Perfectionism: 4 Tips To Help You Let Go Of Your Need To Be Perfect


Perfection: An Impossible Goal?


We set goals to help us achieve what we want to achieve – whether at work, in our relationships, in our health and fitness – and most of the time it works, but set the bar too high and you’re setting yourself up for failure.

Set realistic, achievable goals and you'll feel unstoppable...

Set realistic, achievable goals and you’ll feel unstoppable…

But striving to be better can only be a good thing – right? Wrong.

Set realistic and achievable goals and you’ll feel motivated and proud of your accomplishments. Continually ‘fail’ to achieve your goals and you’ll make the mistake of thinking that you failed because you’re not good enough – that you’re inherently a failure, worthless, or stupid.

But in actual fact you’ve always been good enough, it’s your goals that are the problem.

They’re not just unrealistic for you they’re unrealistic for everyone, because you’re aiming for something that doesn’t exist – perfection.

Set the bar too high or set too many goals and you'll always feel like you're failing

Set the bar too high and you’ll always feel like you’re failing

Perfection is an impossible goal. There’s always something we could be better at and some way that we could be a better person. Fail to realise that and your drive to be perfect will always rule your life – probably at a cost to your relationships and ultimately your happiness.

Like most things in life – the key is moderation. Setting and achieving goals helps us to stay motivated and it gives us a sense of purpose, but set too many goals or set the bar too high and you’ll never be happy.

So where’s the line? How do you know when you’ve set too many goals or have set your bar too high?

People with an unhealthy drive for perfection often:

• Find it hard to delegate tasks or rely on others
• Go to great lengths to avoid being average
• Spend excessive time checking to avoid mistakes
• Make sacrifices to meet high unrealistic goals
• Have an intense fear of failure
• Avoid tasks that may expose imperfections
• Quit when there’s a chance they won’t be the best
• Approach life with an all or nothing attitude
• Find it hard to open up to others (and seem less than perfect)
• Find criticism hard to swallow (because you feel less than perfect)
• Judge small things as failures when others wouldn’t
• Feel that there’s always something that needs to be better

The drive to be perfect is a hidden cause of most common presentations – anxiety, stress, depression, eating disorders, low self-esteem, postnatal depression, just to name a few. If your quest for perfection is affecting your happiness – set a new goal. Try to be perfect at being imperfect. Here’s how.

Tip #1: Look at the Pros and Cons

Take a closer look at your perfectionism and figure out if it’s worth it. Sure there are positives – feeling effective and in control, high performance – but at what cost? Think about how your perfectionism affects your personal and professional relationships, and your overall quality of life. Is it worth it? What would you gain if you relaxed your standards? What would you have more time to do?

It’s also worthwhile considering whether success is possible without perfectionism. How much of what you’re doing now is actually adding to your performance and how much is redundant? Being clear on your reasons for change will help you to change your perfectionism.

Tip #2: Understand Your Perfectionism

Know what triggers your drive for perfection. Watch for times when you feel stressed, anxious, frustrated, or disappointed with yourself. Also be on the lookout for times when you feel like you’ve failed. Look at why you felt this way and you’ll have a better understanding of your perfectionism.

Tip #3: Re-evaluate Your Standards

Look at your performance standards. What expectations do you have of yourself at work and home, in your relationships, with your health and fitness, in terms of your appearance? Are these expectations realistic and achievable? If you’re unsure ask 5 of your family members or friends what they think.

Figure out a more reasonable standard to work towards. For example, if your unrealistic standard is “I must keep the house tidy at all times” a more reasonable standard to work towards might be “I will try to keep the house as tidy as possible”. Once you’ve decided on your new standard come up with a plan for how you’re going to put this new standard into practice.

Tip #4: Change Your Behaviour

Look at what you do to achieve perfection. For example, do you check your work multiple times? Do you seek reassurance from others that you’ve completed the task correctly? Do you avoid delegating tasks so that you can make sure things are done the right way?

Set goals to change your perfectionistic behaviour. If you’re worried that doing this will have a negative effect on your performance or change how others view you, make small changes to begin with. For example, check your work once at completion instead of multiple times throughout and see what happens. You might be surprised at how little a change like this affects your performance but how much time it frees up.

Don’t be hard on yourself if things don’t change as quickly as you’d like. You don’t have to be perfect at achieving your goals for imperfection. It’s not about how quickly you make change, it’s about persevering. Remember slow and steady wins the race.

Dr. Sarah Hughes is a clinical psychologist and the founder of Think Clinical Psychologists. She enjoys working with children, adolescents, and adults, and specialises in anxiety, depression, postnatal depression, eating disorders, self-harm, and challenging behaviour.

Scarlett Gill is a compassionate and empathic clinical psychologist who specialises in working with kids, teens, adults, parents, and families.  She is dedicated to helping people overcome whatever problems they are experiencing in their lives, whether it be anxiety, stress, depression, low-self-esteem, self-harm, and behavioural problems.


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