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4 ways to overcome perfectionism

Being a perfectionist is more than just a ‘flaw’ you use in job interviews. Here’s how to overcome this harmful habit.

 Dan Murray-Serter
Dan Murray-Serter
Co-Founder
October 09, 2019
4 min read

Tough as it is to admit it, perfectionism, a.k.a. that thing you use as a fake “flaw” in job interviews—is actually a legitimate issue that’s doing you a lot more harm than good. Whatever way you spin it, being a perfectionist is slowly going to drive you nuts. Whether it gets you the job or not. 

So, it’s vital that you learn to overcome your perfectionism.

Defined by UCL’s Roz Shafran in her book Overcoming Perfection

Perfectionism is the setting of, and striving to meet, very demanding standards that are self-imposed and relentlessly pursued despite this causing problems. (Perfectionism) involves basing your self-worth almost exclusively on how well these high standards are pursued and achieved.

What is perfectionism?

Perfectionism is the pursuit of more, and more, and more. It’s achieving goals without satisfaction, races with no finish lines, and the constant search for bigger, better, and brighter. 

Being a perfectionist means setting expectations for yourself that you’d never expect of anyone else in your life. And, if you’re a perfectionist, overcoming those perfectionism tendencies are even harder to overcome.

Being a perfectionist is a dangerous game

When you live in fear of making a mistake, you’re putting yourself under constant stress, which in turn means you don’t make the best decisions and puts your body through a huge strain too. 

The constant pressure, and the subsequent belief that you’re never able to live up to your own exacting standards is a vicious cycle. Your pursuit of perfection can put you at risk of burnout, anxiety, guilt and exhaustion.

> Listen to Dr. Thomas Curran’s Braincare podcast episode on burnout.

So we can all agree that perfectionism activities and behaviours are best avoided. But, when it’s something that can be so ingrained in your personality—how do you retrain your brain to let it go?

4 ways to overcome perfectionism

Getting over perfectionist tendencies is a lot to do with confidence in yourself, faith in your abilities, and belief in your opinions. 

1. Remodel your mindset

What you think about yourself is made up of your views on life, and your perception of the world around you. So, building a mindset from beliefs based in fantasy is always going to be hard to create. 

Consider if your view of yourself is based on fact, or perhaps on your perception of things that have happened in the past. Try to change your mindset and beliefs about yourself to reflect realistic expectations, that you are more than good enough to be part of. 

>How to Cultivate a Positive Mindset with Jay Shetty on the Braincare podcast

2. Banish negative self-talk

Giving yourself a hard time isn’t going to help anything. Think about the standard you are holding yourself to, and if you’d do that to anyone else. 

Convincing yourself that you’re never going to achieve something is a surefire way to ensure you never achieve it. If you tell yourself you’re a failure, you’ll fail. Try to notice the messages you’re sending to yourself—especially at times when you’re stressed, frantically trying to get something right, or up against a deadline—if any of those messages are negative, replace them with positive phrases. 

It’s a process, but knowing that you’re good enough as you are is a vital stage in overcoming perfectionism.

>Banish negative self-talk

3. Make your own decisions

Making decisions for yourself—without relying on other people’s input or opinions is a good way to prove that you can trust yourself. 

There’s really no need to always get everyone else’s opinion, that’s the behaviour of insecurity and anxiety. You know what’s right for you—listen to your gut and go for it. 

Decision-making is an act of self-reliance, which can help you to feel more in control of your life—as what you decide to do will be in line with what you believe. Doing things for yourself builds self-worth and self-confidence—which will slowly help you to release the need to be perfect. 

>How to make better decisions

4. Appreciate now 

Accepting where you are in each moment is a great way to stop fixating on where you need to be. If things start to feel like they’re spiralling out of control, take a minute to appreciate and acknowledge where you are, and how far you’ve come.

Enjoying the journey (excuse the cliche), can help to make each part of a task rewarding—and stop perfectionist tendencies (which are all about the endgame).

Acknowledging each step as you take it helps you to gain confidence in yourself and improves your self-worth. Knowing that every stage is just as important as another, will help you to give up the need to strive for perfection. 

>How to be more mindful

For more tips on how to tame your perfectionism, check out episode 28 of the Braincare podcast with Thomas Curran.

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