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How Can I Overcome Perfectionism?

By: Danielle Bertini, LPC 

           There’s no arguing against the fact that it’s good to have a strong work ethic and high standards. But when does this go too far? Meet—perfectionism. Perfectionism involves the tendency to set standards that are so high that they either cannot be met or are only met with great difficulty. Anything short of perfection is horrible and unacceptable. Making mistakes isn’t even an option because it signifies that they are a failure.

           As you could imagine, this way of living life can cause high levels of stress and anxiety. Anxietycanada.com offers tips to help overcome perfectionism.

Learning to recognize perfectionism

To start this process, you first need to figure out whether perfectionism is something you’re struggling with. If you’re unsure, here are some questions that you can ask yourself:

  •       Do I have trouble meeting my own standards?
  •       Do I often feel frustrated, depressed, anxious, or angry while trying to meet my standards?
  •       Have I been told that my standards are too high?
  •       Do my standards get in my way? For example, do they make it difficult for me to meet deadlines, finish a task, trust others, or do anything spontaneously?

If the answer is yes to any of these questions, you might struggle with perfectionism.

So what can perfectionism feel, think, and look like?

Feelings: Depression, frustration, anxiety, anger, constant criticism if you aren’t doing a good enough job after spending a lot of time/effort on a task.

Thoughts:

Black and white thinking: Anything less than it being perfect means that I failed. If I need help from people, it means I am weak.

Catastrophic thinking: If I make a mistake in front of these people, I will never be able to survive the humiliation.

Probability overestimation: Even though I spent weeks preparing for this presentation, I know I still won’t do well. My boss will think I’m lazy if I take off time for being sick.

Should statements: I should never make mistakes. I should always be able to predict issues before they happen.

Behaviors: Difficulty completing tasks, overly thorough in tasks (spending 3 hours on a task that might take someone else 1 hour), excessive checking (spending 30 minutes rereading an email for spelling errors), constantly trying to make something better by re-doing it until it’s “perfect,” agonizing over small details, making elaborate to-do lists, and avoiding trying new things for fear of making a mistake.

Tools to overcome perfectionism

Changing perfectionistic thinking

  •       Realistic thinking

o   One of the most effective ways to overcome perfectionism is to replace critical and perfectionistic thoughts with more realistic and helpful statements. Even if you don’t believe these thoughts initially, it’s still important to practice them and make them a habit. Here are some examples:

  • Nobody is perfect!
  • All I can do is my best!
  • Making a mistake does not mean I am a failure or stupid. It only means that I am like everyone else—human. Everyone makes mistakes!
  • It’s okay if some people don’t like me. No one is liked by everyone!
  •       Perspective taking

o   When struggling with perfectionism, it can be hard seeing things from another person’s point of view. Let’s consider an example in which you might believe you’re lazy because you’re only able to exercise for 1 hour instead of 2 hours every day. Try challenging this thought by asking yourself some of these questions:

  • How might someone else (like a close friend) view this situation?
  • Are there other ways to look at this?
  • What might I tell a close friend who was having similar thoughts?
  •       Looking at the big picture

o   It can be easy to get bogged down in details and spend a large amount of time worrying about “the little things (like what font to use in an email). It can be helpful to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does it really matter?
  • What is the worst that could happen?
  • If the worst does happen, can I survive it?
  • Will this still matter tomorrow? How about next week? Next year?
  •       Compromising

o   Compromising is helpful when dealing with black-and-white thinking because it involves setting more realistic standards and being more flexible with your very high standards. An example of this could be spending 3 hours instead of 5 hours preparing for a presentation. The more you do this, the more you can continue to lower your standards (in a healthy way, of course).

If you find yourself struggling with perfectionism, you may find it helpful to talk with one of our therapists at Symmetry Counseling. You can contact Symmetry today by calling 312-578-9990 to get matched with one of our licensed counselors in Chicago

References

How to Overcome Perfectionism. (n.d.). https://www.anxietycanada.com/articles/how-to-overcome-perfectionism/. 

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