Mind & Body Tools to Optimize Your Life

How to Overcome Perfectionism

How to Overcome Perfectionism

A perfectionist lives with an endless list of internal rules. This is his/her way to have a feeling of control over life.

But underneath that lies the mother of all negative emotions: fear.

Perfectionists fear that whatever they do is not good enough, they fear making mistakes. In short they fear that they ARE not good enough. Perfectionists feel like chronic failures and it is this anxiety which drives them.


Well, perfectionism mainly drives them to avoid the anxiety

They engage in “safety behavior”: behavior that prevents them from making mistakes.

  • For instance, they might start avoiding all situations that can provoke fear in them. (e.g. social situations like meetings, presentations or going on a date. )
  • Or they might spend hours and hours pouring over their work to make sure it’s mistake free. They procrastinate out of fear of not being able to complete their task perfectly.

Of course, the problem is never the fear of making mistakes in itself. The problem is what you think would happen if you made a mistake. Will people disapprove of you? Do you think you will lose your job?


3 Tactics to deal with perfectionism

1. Look at what’s underneath your fear of making mistakes

Be aware of how much you’re into this to please someone. Is it someone in particular? Do you think people will withdraw from you if you lose your aura of perfectness? If you’re not the perfect mom who can handle everything? If you can’t juggle work and kids at the same time?

Look at your other fears as well. Dissect them. Don’t strain yourself and overthink this, but let the insights come to you. By themselves. By being mindful during your day. Ideas and images will pop up with clues as to why you are so perfectionist.


2. Stop engaging in safety behaviors

In other words: face your fears.

Sounds easier said than done, I know. But start small. Practice making a small mistake with mild consequences. Experiment a little. See what happens.

And while you’re doing this, let insights come to surface of why you really, desperately want to keep things under control. Ask yourself: “what’s the worst thing that could happen if I made this mistake? How do I think it would affect my life?”


3. Practice mindfulness

Mindfulness is an excellent tool to use in this: it invites you to look at what is present without judging. That leaves room for insights to bubble up, if they need to.

How to do it:

For example, when taking a shower, and if you become aware that your mind is at work again, bring it back to noticing the sensations of the water on your body and on the smell of the soap.

When eating your meals during the day, pay attention to the taste and how the food is being chewed and swallowed. When you’re listening to a co-worker, notice your own body language.

While driving pay attention to your body, all the movements, movement of your hands on the steering, and what is going on in your mind. Use your time at red signals just to breathe and notice its quality – is it heavy or shallow?

(from wikinut.com)


The moment mindfulness is introduced everything changes. Conscious awareness is such a powerful tool that all habitual tendencies have to cease. Mindfulness is like a source of light and habitual activities are shadowy figures. They can’t coexist – as long as you stay with the light of mindfulness the habitual reactions must stop.

(from wikinut.com)


Of course, this approach requires time and repetition to be effective. But each time a change is made the compulsion lessens taking you one step closer to living a more joyful and freer life.


More resources

Here are some other people that share their perspective on how to overcome perfectionism. These may help you.

Celestine Chua on PersonalExcellence.co:

8 Simple Steps To Overcome Perfectionism, for Life:

1. Be aware of your motivations for perfection
2. Recognize that ideals are directions, not absolutes
3. Respect and love yourself
4. Focus on the big picture
5. Focus on what can be done
6. Delegate and let go
7. Enjoy the entire process
8. Celebrate the victories and progress made


Therese J. Borchard is a writer with a great depth. These are her 10 Steps To Conquer Perfectionism:

1. Remove yourself from the competition. Don’t make life any more difficult than it already is.

2. Make up some rules. You can’t avoid all competitive situations. So make up some rules about that.

3. Do a reality check. Unrealistic expectations are perfectionism’s trophy wife. Distinguish realistic expectations from unrealistic ones. List them all on a sheet of paper

4. Return to your exodus moment. When were you freed from fear and “crossed the Red Sea of anxiety into a land of peace”?

5. Show your weakness. This is counter-intuitive for most perfectionists.

6. Celebrate your mistakes. I do think each big blunder deserves a round of toasts. Because almost all of them teach us precious, rare lessons that can’t be acquired by success.

7. Add some color. Perfectionists are color blind. They see the world in black and white.

8. Break the job down. One of the secrets of highly productive people is that they rarely try to tackle a difficult job all at once.

9. Be yourself. Being perfect is cheap and easy. Just assume the necessary mask. The much more challenging task, is becoming yourself.

10. Believe in redemption. Absolutely nothing is forsaken. If you can just hang on to the faith, hope, and love in the people and places around you long enough to see the sun rise yourself, everything is made whole in time.


Alli Worthington’s “Ways to curb perfectionism” is worth mentioning too. She comes at this from the perspective of a business owner.

1. Do sómething. (Imperfect action is better than no action.)
2. Re-examine your standards.
3. Look at the big picture. (Ask yourself, “Is this really that important?”)
4. Share your works in progress.
5. Set more realistic goals.
6. Break the addiction to comparing yourself to others.
7. Do a gut check. (Ask yourself daily. “Am I striving for excellence or demanding perfection?”)



Whatever approach you choose, mindfulness is a great tool to incorporate. The perfectionist is simply unable to live in the here and now. And is always looking for what’s wrong. Mindfulness corrects that and allows people to live in the moment.

And that moment might not always be ‘peace and love’, emotions and restless thoughts might still arise… but at least you are being real and honest with yourself. It’s like you’re training yourself to accept your imperfections (and even delight in them!).


And only then will you able to say that:

  • “My passion is to live in the moment”
    To live in the joy of the moment. This is not just typical new age mumbo jumbo, but it is real and attainable, like so many others have attained before you. you put in the work, you get the results.
  • “I’m much happier now”
    …compared to when you worried whether people would like you and whether your actions would please them.
  • “I’m singing like no one’s listening and dancing like no one’s watching!”
    By other people’s standards, your singing and dancing are most probably far from perfect. But … those moments can be your pure joy. Happy trumps perfect every day!

So, dance like no one’s watching!


PS. Perfectionism is just a fear of making mistakes. That’s the bottomline: it’s just a fear.

The question really is: do you want to live in fear?


main image credit



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