Overcoming Perfectionism

Many people equate the notion of perfectionism with having high standards. Whilst setting achievable goals and working hard to achieve them can be a positive quality, perfectionism involves a focus on often unsustainable goals. Researchers describe it as having over-dependence on self-imposed standards despite adverse consequences. Such consequences may include burnout, low self-esteem, not making time for self-care or procrastination. Disorders associated with perfectionism include social anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, panic disorder, depression and chronic fatigue.

How to Overcome Perfectionism

Overcoming perfectionism takes commitment and time, however, given the potential mental health benefits it is worth the effort. Here are some ways you can overcome your perfectionism:

Make a pros and cons list

List the negative and positive consequences of perfectionism versus not being a perfectionist.

For example, a negative consequence of being a perfectionist may be procrastination due to fear of failure, or not having any time to spend with family and friends. A positive consequence may be that you enjoy the praise that comes from doing something very well.

Alternatively, a negative consequence of not being a perfectionist may be not getting the amount of external validation you are used to. A positive consequence could be that you do not feel so anxious all the time.

Become aware of your thinking style

Start to identify thinking styles that are maintaining the drive for perfection. These may include:

  • Shoulding and Musting: An example of this style would be thinking “I must always top my class in exams” or “I should always get things right”.
  • Catastrophising: This is categorised by always imagining a terrible outcome. An example is “My presentation wasn’t as good as I wanted. Now I will never get promoted”
  • Black and White Thinking: An example of this may be “If I don’t know the answer to every question then I am no good at my job”.

Identify negative automatic thoughts

Start to identify the thoughts that accompany your perfectionist tendences. This can be done using a thought diary.  A thought diary involves writing down: the trigger (e.g. an upcoming presentation); the automatic negative thoughts that accompanied the trigger; the emotional response; and the subsequent behaviour.

By engaging in this exercise we gain awareness for how our thoughts can influence our feelings and behaviours.

Challenge unhelpful thinking styles or negative automatic thoughts

Now that you have noticed some of the unhelpful thinking styles try reframing them. Or put a negative thought on trial by finding evidence for and against it. Then, try to replace it with a more adaptive thought.

Other Tips to Help Overcome Perfectionism

  • Set achievable goals for yourself. Remind yourself that not everything has to be perfect.
  • Set a time limit. Decide on a realistic time frame to do a good enough job and stick to it.
  • Avoid procrastination. Perfectionists often become so concerned with the outcome that they can avoid starting something.
  • Adopt a growth mindset. Remember mistakes can be an opportunity to learn.

Remember, if you feel like you need more support with overcoming perfectionism don’t be afraid to seek help from a mental health professional.

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