Perfectionism, at its root, is about two things: control and value.
Insisting on doing everything perfectly is unrealistic but it gives the illusion of control over things outside of your influence—other people, what others think of you, and life itself. Perfectionism also ties your value to work, school, and sports. As a perfectionist, you may think, whether you realize it or not, that your value is rooted in your performance and if you make a mistake, something is wrong with you as a person.
If you want to understand the common signs of perfectionism, check out our blog post on the topic .
If you’re reading this, you’ve likely recognized some perfectionist tendencies in yourself and want change. No worries, you’ve come to the right place.
First things first – perfectionism is common, especially in corporate environments. Many of us are told, from a young age, to work hard and always put our best foot forward. We strive for spotless performance reviews and are constantly aiming for the next goal, whether it’s a big project, raise, or promotion. All of these things can be very positive but if you are constantly unhappy and frustrated because you are caught in an endless pursuit of the next milestone, it’s time to reevaluate.
The key to breaking free from perfectionism lies in learning to be in the present and reframing your thinking to be more positive and compassionate toward yourself and others:
- Be in the moment. If you concentrate on the present, you’ll distance yourself from worries about past situations and future anxieties. Meditation is a great way to achieve this. Carve out time for a practice in the morning or evening, and if you are feeling particularly stressed at work, take a few minutes to do a quick meditation to bring yourself back to the present.
- Get off the topic. If you have nagging thoughts about a mistake, get off the topic—read an interesting article, call a friend, or watch a funny video. If you find yourself thinking negative thoughts (I can’t do this; I’m going to fail; I’m not cut out for this, etc.), do a quick visual exercise. Take a breath, close your eyes, and imagine the thoughts are balloons. Then picture them floating away.
- Strive for improvement. Develop a student’s attitude—focus on learning and improving rather than doing everything right. Repeat to yourself: “Improvement not perfection.” You can even try a mantra meditation. If you start to feel disappointed by your performance, stop, take a breath, and frame your thoughts in a positive way—what did you learn? What can you improve upon?
- Create boundaries. If you find yourself re-reading your work repeatedly or redoing projects often, set boundaries for yourself. Only reread emails once before sending them. When the little voice inside your head says you need to redo everything, step away to regroup instead of starting over. The same goes for days off—delete your email app from your phone if you need.
- Find value in rest. Your value is not tied to your performance—at work or in your hobbies. You are valuable even if you sit and stare at the wall. Put this into practice by finding time each week to simply exist. Go for a long walk and notice the flowers. Take a yoga class or sit on a park bench. Watch mindless TV or read a great book. Resting is the key.
We hope this blog post gives you actionable steps to break free from perfectionism. There is power in noticing harmful habits, so you’ve taken an awesome first step by even reading this article. Take it easy on yourself as you ease away from perfection and remember to stop and take a breath.