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How to Overcome Perfectionism

Overcoming perfectionism isn’t just about accepting you’ll never be perfect. It’s about embracing your imperfection, flaws, weaknesses! Your warts make you unique and, ironically, more lovable.

How to Overcome Perfectionism

How to Overcome Perfectionism

If you need help overcoming perfectionism, read The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life by Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD.  The main idea of the book is that perfectionism often limits your success and happiness. Even when it doesn’t, it stops you from appreciating what you achieved. Ben-Shahar recommends becoming an “optimalist” (his new word) instead.

The Pursuit of Perfect will help you accept failure as part of life, and enjoy the journey instead of only focusing on achieving your goals and reaching your destination. It’ll also help you learn how to forgive yourself for the mistakes you made and the people you hurt.

Your imperfections make you lovable.  Perfectionism creates stress and anxiety; self-acceptance leads to happiness and peace.

“I went for years not finishing anything,” said Erica Jong, author of Fear of Flying. “Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged…I had poems that were re-written so many times I suspect it was just a way of avoiding sending them out.”

5 Ways to Overcome Perfectionism

Perfectionists often procrastinate, because they’re afraid they won’t do a good and perfect job. They’d rather fall back on the excuse of “oh, I only had two hours to do this, so it’s not that good” instead of trying hard and possibly failing.

Perfectionists set themselves up for emotional and mental health problems such as eating disorders and anxiety attacks. They don’t enjoy their success….and they live in fear.

1. Balance high hopes with harsh reality

Perfectionists have expectations and goals that simply can’t be met! To overcome perfectionism, you need to balance great expectations with reality, my friends. Accept that your limits – and other people’s limits – are real. You simply can’t create perfection.

2. Practice being imperfect

The best way to stop trying to be perfect is to let yourself (and others) release imperfect work to the world. Be imperfect in your parenting, projections, and relationships with others. The more you practice being imperfect, the more comfortable you’ll be with it!

If your perfectionism makes you very hard on yourself, read my reasons for forgiving yourself for the “bad” things you did.

3. Savor satisfaction for what you’ve achieved

Learn to appreciate and honor your effort, the journey, and your accomplishments. The big picture matters more than the tiny details: the fact that you’re hosting a dinner party means more than whether the dishes match, and the fact that you finished the report at work matters more than a few grammatical errors.

4. Express your emotions

To overcome perfectionism, learn to accept your painful emotions (regret, disappointment, depression) – but don’t ruminate on them. In The Pursuit of Perfect Ben-Shahar writes, “Rather than having thoughts playing in an endless loop in our heads (ruminating), we would be better off expressing our thoughts verbally or in writing.”

5. Take action towards your goals

How to Overcome Perfectionism

How to Overcome Perfectionism

What have you always wanted to do, but didn’t because you were afraid of failing? Try it now! Audition for a community play, send a resume for a job, ask someone on a date.

“Don’t worry if you fail and have to try again,” writes Ben-Shahar. “In writing, reflect on how this process of learning from failure applies to other areas of your life.”

Extra tip for overcoming perfectionism: figure out why you strive to be perfect

For instance, I always wanted to be perceived as being perfect because I grew up thinking that only perfect people are loved. Now, I realize that we’re all imperfect, and my husband loves me even though he knows my weaknesses, mistakes, and flaws. I still want to be seen as perfect, but I’m getting better at accepting myself for who I am. Warts and all!

Do you want to be perfect at work? Don’t bother, because you’ll fail! Read Why Doing a Good Job Won’t Get You Ahead at Work.

If you have any thoughts on overcoming perfectionism, please comment below…I can’t offer advice, but it may help you to write about your struggle to be perfect.

May you learn how to accept yourself fully, and not be consumed with the pursuit of perfection in your life.

“Ever tried, ever failed? No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.” – Samuel Beckett.

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23 thoughts on “How to Overcome Perfectionism”

  1. I read something a few years ago about be a perfectionist & I’ve come to realize that it fits me to a ‘T’.

    What I read was that some of us become perfectionists to make up for ‘perceived short comings’, (whether real or imagined.)
    In my case, as the youngest and smallest of 3 children, I grew up a sensitive, emotional child in a very insensitive, unemotional home with criticism and verbal condescension in place of love, affection and support.

    I learned that I was basically ‘raised to fail’ – not succeed, (although it would take some 40 years to realize such a thing, as I would eventually assess my upbringing and sort out my past).

    No matter what or how much good I did, it didn’t matter.
    But what always got commented on was if and always when I did anything wrong, or even simply not good enough – even at times when I did nothing wrong, or when I did do good enough, including putting enough effort into something.

    So…as perfectionists, we’ll often do WAY MORE than necessary, in tasks, projects and job descriptions to, in essence, over compensate in an effort to please others – even those, who we know can never be pleased, (such as my parents and siblings, who aren’t even anywhere nearby to see our now often perfect results), as an attempt to try to gain support, favor and approval from said ‘absentees’.

    But I’ve since learned: Who cares what my family or anyone else thinks about my work, projects and accomplishments, other than my GOD and my LORD and Saviour? No one else is my judge, so one else’s opinions matter anyway!

    But for the record, I do extremely well at most everything I do now, and have done so for many years – even decades. Not because I have to, but because I want to.
    And many are pleased with my results – especially my paying customers, etc. who deserve the best for what they pay for.

    Also, I know my GOD is pleased, since there is a scripture that says, ‘Whatever you put your hand to, do to the best of your ability’ – (my paraphrasing by memory). 🙂

  2. Hello Nicolas,

    I answered your question here:

    Should I Accept My Face the Way It Is, or Get Plastic Surgery?

    I hope it helps, and welcome your thoughts!

    All good things,

  3. Hi Laurie. I wouldnt be sure if this would be considered being a perfectionist.

    I was born really good looking. And one fine day in my teens , something unfortunate happened to my face, causing the mandible to grow much larger on one side of my face causing it to appear larger on one side and make me look older as a person. As such i went out or rather was obsessed with a solution so that i could return back to my usual face i had. Im still good looking but looking for ways to improve this slight so called defect i have to get back to my original face. What would your suggestion be? To accept this and move on? Or look for a treatment to resolve this?

  4. Thanks – I agree that just focusing on starting whatever you need to do can help you overcome perfectionism. Don’t get swept up in all the work you have to do, or even what you need to achieve. Instead, just get started.

    But I’m not a perfectionist 🙂

  5. Hi Laurie,

    I’d love your article, good tips!

    Can I add one?

    This one is for procrastination perfectionists: Try to focus on beginning to work instead of finishing. Beginning is the easy part, and there often is no fear and pain associated with beginning. If you begin often, you’ll be suprised how soon you have actually finished without realizing it.

  6. I’ve just found this article which is helpful. Perfectionism makes my life difficult, but it’s hard to shake the fear that if I stop striving for perfection everything I do will be wrong and rubbish. Especially at work. Greetings to fellow perfectionists!

  7. As someone who has “Escaped the Prison of Perfection” I can tell you that its a lonely isolating place. These are great tips. For me, it began with the awareness of always wearing filtered lenses. That I was always seeing the world in terms of better than and not good enough. I needed to learn to find my own worth, build my courage muscle to take risks, begin a gratitude practice and lastly to learn surrender.

  8. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen


    Thanks for your comment! I agree that perfectionism can be an obsession or addiction….and one way to overcome perfectionism is to take small steps. Commenting on blog posts and not worrying about being perfect is a great way to overcome perfectionism.

    I hope you do reduce the stress you put yourself under, and wish you all the best!

    All good things,
    .-= Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen´s last blog post blog ..Pay Off Your Mortgage – 5 Ways to Make Mortgage Payments Go Away =-.

  9. Well as a perfectionist (as I have today discovered that indeed I am), I thought I would never get this written as I would be worried about ‘getting it right’ ah ah!!. But, I have to say that from reading the comments I am not alone. Your article made me realise that I need to take action, and be more realistic – hard to do as I think being a perfectionist is almost an addiction!! But if I am going to reduce the stress I put myself under, and stop being ill, then I need to do it.

    Thank you for putting info like this on the web.

  10. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Hi James,

    That’s an interesting question…and I’m not sure there is a black and white answer.

    I think a job — no matter what it is — can contribute to perfectionism and procrastination. But, I also think that people who tend to lean towards perfectionism and procrastination may struggle with it no matter what their job is. For instance, some young children have strong tendencies towards perfectionism and procrastination, and they don’t have any job at all (other than playing and learning, of course).

    So I lean towards the idea that we need to deal with perfectionism and procrastination APART from a specific job. I think it’s better to focus on how we cope with everyday life, rather than change our environment.

    That said, however, a job can have deep, long-lasting, and HUGE effects on our lives! So, if your job isn’t contributing to your mental or emotional health, you may want to consider finding a different line of work.

    I can’t tell you if you should quit your job….but I do think you need objective insight into whether your personality is making your job more difficult, or your job is making your life more difficult. How do you find that insight? You could talk to a counselor, trustworthy family member, or some type of advisor (eg, spiritual leader or professional mentor).

    And finally, I do think that if you’ve been feeling ill for years, then you definitely need some type of change in your life! I hope you find the strength and courage to make the changes you need…and I’d love to hear how you’re doing.


  11. Do you think a job in QA (quality assurance) is toxic to a person who is trying to overcome perfectionism and procrastination? I’ve been doing QA work for years – in a place where the boss is ignorant enough not to understand software is never 100% bug free. I’ve been feeling very ill for years and getting worse as time goes by. At least I am finally understanding what my “mental” problem is… I was just introduced to the “perfectionism” problem recently.

  12. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Hi Tim,

    Good catch, that the “releasing your imperfect work to the world” is related to the “80/20 rule.”

    When it comes to blogging, for instance, I can try to write a post perfectly and it’ll take 4 hours…and nobody cares enough to read or comment on it. But, sometimes the articles I zip off without worrying about the perfectionist details are the most popular, interesting ones to readers!

    That’s the 80/20 rule in action, I think….and the kicker is that you don’t necessarily know which of your efforts will be the ones that’ll pay off.

    But, perfectionism has never been my albatross….I’m definitely a “forest” person. I don’t pay much attention to the trees….



  13. Thanks for these tips, Laurie.

    I really like the second one about releasing imperfect work to the world – great way to put it!

    This seems to relate to the 80-20 rule. It’s amazing how often what we do is on the wrong side of it – we can spend too much time for too little reward.

  14. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Hi Elizabeth,

    I hope these tips on overcoming perfectionism help you…and that you’ll stop trying to be perfect and start enjoying your life and personality the way it is right now!


  15. i have always known that i am a perfectionist and known some effects of it in my life which has paralyzed me. i relate with the symptoms mentioned above. i would want to overcome and am going to start now to apply your tips.

    Thank You.

  16. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    If you’re asking if overcoming perfectionism is achievable, I say YES! Definitely. I know I for one am no perfectionist. 🙂

    Our society may put alot of pressure on people, but there are also lots of ways to destress and find peace.

  17. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    Thanks for stopping by, Stephan. Overcoming perfectionism is so difficult in almost all stages of life, and it makes life hard. In fact, a woman just left a comment on my “End Procrastination for College Students” article about how her procrastination is connected to perfectionism. They’re definitely connected.

    Good luck with overcoming your perfectionism….it doesn’t have to be perfect, it just has to be done!

  18. Thank you, Laurie. This is a good set of tips and I will follow up now. Perfectionism is always a struggle for some people. But it is worth working to control.

  19. Thanks for your comment, Celes. I agree — we do have to love ourselves to achieve great things.

    Do perfectionists love themselves?

  20. Celes | EmbraceLiving.Net

    Hi Laurie! I love #3. It is important to savor our accomplishments – perfectionists often focus too much on what has yet to be achieved rather than celebrate what they have achieved. I attest to this as I’m also a perfectionist myself. On other tips to overcome perfectionism, I wrote on that a few months back, which is part 3 of a 3-part series. One of the tips I have is to respect and love ourselves – that’s important because we can’t achieve great things until we start loving ourselves.