I never took the possibility of being a perfectionist seriously, never really considered myself as one. But after putting a ridiculous amount of effort on school assignments last week that weren’t even worth much to begin with — especially at the expense of my own happiness, well-being and personal goals — I realized that I did have hints of perfectionism. I also realized how detrimental it could be.
Perfectionists are often mistaken for hard workers, but there’s a profound difference. Hard workers work hard because they choose to; perfectionists work hard because they they have to. Hard workers focus on effort (they’re satisfied, as long as they do their best); perfectionists focus on results (they aren’t satisfied until they get perfect results). Even then, their satisfaction is short-lived and temporary. They lack a permanent sense of peace and self-worth that gets them through anything; instead, their security is threatened by circumstance and always subject to change.
In short: Perfectionism is NOT worth it.
Here are 5 ways to overcome perfectionism. Hope they help!
1) Re-assess your sources of validation.
Perfectionists usually place their sense of worth on external factors. The extent to which they can respect themselves depends on how well they do in school, whether or not they get that job promotion, who accepts them and who doesn’t, or whether or not they have a bad hair day. Their desire to perfect everything is driven by the fear that one bad move will mean they’re a failure as a human being.
The problem with this is that it provides no permanence; external factors are always changing. What we really need is an unshakable sense of self-worth, the knowledge that we are valuable no matter what. Job loss, break-ups, mistakes — none of these matter because we’ll get through it in the end.
So place your source of validation on internal factors (like belief in oneself) rather than on external factors. But most of all, have faith in who God says you are: if there’s anyone who knows your true worth, it’s the One who made you. God is the most unchanging, consistent, truthful, and loving source of all, for He is the source of ALL things.
2) Be clear about what you REALLY want in life.
A common tendency for perfectionists is to try to do EVERYTHING well, expending the same maximum amount of effort on ALL tasks.
Not only is it impossible to do 100% well in absolutely EVERYTHING, one might not actually want to do that. Who wants to spend their life doing things that don’t even matter to them in the long run? The trick is not to to do EVERYTHING, which leads to burn-out, but to spend more time doing things that are actually meaningful to you.
So rather than putting the most valuable tasks in the back-burner as you try to tackle everything else that presents itself to you, prioritize your most important and fulfilling tasks. Rather than stretching yourself thin by putting the same amount of effort in everything, put most of your effort on things that matter to you the most. There is such thing as “doing everything” but “accomplishing nothing” — and you don’t want that.
3) Realize that mistakes aren’t the Big Bad Wolf. Dare to make them.
Perfectionists are often driven by the belief that mistakes are permanent, un-fixable, and catastrophic. They may also believe that mistakes define who they are and what they’re worth. Though mistakes can be powerful, they don’t have the power to do that.
What mistakes do have the power to do is to strengthen you, to make you wiser, more resilient, and more capable — if you choose it. Their power to ‘build you up’ or ‘break you down’ depends solely on you.
While we certainly should do all we can to avoid making mistakes, we should also realize that it’s not the end of the world if we do make them. It’s part of the human experience, and can be necessary for growth and learning. Life is not meant to be lived on tiptoe, constantly afraid of making a mess. It should be lived to its fullest, which means experiencing the joys and pains of overcoming mistakes.
Dare to make mistakes and realize that you have what it takes to learn from them and move on.
4) Focus on intrinsic rather than extrinsic rewards.
Perfectionists often prioritize tasks that lead to extrinsic rewards — things like money, grades, or the avoidance of punishment, which are external to us. However, extrinsic rewards are completely subject to the evaluation of other people to judge whether or not we can receive them. Too much emphasis on extrinsic rewards can lead to feeling as if our lives are a product of someone else’s expectations, rather than of doing what we actually want to do.
So start focusing on tasks that are intrinsically rewarding to you — tasks you’d do simply for the love of it, even if you never received external recognition or payment for them. These are tasks that are inherently rewarding because you enjoy them or are passionate about them. When you focus on doing these things, you’ll be much happier. No longer are your efforts directed at pleasing others, but at enjoying in the task at hand.
5) Redefine your idea of “progress.”
Some people latch onto perfectionism because they want to feel like they are progressing in life — which is totally normal and even healthy. However, a person’s conception of what “progress” is can dramatically determine whether or not they feel fulfilled at the end of the day, or how hard a person is towards themselves.
The key is to reward effort rather than results. If your definition of progress is getting results, you might feel disappointed when you don’t get them immediately, regardless of your best efforts. But when your definition of progress is effort, you’ll suddenly you feel much more satisfied with the work you’ve done, regardless of the results.
So that’s it! The transition from “perfectionism” to becoming a genuinely “hard worker” takes effort, but it’s well worth it. Cheers!