How can we overcome perfectionism?

What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is the attitude of getting absolutely everything right. Thus, it is also self-sabotaging.

In trying to be right we nit-pick everything around us and this overly critical nature seeps into all areas of our lives.

This makes it difficult for other people to be around us and even more difficult for us to be at peace with ourselves. To understand how can we overcome perfectionism we first have to understand why do we have it.

Why do we have perfectionism?

It is very easy to imagine an ideal scenario. To execute that ideal scenario in reality is incredibly difficult however.

Our perfectionism comes from the difference between those two.

We either underestimate the difficulty of bringing something in reality or overestimate our own potential.

Thus, perfectionism exists between our visions of perfection coupled with average reality of our lives.

overcome perfectionism

The major problem doesn’t lie with the idea of achieving perfection; it lies with the underestimation of the effort one has to put in to achieve said perfection.

Correctly estimating the complexity of the task to overcome perfectionism

When we can correctly identify the complexity of a task, we do not fret over the insignificant progress made by our efforts in the beginning.

We see those as stepping stones to more progress in the future. The problem arises when we blame our own limited potential or lack of talent for the meagre progress and give in to fatalism at the very start of our journey.

It isn’t about aiming high rather it is about the need for instant gratification.

We still haven’t estimated the level of commitment that went into a successful creative work.

the perfect advise

The modern world that flaunts perfection

Nowadays, everything that is beautiful is held to a pedestal as it should be, however in doing so the modern world is flaunting perfection.

We just see and adore the end products and fail to realize that those end products weren’t only a result of talent.

No one is born in this world with that level of skill. It takes countless years of practice to achieve the necessary skill to create a masterpiece.

We would not be demanding perfection from our first few tries if we knew what first few drafts of famous authors or first attempts of a successful painter looked like.

If we focus on that we might make our first few important steps to overcome perfectionism

Perfectionism leeches happiness away

overcome perfectionism

A person who is overly critical of everything around him can never be happy.

This does not mean that we stop striving for improvements.

However, we must be willing to recognize the things that are within our control which we can work on.

A perfectionist wastes a lot of mental energy worrying about things that he cannot control and thus is always miserable thinking about how bad everything around him is.

This problem with perfectionism also points to a greater problem of people not being able to accept reality. 

In life, we must be able to accept things as they are and act accordingly. One who can’t let go of their ideal way of how things should be finds it difficult to have contentment in life.

A way to give in to passivity

Perfectionism is a trick of the mind. A way to give in to passivity. You can see it in the complacency of one time winners.

The person gives incredible time and effort thinking on every other thing that can or might be wrong instead of diligently working on the task.

This way, all his mental capacities are engaged in restricting progress.

In our article on the internal critic we show how when we are pursuing tasks that focus on present pain and delayed gratification, the critic tries to talk us out of putting in an effort.

It instead points towards the task that provides us with instant gratification.  

This shows us how perfectionism is just a subtle attempt of our mind at procrastination.

Growth Vs Fixed Mind-set

Dr. Carol Dweck in her amazing ted talk shows us how a person with a fixed mindset has a core belief that his basic attributes are fixed.

Such a way of thinking leads them to believe that they are incapable of improvement and thus what they have now is all they will ever have.

A person with a growth mindset however believes that he or she is just at the starting point and can improve over time with the help of effort and assistance.

Where a person with a growth mindset will focus on learning and improving on his or her flaws, a person with a fixed mindset will engage in perfectionism.

Thus, he will forever try to keep plugging holes and live in the fear of chaos.

He will always be anxious that he is never enough. People with both mindsets might believe that they are striving for perfection.

The people with a fixed mindset will always give into self-critical tendencies and end up in determinism thinking whereas people with growth mindsets will always strive to improve and look at the areas they failed at as places they can work on.

You can read much more about it in our blog on Growth Mindset.

Analysis paralysis

Due to the incredible amount of information available to all of us all the time, it becomes much difficult to make decisions.

Because we have an abundance of choices, we get overwhelmed and cannot figure out where to start.

Overcome perfectionism

When we try to get the right option, we can go down a rabbit-hole and spend hours and hours only to find out later that there was an even better option we failed to look at.

I am sure you might have gone through this arduous process while thinking of buying a new smartphone or more importantly deciding which major to choose in college.

People trying to achieve perfectionism try to prevent themselves from any regret in the future and end up wasting their much valuable time in the present; stuck and unable to make any decision.

How can we overcome perfectionism?

Following are the steps you can take to overcome perfectionism.

  1. Only compete with yourself
  2. Avoid high expectations
  3. Enjoy the process
  4. Accept your weaknesses
  5. Understand that all choices are incomplete
  6. Keep the momentum rolling
  7. Start today

1) Only competing with yourself-

When you try to compete with others, you are only focused on results.

A way of life like that will be extremely harsh on you since it will make you feel terrible every time you cannot be the best and unbothered by the times you succeed.

This will also discourage true learning and instead promote an attitude of taking short cuts whenever possible.

Children that only care about scoring well on exams do not mind cheating or mugging up things to get a high score.

The only way to achieve long-term growth is to compete with yourself and improve where you are lacking.

2) Avoid high expectations to overcome perfectionism-

You cannot expect to pick up a pen and paper and write a masterpiece on your first attempt.

As we saw at the beginning of the article, Perfectionism is often a result of ignorance of the complexity of the task in front of us.

This does not mean you do not have big goals.

We can have big goals and work towards them but having realistic expectations helps us stay on the path with high motivation and drive.

Have big goals and work your heart out to achieve them, at the same time learn from your failures and pivot the direction of your efforts accordingly.

3) Enjoy the process to overcome perfectionism-

This is so obvious and yet most people do not realize how powerful a process-oriented approach is.

Know the task and perform it to the best of your ability. Realize that no matter how good you performed there is always a scope of improvement.

That is the secret behind the unreal skills of most successful people. 

They are obsessed with the process and spend most of their time learning what they can do better. As the famous quote on failure goes-

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

― Samuel Beckett

4) Accept your weakness to overcome perfectionism-

The great slave stoic philosopher Epictetus has a powerful quote –

“If anyone tells you that a certain person speaks ill of you, do not make excuses about what is said of you but answer, “He was ignorant of my other faults, else he would not have mentioned these alone.”

― Epictetus

Do not run away or justify your weaknesses, accept them.

They are a part of you too. If you constantly live in denial, you will be forever stuck on the level you are. Only by acceptance can the journey to improvement begin.

5) Choices are incomplete-

At any given moment, the amount of data that you can consider is infinite. Life is nuanced and it isn’t a simple right or wrong as in a maths problem.

You can spend years contemplating a choice and yet you will still miss plenty of variables.

Say you could consider all of them, the time might have changed and the things that were relevant before are no longer relevant.

Thus, we need to understand that at most times in life, it is all right to go with the best judgment you have at the time.

Accept the choice you made and do not regret the past. You did the best you could with the knowledge you had. After all, you made it this far. 😀

6) Keep the momentum rolling to overcome perfectionism –

In our blog on ‘long-term philosophy’,  we talk about the compound effect by Darren Hardy

He talks about how the consistent and principled actions we take compound over each other and generate momentum.

Just by being consistent in the small steps we take, we can achieve exponential results in the long term.

For example, If you woke up early you are much more likely to exercise.

If you exercise you are much more likely to have confidence in the upcoming day.

Having more confidence is much more likely to lead to a positive outcome during the day.

Having a positive day you are much more likely to be in a positive mood when you greet your family at night. And this is just one day.

7) Start today-

Do not think that you will start someday. That is how perfectionism thinking takes over.

Instead of acting someday on the goals you have, make that someday today.

Do the bare minimum you can, but act. No amount of planning can control the future. 

Instead, by acting today on the things you want to achieve, you become proactive and take back control of your life.

In Conclusion-

Perfectionism is just a way of the critic in our mind to keep us in our comfort zone and away from the relentless task of fighting our resistance.

It is thus important that we understand it and start working consciously to improve ourselves.

This week try to take small steps and recalibrate your expectations to realistic levels.

Pick up a hobby that you wanted to try or try to improve on an area you know where you lack.

Small steps are your friends because they train you to take giant leaps in the future.

We urge you to explore what your callings are. Do you possess the courage to chase them?

We provide a free eBook called The perfect beginning that might help you in finding those callings.

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Well, that’s all for this post. Have a good day and a good life.