Mind & Body

5 realistic ways to deal with perfectionism, according to the experts

Are you a perfectionist? Then you know well the internal constant criticism, always pushing you to do more. Shona Hendley is a perfectionist too, and she shares how she’s reducing its impact on her life.

“It’s got to be perfect, it’s got to be worth it, yeah

Too many people take second best

Well, I won’t take anything less

It’s got to be, yeah, perfect”

Remember this 80s song, Perfect by Fairground Attraction? If not, you can view the iconic music video here (you’re welcome).

While this purely indulgent pop tune is super catchy, it also happens to be the track that starts playing in my mind quite regularly, like a Shona mantra that I don’t actually want to hear.

You see, I am a perfectionist, someone that “won’t take anything less” and to be honest, it is about the furthest thing from perfect that you can imagine.

When I was told that I exhibited this characteristic by my psychologist a few years ago, at first, I wasn’t so sure. But then as she went on to explain how it manifests and how it can impact a person, it became a ‘wow moment’ in my own self-awareness (and I was then 100 percent sure.)

“Perfectionism is not being perfect or even doing something perfectly. Perfectionism involves putting pressure on yourself to meet high standards and most importantly, in doing this, it influences the way we think about ourselves,” she told me.

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Although having this trait can have its positives – like setting goals and working hard to achieve them, it can also be problematic – i.e. your goals are unachievable or only achievable at great cost (like your sanity).

In this strive for perfectionism, there is a constant pressure that is always present, criticising and pressuring you to do more, coming from within.

For me personally, this determination for high standards is not just something that occurs within my work but in many areas of my life, including relationships where I also have a high expectation of others.

Along with this expectation, there comes the judgement of my own self-worth based upon whether this expectation is achieved, or not. And if it isn’t, I become anxious, I become frustrated, I become upset and I become extremely critical of myself, often feeling like an absolute failure. And yet I continue (unwillingly of course) to set these unachievable goals.

While my perfectionism has no doubt assisted me in achieving some of my successes in life, I also know it is possible to achieve many goals and successes without it.

This is why I have been working on breaking my perfectionism, or at least living with it in a healthy way now, for years.

Clinical psychologist, Dr Meredith Fuller identifies five techniques (many of which have assisted me) to help the perfectionists out there in reducing its impact on their lives:

Assess the proportional percentage the task needs

“Often perfectionists give 150 percent to everything they do, which is just not necessary. Instead, assess and assign an appropriate proportion to the task at hand. Doing this will ensure you maintain a good energy balance,” Fuller tells Body + Soul.

“Ask yourself, ‘What is the worst that can happen if I don’t give 150 percent?’ This can really put things in perspective.

Perfectionists are convinced everything needs to be perfect and they worry that they will be judged or shamed if they aren’t.

But in reality, this is not the case, and by acknowledging that nothing major will go wrong if perfection isn’t achieved can be quite powerful.”

Spend time with people who value you who you are, not what you achieve

“Choose who you spend your time with carefully and select those who value you, for you as a person, rather than by what you can achieve,” says Fuller.

“You don’t have to perform or excel for the people that love you.”

Reflect on our parents and upbringing

“Reflecting on your own parents and upbringing can provide great insight into your own perfectionist tendencies,” Fuller explains.

“Often parents can overdo or underdo things. You may have had parents who were perfectionists themselves and nothing you did was good enough, or the opposite where nothing you did really mattered. If you have questions or issues of not feeling good enough based on this, try and challenge that assumption.”

Get comfortable with chaos

“By becoming more comfortable with chaos and mess, you can learn to relax more. Sometimes when standards are so high, nothing is good enough so letting go of this ideal and being happy with ‘I’m doing good enough’ is important. It is about achieving a balance in the middle.”

So, as you try and get comfortable in the chaos, I will leave you with something my psychologist told me once: “There is a big difference between a healthy pursuit of excellence and the unhealthy striving for perfection” and yes, my perfectionist friends, she is right.

Shona Hendley is a freelance writer and ex-secondary school teacher. You can follow her on Instagram: @shonamarion.