Learning how to deal with perfectionism is a process. As a recovering perfectionist, it’s taken me years to understand my triggers and how to manage emotions that don’t really make me happier.
When I was younger, though, I did think being perfect would make me more likable, more loved, better, happier. Invincible, even.
My need for perfection hid my fear of being ridiculed and humiliated like when I was bullied in the 5th grade. It also made me magnify every single mistake. Every mark I missed felt like a major failure. And even when I achieved a goal, I felt I could have done better. It was as if nothing was ever good enough. In my early twenties, this sense of never being satisfied was even more evident as I struggled with anxiety and depression.
So even if striving for perfection motivated me to excel in school and as a journalist, I also saw its dark side. When I had important tests, I got sick to my stomach. Literally. Later on, perfectionism and anxiety led me to blank out during a live shot for a few seconds that felt like an eternity. To this day, it’s a struggle to look at my TV segments or conference presentations. I always know what I could have done better.
Perfection can be harmful. It can make you feel less than enough. It can riddle you with anxiety. It can fill you with guilt because all you see are your shortcomings. It can also make you overthink and second guess everything you do. You are so scared of failing that you end up being stuck. But it also confuses us because it can propel us and push us to do better. This is why for many perfectionism can even be a source of pride. In many ways, that was me.
Until I learned that instead of striving to be perfect, it is healthier to strive to try your best. We think we have control over outcomes while we only have control over effort and intentions. Once we learn that and realize how liberating it is to make peace with trying your best, you start being happier. A huge weight lifts from your shoulders.
I don’t think you can really change your personality traits but I do believe we can learn to manage them so they serve us better. If you also feel that your need to be flawless and to be the best at everything you do is filling you with anxiety, stopping you from doing more things, and even driving you to constant procrastination, it’s a sign that you need to reevaluate whether there is a better way. For me there was, which is why I am sharing these tips to deal with perfectionism.
10 Tips To Overcome Toxic Perfectionism
- The first step is recognizing perfectionism is causing you problems. Do you feel stressed, anxious, paralyzed? Those are negative feelings. Are you afraid of not measuring up? Of failing? Of being ridiculed? Again, this is not helpful or positive. Then identify what triggers your perfectionist tendencies.
- Start small. Do something that you know won’t be perfect. Value the fact that you completed that task even though you knew it would be a challenge. Done is always better than perfect!
- Make peace with putting in maximum effort regardless of outcome. Yes, easier said than done but the art of letting go can bring you so many rewards. Letting go of the illusion of control can be one of the healthiest gifts you give yourself.
- Know that social media is not reality. It is a slice of somebody’s life, that somebody chose, and that can be staged, filtered, curated for a reason. If you saw the larger picture beyond the frame, chances are life would not so seem so perfect anymore.
- Realize we are all imperfect but that doesn’t mean we cannot be great or do great things.
- Let go of mommy guilt because human limitations mean we are unable to excel at everything all the time. Strive for an overall sense of well-being. Learn to prioritize different things on different days instead of trying to achieve perfection in every single area of life, every single day. If your child is healthy, fed and their emotional needs are tended to, call it a win even if the dinner menu was cereal with milk or the dishes are dirty.
- Evaluate who created the impossible standards you tried to live up to. It probably is time to reset your goals and expectations so you can live a healthier, happier life for you. Write down your expectations for yourself and different areas of your life. Be brutally honest. Then decide whether they serve you or stress you out and swap out for more attainable goals that don’t make you anxious.
- Imperfect does not mean mediocre. It can mean good enough. And stop thinking that means settling for less. Strive for progress, which is always a positive thing.
- Work on building your self-esteem so it doesn’t rely on the perfect achievements. Instead of focusing on what you do, zero in on who you are as a human being.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. No matter how perfect other people’s lives might seem, they are human beings, too. Nobody ever knows what happens behind closed doors or when that person is alone. Above all, be kind to yourself.
Let me know if these tips help you. I will be sharing my experience with perfectionism on my own social media channels because I hope to help more people. Please share this post if you feel it can help somebody you know.