it. Thanks a lot!