How To Battle Perfectionism + Not Let It Break You

I’m not perfect (gasp).  No one is.  No thing is.  It’s a simple idea, and something that should be chalked up to common knowledge.  So, why is it so difficult for me to admit?  Why do I cringe when I read what I wrote to open this newsletter?

I’ve long struggled, and continue to struggle, with the idea of perfectionism (our previous Gem of the Week, Steffi Keung also opens up about this in her interview here).  When I was young and naive, I was convinced that ‘perfect’ was something attainable; that I could someday be the perfect person to everyone.  So I worked toward that goal.  I planned to be the perfect son, friend, student, worker, and significant other.  Every detail of every area of my life would be covered.  I would be accepted by all, and I’d excel in everything I attempted.

Related Read: 3 Questions to Help You Overcome Perfectionism and Improve Your Mental Health

I can’t pinpoint the exact moment that reality set in, but I can say that it was too late.  The damage had already been done.  Trying to achieve the level of perfect that I was striving for was impossible (which is obvious to me now), but I would punish myself relentlessly anytime I’d make a mistake.  My warped mind at the time was unable to comprehend just how imperfect my treatment of myself was.  Being so hard on myself for as long as I was, and chasing unrealistic goals, took a heavy toll on me.

My once optimistic and upbeat self was slowly transforming into a quiet, desensitized pessimist.  In layman’s terms, I was becoming an asshole.  Everything I had hoped to accomplish by being perfect had backfired.  I became the exact opposite of what I originally set out to be.  I could feel what was happening to me, but I just didn’t care enough to do anything about it.  I could never be perfect, so what did it matter?

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I wasted years of my life living in this state.  Naturally, I was bound to reach another breaking point.  A combination of multiple family deaths and being fed up with myself overall was enough to initiate a change.  I knew I couldn’t go through life the way I had been any longer, but I didn’t know how to change my mindset.  More importantly, I was scared I’d fall right back into the same cycle I wanted to escape from.

Related Read: How To Overcome Perfectionism and Optimize Your Success

So, I took things slow.  Admittedly, it was not easy.  Once I started to think more optimistically and positive, my quest for perfectionism began to rear its head.  I would slip back into my old habits from time to time, but I wouldn’t beat myself up like I once did.  This was the first key step I was able to make toward balance and launching a healthy battle against perfectionism.

I was able to take a step back and think about what ‘perfect’ and ‘perfectionism’ really mean.  Ultimately, I was able to reach the conclusion that neither is possible.  Based on the definitions I’ve personally created for both words,  everyone in the world would have to agree that something is perfect in order for either term to be achieved.  This is impossible, and I’m okay with that… most of the time.  I created my own definitions to ease my mind when it begins to crave perfectionism.

Related Read: 12 Reads to Help You Understand the Importance of Mental Health as a Creative

Sure, it’s not a perfect system (get it?), but it has helped get me on track to living a positive, healthy life.  I reached out to a few other Gems who have also battled perfectionism to get some tips and advice about ways they combat the issue.  Here’s what they had to say:

Wendy de Jong, founder of The Gratefulist:

Perfectionism is a thought pattern that goes like this: ‘If I do this perfectly or have a perfect life or look perfect, I am in control and therefore people can’t hurt me or see me for who I really am.’ At the root of this thought pattern lies an assumption: that who you really are isn’t enough. No matter what you do. No matter how hard you try.

When you’re in perfectionist mode you operate from a place of lack. Your perspective is that you’re lacking, your life is lacking, the people around you are lacking, the work that you do is lacking. You believe that you are not enough and so is your life and work. You focus on all the things you don’t have, aren’t good at, have failed at…

The fastest and only way to snap out of that place of not enough is to focus on enough and be grateful for the things you do have going for you. Start a daily gratitude list, writing down three things you’re grateful for, and see for yourself how gratitude helps you overcome your perfectionism.

Steffi Keung, owner and designer of Steffi K Jewelry:

Battling perfectionism is an everyday struggle for me.

It becomes so debilitating obsessing over every little detail, and I waste so much time! Even just this week, I stressed out about a custom order for hours. And then after my boyfriend looked at the design for a split second, he pointed out that I completely missed a huge component of the piece! It was something so obvious, yet my brain was jumbled from being so obsessive.

I think it helps to step back and regroup throughout the day. I tell myself that things are a work in progress and things aren’t always going to be perfect. It takes time and practice to keep getting better. Releasing your project into the world- even if it’s imperfect- is better than obsessing so much that nothing ever gets accomplished.

Ashley Beaudin, Heart Encourager + Speaker:

Perfect is a myth and it is an impossible pursuit. It will paralyze you and keep you from your greatness. The key to breaking perfect in your life? Be vulnerable, show the world who you are and see the beauty that exists not just in a result, but in the becoming.

Aubrey Mathis, owner of Today May Suck:

I am a very visual person and this may sound really silly but when I feel the evil perfectionism monster, which is totally different than the lets do things right and work hard mindset, the evil one that must control ALL the things, the one that prevents me from moving forward, yeah that ONE!!! I have stop take a deep breath and literally visualize the word “PERFECTIONISM” in a creepy cookie monster font, (its purple and slim green) then I have to put in a river and watch it float away as I smile and wave because I will be happy even when things are not perfect.

Maggie Giele, Digital Business + Marketing Strategist:

This has been my 2016. Paralysed by fear and not moving forward. I tricked myself into believing I was “working on” something and “improving” stuff – nope, pure perfectionism paralysis.

I had a wake-up call to get moving, and within a few days published two blogs posts, a workbook and started putting a very exciting plan into action. It CAN happen 🙂

Realise that all the content and thoughts and plans you have inside your head are useless to anyone else. They actually need to be out there. No matter how imperfect you think they are, each tiny piece you put out into the world is of value to someone. Done is so much better than perfect.

So take a deep breath, close your eyes and just click publish.

Sarah Elizabeth Lahoud, Writing + Media Coach for Creatives + Entrepreneurs:

It’s possible to not know you’re a perfectionist. Traditional perfectionism shows up as working to the bone to get something just right before putting it out there. But there’s another form of perfectionism that shows up as not working at all because of a fear that any work will prove that fear that we’re not good enough true. Some forms of perfectionism look like procrastination. And it’s the deadlier version because it robs the world of some seriously epic stuff.
So the next time you find yourself procrastinating, ask whether it’s because you’re being lazy or because you’re giving into fear. And allow yourself space to take the next, tiny step, no matter how imperfect, how “not good enough” you think the action.

What struggles have you faced as a result of striving to be perfect?  Do you have any unique tips to share about ways you battle your perfectionism? Share with us in the Facebook Group!

With Inspiration,
Shaun

Photo By: Ju On (Unsplash)
  • Absolutely LOVE all of the gems of wisdom and advice shared in this post! So many of us struggle with perfectionism and these fabulous ladies had some fantastic things to say about how to let go of those perfectionist tendencies. Thank you for continuing to bring this topic to everyone’s attention 🙂