Stop Trying to be Perfect

Written by Karl Perera, MA, DipLC 

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In this short article, I would like to show you how damaging perfectionism can be and how you can overcome it…

Perfection. As humans, we are always trying to achieve it. It is an endless pursuit. We have even gotten used to pretending we see it as a weakness when we want it sneakily to be seen as a strength. I know I am not the only one who in the past has used “I am a perfectionist,” as my biggest strength when asked during a job interview. What if it really is a weakness?

While there is nothing wrong with the pursuit of progress, the pursuit of perfection can actually be detrimental to us achieving our goals and feeling satisfied with those achievements.

Let’s talk a bit about how perfectionism has become a common trait of many in today’s hectic society and how you can take steps to stop trying to be perfect. I promise a much more satisfying and stress-free existence is at the other end of the ”perfect” rainbow.

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Why Might You Be Trying to Be a Perfectionist?

The drive to be perfect often comes from the need for and lack of approval and acceptance that who we are and what we do is good enough. In this way, it is very often connected to your self-esteem. If we don’t ever achieve this feeling, it can inevitably lead to believing that what we do is never enough. That is not a healthy or happy place to be.

Perfectionism lives and breathes in the fear of making a mistake that will lead to disapproval and can lead to anxiety that affects you mentally and physically. Brené Brown is a writer and research professor at the University of Houston who states that perfection is not about healthy achievement and growth, it is used by many people as a shield to protect against the pain of judgment, blame, or shame.

There are several signs of perfectionism, which can include:

  • procrastination
  • not being able to complete a task unless it can be done perfectly
  • taking an excessive amount of time to complete a task.

Are any of the above true for you? If they are, you need help to stop being a perfectionist and to start living a more relaxed and happy life. Keep reading to learn what you can do to help yourself get off the perfectionism train and change your life and outlook…

Are you a perfectionist? More ways to find out.

If you are wondering if you are someone who is being a perfectionist, here are some more questions to ask yourself to discover the truth, are you or aren’t you?

  • When you achieve something do you take pride in it and feel good or do you tell yourself you could have done it better?
  • Do you laugh at your mistakes? Or do you take them very seriously and go over them in your head afterwards?
  • Can you ignore untidiness? Or must everything be in its place?
  • Can you leave a job half done? Or would this drive you mad?

If you answered yes to the second option in the above questions, then perhaps you are to some degree a perfectionist. We all are at times, the question is to what degree are you a perfectionist? And how does it affect your day-to-day life?

Perfectionism can cause a lot of problems if you let it…so let’s discuss this and how it relates to your self-esteem.

What harm can perfectionism cause you?

If you are a perfectionist this may cause you to experience many problems. Perfectionism can:

  • cause you to have low self esteem
  • stop you being happy
  • hurt your relationships
  • blind you to the real priorities of life

One by one, let’s take a look at the points above and you’ll see why it is so important to stop being such a perfectionist.

Perfectionism can prevent you from experiencing satisfaction from anything you achieve. A perfectionist believes that nothing he or she does is good enough, because only perfection is acceptable. The trouble is perfection doesn’t exist. You are therefore driving yourself to achieve the unachievable which can only end in disappointment. This can get even worse when self-sabotage strikes, the act of stopping yourself from moving forward.

A perfectionist often has low self-esteem because he/ she can’t accept himself/ herself as he/ she really is – imperfect. Imperfection is what makes you human.

Likewise, you cannot be happy if you cannot accept the world or your life as it is. You will constantly try to make everything perfect, which is impossible. You need to stop worrying instead of trying to fix everything. Happiness depends on acceptance and joy in the present, with how things are now. Chasing something that is not possible except in your mind may drive you crazy and stress you out.

Overcoming perfectionism can improve self-esteem and increase happiness. What about relationships?

Self esteem and happiness play their part in a good relationship. What’s more, people in relationships need to help each other grow in self-esteem and happiness. If one person in a relationship is a perfectionist they will demand perfection from the other.

Perfectionists create stress on themselves and on their friends or partners and are very demanding. Relationships need give and take and acceptance of one another’s faults is a big part of that. If you cannot accept the reality of your partner’s or your own faults then you may drive your partner away from you or hurt them when you criticize.

Overcoming perfectionism will reward you with better relationships because you will stop demanding that your partner become exactly what you want and without any faults. That’s never going to happen!

How to Stop Trying to Be Perfect

#1 – Let it go!

As the famous song from that Disney movie so eloquently put it, this is one of the keys to releasing the need to be perfect. It is so important to realize that nothing will ever be perfect. That piece of writing, song, business proposal, you name it. There is always something that could be changed, tweaked, or improved.

Instead of striving for perfection that will only breed anxiety and stress, learn to let it go. A wise professor once told me that as creatives the worse thing we can do is to sacrifice the great in the pursuit of the perfect. You are great, your work is excellent and the world deserves that greatness. Don’t hold onto it just waiting for it to be perfect with the next round of changes. Learning to release the need for perfection can be a huge weight off your shoulders and allow you to live a happier, better life.

The moral of the story? Let it go!

#2 – Change up your mindset

Mindset is everything. Changing it is not an overnight fix, but if you work on it then it can massively improve your need to be perfect and the overall quality of your life.  By cultivating a good-enough mindset that isn’t full of unrealistic expectations you can cultivate a sense of wellbeing and satisfaction. This can be something you do every day.

The first step is realizing when the need to be perfect or do something perfectly pops up in your head. When it does, take time to unpack why you are feeling that way and where it stems from. Maybe you had parents who only were happy if you got an A. Now think about what happens if you let go of the need for that A and get a B instead. Would you still pass? Would you still know you did your best? Changing your mindset to love yourself even when not perfect can allow you to stress less and still achieve great things. 

#3 – Try something new

One of the best ways to let go of being perfect is to do something new that there is a good chance you will be far from an expert at. Starting a new hobby, sport or activity means you will be a novice, and screwing up and failing comes with the territory. If you are a perfectionist it is a great way to desensitize yourself.

So get out there and join a club or try a fitness class that is out of your comfort zone! Start painting or any hobby you have always wanted to try but were afraid you’d be horrible at. Maybe you will be, and that’s ok. You don’t have to perfect. Just enjoying yourself can do wonders for your self-esteem.

It can be hard to stop trying to be perfect. So many of us grew up with families and other social institutions that rewarded the pursuit of perfectionism. The above three tips can be a great start to work from that constant pursuit of perfection to the cool and calm acceptance that your best is enough and that it is ok to fail, get up and try again, even if perfection is never achieved.

Other ways you can overcome perfectionism

  • Quite simply the best advice I can give – get this audio download now: “overcoming perfectionism” – don’t suffer any more..this hypnosis download will help you to rid yourself of the need for everything to be perfect so give it a try.
  • Take a look around you and focus on the beauty in nature – it’s not perfect is it but its wonderful nonetheless..
  • Instead of focusing on how people fail to reach your standards, ask yourself what did they do that you’re grateful for
  • Next time you expect something try making your expectations more realistic
  • Remind yourself how everyone thinks and sees things differently. Are you sure that your standards are so correct?
  • Try to look at the good things in any situation and you’ll be surprised at how positive you can be…

Read my son’s great article near-life experience. There’s a great and inspiring message there.

And finally, let me be with you all the way and help you to beat this perfectionist curse. Sign up for my weekly inspirational newsletter where I discuss this in much deeper detail. Go sign up now!

References

Butcher, S. How Both Success & Failure Can Boost Your Self-Esteem. Calmpreneur. https://calmpreneur.com/success-failure-self-esteem/.

GT Staff. (2019, November 5) Perfectionism. Good Therapy. https://www.goodtherapy.org/learn-about-therapy/issues/perfectionism.

Schrader, J. (2018, January 12). How to Let Go of the Need to Be Perfect. Psychology Today. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/your-emotional-meter/201801/how-let-go-the-need-be-perfect.

Website Author and Your Guide

Karl Perera is a fully qualified Life Coach (DipLC), Teacher (MA), and author of the book Self Esteem Secrets. He has taught at various universities including Durham, Leicester and Anglia Ruskin, Cambridge. He has run More-SelfEsteem.com since 1997 since suffering from low self esteem for more than 25 years overcoming it in his thirties.