Tips for Overcoming Perfectionism
Striving for perfection can cause distress in daily life, but it is possible to change unhelpful thoughts and behaviours.
People often think of perfectionism as a desirable trait – perfectionists may be viewed as more effective, punctual, accomplished, and just generally seem to “have it together.”
Unfortunately, those who strive for perfection are often suffering internally. This suffering is because perfectionistic inner voices tend to uphold unattainable standards, and are rigid and unrelenting in their criticism. As an example, if you get a compliment from a co-worker for a job well-done, but tell yourself, “Sure it turned out OK in the end, but I had to work really hard and it took a lot of time, so I don’t really deserve that praise because it didn’t come naturally to me,” then you are likely to feel disappointed in yourself, no matter how good of a job you did.
Perfectionism can be challenging to overcome, but it is possible if you are willing to try some new ways of thinking and behaving, and are committed to practicing these regularly. Some of the strategies we use at the Waterloo CBT Clinic to help clients overcome perfectionism follow:
1) Challenge unhelpful mindsets. Keep track of the negative self-talk and practice taking a different perspective. For instance, if you are disappointed in your performance on a task, rather than beat yourself up about it or tell yourself all the ways in which you are a failure, look at it from a bigger picture. Was this task important to the overall course of your career? Did anyone else even notice your apparently subpar performance? Is this going to be something you will even remember in five years? Answering these questions may help you take a broader perspective and put things in context.
2) Practice being “imperfect”. Oftentimes people who are perfectionistic have catastrophic ideas about what will happen if they fail to live up to their own rigid rules and expectations. Changing behaviour is an effective way of learning that even if you do not do things perfectly all of the time, things will be OK. Some ways we have had clients practice this in the past include having the client show up five minutes late to an appointment, ask someone for assistance, spell a word incorrectly in an email, or make a mess and leave it. These kinds of purposeful practices are tailored to each individual client to specifically target their areas of perfectionistic concern. By challenging ourselves to be imperfect on purpose, we become more comfortable with these situations when they happen unintentionally (and if you’re human, sooner or later they will happen unintentionally).
3) Think about the pros and cons of perfection. On the one hand, you may think that striving for perfection leads you to work harder, do a better job, and accomplish more things. On the other hand, striving for perfection may cause you a lot of stress, lead you to focus on unimportant details rather than the big picture, and take up a lot of your time. You may realize that you have more to gain than to lose by decreasing the effort you put in to achieving perfection.
Try enjoying this picture of puppies rather than focusing on any perceived "imperfections"
Perfectionism may contribute to the development of psychological problems such as depression, anxiety disorders, or eating disorders. Individuals with these types of conditions may need to seek out professional assistance to overcome these problems.
For more information or to set up an appointment, please contact the Waterloo CBT Clinic at 226-686-0848.