Photo by Kat Jayne on

Don’t Let Perfectionism Ruin your Day. Or Your Life.

Aiming to be perfect every time is not practical. Photo by on

You’re here because you’ve been there.

You know that all too often, your desire to get something exactly right has prevented you from getting the thing done at all.

Perfectionism has kept you from completing important work, caused you to miss deadlines or to lose sleep, and – worst of all – it has sometimes kept you from starting important projects.

This has led you to deeply doubt yourself and your skills.

And while other people’s criticism stings, you know that you are your own sharpest critic.


Perfectionism Defined

Popular culture and popular opinion suggests that perfectionism looks … well, perfect. A perfectionist is a person who is compelled to pay close attention to every detail and unable to rest until they see a project as perfect.

There is no good enough, says this myth, so perfectionists are great people to have on your team at work, or to help you plan an important event.

However, the truth is far more complex.

The compulsion to get everything perfect often derives from a very critical inner voice. This inner voice does not always drive the perfectionist to joyfully create serenity through attention to detail.

Instead, perfectionism often is rooted in or causes internal turmoil. And sometimes even starting a task can feel impossible.

Perfectionism can cause internal turmoil. Photo by Kat Jayne on


How perfectionism hurts you

Perfectionism brings with it a host of unwelcome friends:

  • An “all-or-nothing” approach to doing everything
  • Depression in always seeking the unattainable
  • Paralyzing fear of failure
  • Defensiveness about the quality of everything you do
  • Low self esteem
  • An inability to start, because you fear catastrophe

These feelings that accompany perfectionism can be more than annoying. They can impact your work performance, your friendships, and your romantic life. They can even encroach on your hobbies and pastimes, shaping every moment of your waking and not-sleeping nights.

These consequences or side effects of perfectionism can cloud your judgement.

Most perfectionists can recall childhood experiences of screaming in frustration and being unable to deal with a situation that peers and their parents thought was no big deal.

This experience might have looked like running out of a room and hiding in a closet or other close space. Or it might have looked like curling up in a ball right in that spot unable to react.

In adulthood, you may have learned to hide it better, but it is still there. You might still routinely fight the urge to flee or faint. The energy you spend controlling these urges could be better spent on the project or the situation in front of you.

You wrestle with it, you usually win.


How perfectionism helps you

However, perfectionism is not necessarily a curse. You know that there are some seriously beneficial side-effects:

  • People’s compliments really help you feel good about your work
  • When you say a project is done, it is done beyond others’ expectations
  • When you say a project is done, it is GOOD
  • You have completed projects in the past that bring you joy just thinking of them
  • You sometimes have superhuman energy and stamina
  • You can see details that others miss
  • Your friends rely on you and your assessment of a wide range of things

Many perfectionists make sort of a brand of their perfectionism. They have a small group of friends whose input they value. More importantly, they value the input of the small group of friends. They have good taste and high standards and do you fit together well.

When you are hitting on all cylinders, you find yourself in line for promotions at work. You can look back at a long string of successful academic experiences.

Most importantly, you have a clear set of goals that you are working toward on a regular basis. You know what you want the future to look like. This is a sort of clarity that many other people would love to have.


Harness your inner perfectionist

Perfectionism does not have to be your enemy any longer. A few quick steps can help you get over the roadblocks that you perfectionism creates.

  1. Recognize and acknowledge the perfectionist tendencies in you at the start of a project. Tell yourself that you want the work to be good, but it does NOT have to be perfect.
  2. Set a reasonable time frame in which to do each part of the project. When you reach that time marker, if the project works (say, if the paragraph is done but it is not “perfect”) move forward anyway.
  3. Enlist a friend to help you past those moments when you stop working. Give them permission to ask you, “What is wrong, what do you see?” or to say to you, “That looks really good.” Then let their praise propel you to move forward.
  4. Utilize a final check for your work that includes a place for you to list or note imperfections. Celebrate them, or at least work to let them go.


Screen Shot 2019-03-15 at 6.38.29 PMSometimes, however, perfectionism can seriously interfere with your functioning. When this happens, it can help to talk with a counselor or therapist. This person can help you practice with some tools to prevent perfectionism from holding you back.

These practices can work over the phone, too. If you are interested in talking, help can be just a phone call away. Contact Sakina or your own therapist to schedule an appointment today.

Or read our blog for advice to assist with goal setting, parenting, or other relationship challenges.

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