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How to overcome perfectionism & work on your mindset

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

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 Dan Murray-Serter
Dan Murray-Serter
Co-Founder
May 09, 2022
7 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 how to overcome perfectionism.

This article will cover 4 methods of dealing with perfectionism:

  1. Remodel your mindset

  2. Banish negative self-talk

  3. Make your own decisions

  4. Appreciate now

First, though, you need to know what it is, what causes it, and why it's so harmful.

Article breakdown

What is 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.

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.

What is the root cause of perfectionism?

The cause of perfectionism, then, is a deep-rooted belief that your self-worth is attached solely to the things you achieve. This is exasperated by the fact the standard perfectionists try to achieve is well, perfection (which we all know is impossible). The result is never feeling good enough.

It's possible that perfectionism stems from early childhood experiences, such as parental expectations. It can even come from receiving excessive praise for achievements growing up and relying on that praise for a sense of self-worth. Low self-esteem, a need to feel in control, and mental health disorders can also play a part.

Is perfectionism a mental illness?

In itself, perfectionism isn't a mental illness. That said, it can lead to a myriad of mental health problems. In fact, a meta-analysis of 284 studies found that high levels of perfectionism correlate with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. But regardless of whether it comes to a mental health disorder, it's guaranteed to hurt our happiness.

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. That's why it's so important to know how to overcome perfectionism.

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

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

Can perfectionism be cured?

Of course! There are many ways to rid the weight of ridiculously high expectations and free yourself from chasing perfection.

If you're committed to learning how to stop being a perfectionist, then you're already on the right track. Getting over perfectionist tendencies is a lot to do with confidence in yourself, faith in your abilities, and belief in your opinions. In other words, it comes down to working on your mindset and belief system.

There are many practices you can implement into your day to help you on your way.

How to overcome perfectionism

These 4 mindset methods will help you find a less self-critical and more self-confident you:

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 on 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. It leads you to procrastinate and even give up entirely. And so, by telling yourself you’re a failure, you fail.

To overcome perfectionism and procrastination 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 and motivating 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

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3. Make your own decisions

When it comes to how to overcome perfectionism, 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 behavior 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 spiraling 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

How do you overcome perfectionism in a relationship?

One area where perfectionism can become a real cause for concern is in a relationship. Having unrealistic expectations of your partner or yourself can lead to insecurities and trust issues.

For how to overcome perfectionism in a relationship, you can adapt the four general principles:

  1. Remodel your mindset and communicate clearly with your partner to grasp the facts and ensure your insecurities and expectations aren't based on a fantasy or external pressures.

  2. Banish negative self-talk and interrupt any thoughts that tell you aren't good enough for your partner or they're 'out of your league'. Know that you are loved and good enough.

  3. Make your own decisions about what you want from your relationship, and make those expectations clear, rather than crumbling under the opinions of others.

  4. Appreciate now and the quality time you're spending with your partner.

To sum up

Perfectionism is a nasty little habit that can massively impact how we feel about ourselves. It's deep-rooted in a belief that our worth is tied to external achievements and can contribute to mental health conditions.

Fortunately, there are ways to overcome it. This article has covered 4 methods of how to get rid of perfectionism: remodel your mindset, banish negative self-talk, make your own decisions, and appreciate now.

We also adapted them to one area where perfectionism can do particular damage: relationships.

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

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