How To Stop Perfection From Holding You Back

This original article by Helen Mitas was previously published in Women With Drive

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Are you always striving for perfection? If you are, then you are putting yourself through a repetitious cycle of near insanity, as perfection is ever only a concept and never a reality.

What most of us really strive for is to always put our best self and best work forward. But there is a big difference between wanting to do our best and getting caught up in the pursuit – and downward spiral – of perfection.

Perfectionists set unrealistic goals, which they are driven to achieve by their fear of failure. Because their self-esteem is closely tied to outcomes, they face self-criticism and depression when those goals go unmet. This is how striving for perfection can hold us back in life.

Here is the good news – the cycle of perfection can be broken and the strategies for doing so are simple. Putting them into practice however is an on-going process, especially if being a perfectionist is part of your identity.

These are five ways to stop perfection from holding you back.

1. Find out your source(s) of motivation

What motivates you? Is it the thrill of success or the fear of failure? If it is the latter, then what motivates you outside that fear and are you happy doing whatever that is?

Once you have answered that, remove any thoughts linking perfection to your capabilities or self-esteem. These are often thoughts that go along the lines of, “If it is not perfect then it is rubbish and I am a failure.”

Replace those negative thoughts with a positive statement that you genuinely believe. The last two words in the previous sentence are of paramount importance.

2. Do not make your goals absolutes

Make room for mistakes. If you “fail” you can always start again. Learn to accept failure as a part of any process and as feedback for a better outcome the next time round. Remember this bottom line – you can only get better.

3. Focus on the big picture

The devil is in the details. This statement aptly sums up a perfectionist’s approach to life.

One of my clients is a project manager who is responsible for a range of multi-million dollar projects. Her perfectionism was stalling projects as she would get stuck on small “imperfect” details that she felt could lead to the entire project failing.

If this sounds remarkably familiar, then you too need to start reaching out for help. Perfectionists often feel like everything is their responsibility and tend to become overwhelmed to the point of inertia. Understand that you cannot expect to be the expert on everything.

Start delegating to those you trust to do a good job even if they do it differently from you. Let go of the idea that you have to control every single decision and move on to the next big thing in front of you.

4. Shift your focus

How about doing something different by focusing on what you are good at instead of on what you are not?

Another client spends so much time with her family that she has no time left for housework. So she berates herself for the dusty shelves and piles of unwashed laundry. This then leads to self-criticism of her role as a wife and mother. Where she should shift her focus instead is to her role in building beautiful memories for her children.

Set achievable goals rather than set yourself up for failure in the face of your own unrealistic expectations.

5. Stop and celebrate!

One of the marks of a perfectionist is that there is always one more thing to accomplish before life is truly “perfect.” This means you will always be chasing the vision of that elusive life. So stop and celebrate the smaller victories that bring you closer to where you want to be. That is as close to perfection that you will get.

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