I’ve written a lot about perfectionism before, but I’ve never explicitly shared my tips on ‘overcoming’ perfectionism.
I think part of the reason is because I don’t feel as though I’ve quite overcome it myself – and I’d hate to write a blog post about how to do something I haven’t actually done! But in the last few months, I feel as though I’ve made significant process. So I thought I’d put this post together to share the things that have helped me the most!
MY 7-DAY PERFECTIONISM CHALLENGE
And I also just want to quickly mention here that I’ve created a 7-day challenge called Get Out Of Your Own Way to help you reach your true potential. When you sign up for the challenge you’ll get instant access to 7 lessons and a 16-page printable workbook that will help you apply everything that I talk about in this blog post! Just click the button below to get the deets and then let’s get into it!
TREAT THE CAUSE
A lot of what I read about perfectionism is focused on how to handle the symptoms (and I’ve written some of these kinds of posts myself). But what’s much more effective is getting to the root of perfectionism. And then working from the inside out.
I always want to keep my advice around perfectionism as helpful as I possibly can, so I’m going to be focusing on the cause of perfectionism, rather than the symptoms.
The cause of perfectionism is both fear (fear of judgement, fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, fear of being alone) and our reaction to that fear. I don’t know that fear will ever completely go away, so what I’m working on doing is two-fold. First of all, I try to change the thoughts that create the fear and the story I’ve told myself about how people will react to the real me. And I also work on managing my reaction to fear, for whenever the fear bubbles up! And I’m going to be talking more about how I do that in this blog post.
But just so you know, some of the symptoms of perfectionism are procrastination, people-pleasing, insanely high standards, abandoning imperfect habits and goals and fear of putting in effort into anything that might not work out (because effort is taken as a sign of inadequacy) – to name just a few!
UNDERSTAND THAT PERFECTIONISM IS A MINDSET
Understanding perfectionism is extremely important – you can’t overcome perfectionism unless you know what it is! I’ve already shared a bit about perfectionism above, but there are a few things that go into understanding what perfectionism looks like for you.
The first part of understanding perfectionism is to become aware that perfectionism is a mindset. Even though I often use the label ‘perfectionist’, it’s not me. Perfectionism is a mindset (thoughts) and I am not my thoughts. And my thought patterns can be changed if I’m willing to do the work (it requires quite a bit of effort to create new neural pathways, but it can definitely be done).
I know that it can be hard to separate our thoughts about our life from the facts about our life. And thoughts will often feel like facts because we’ve had a thought so many times! But I think part of overcoming perfectionism is learning to detach your self-image and self-worth from your thoughts. To observe them and see that they are your current interpretation of reality, rather than reality itself.
I highly recommend meditation as a way to begin to do this (especially using Headspace, as I find this concept is explained so well) or using a technique of ‘noting’ which I talk about in this blog post.
KNOW WHEN PERFECTIONISM IS IN CONTROL
The second part of understanding perfectionism is to become aware of the areas of your life that perfectionism controls, as it’s highly likely that you’re not a perfectionist in all areas!
For example, I don’t have a perfectionist mindset when it comes to sport and fitness. I don’t believe that people are naturally ‘good’ or ‘bad’ at sport and fitness. I believe that sporting talent and skill are cultivated with practice and repetition. This means that, when I’m trying a new sport or when I’m working out, I don’t make a ‘bad’ attempt or slow progress mean that I’m not good enough. Failure is information, rather than a reflection of myself. Which makes it easy to stay consistent and to constantly learn and grow.
When it comes to business, I still find myself struggling with the perfectionist mindset. I still believe that people are either naturally business savvy or not (which is not true or helpful!). And I don’t believe that business savvy can be cultivated with practice and repetition (again, not true not helpful!). Which means that, when I’m writing a blog post, creating a YouTube video or marketing a product, I’ve had a tendency to make a ‘bad’ attempt or slow progress mean that I’m not good enough.
So when it comes to business, I’ve had a tendency to take failure as a reflection of my worth, rather than information. And this has lead me to procrastinate and make a lot of fear-based decisions. Which does not make it easy to stay consistent and does not make it easy to learn and grow (which is why I’m working so hard to create a growth mindset around business).
I don’t have a perfectionist mindset when it comes to relationships. I don’t believe that good relationships are natural and effortless. Yes, I believe two people must have a certain base level of connection. But I believe that all relationships need to be nurtured – no matter how in love and connected those people are! This means that when I ‘fail’ in a relationship I’m willing to take the lessons and move forward. If I had a fixed, perfectionist mindset, I would likely abandon the relationship altogether.
So just have a think about which areas of your life the perfectionist mentality affects: school, business, sport and fitness, relationships. In some of these areas you will believe that success comes from practice and repetition and in some of these areas you will believe that people are naturally and effortlessly good. It’s the areas of your life where you have an expectation of natural ability that your perfectionist mindset will control!
But there’s good news – if you’re not a perfectionist in every area of your life, you already have experience with the kind of thoughts that you need to create a growth mindset. You just need to learn how to apply these types of thoughts (the thoughts that talent and skill come from repetition and practice, rather than natural ability) to the areas of your life where perfectionism is showing up.
MAKE FAILURE YOUR FRIEND
Before I jump into this one, I think that most of us have the intellectual belief that failure is a good thing. We know that failure is an opportunity to learn and we know that every single successful person in the world has had at least a handful of them.
But even though we know it’s helpful and unavoidable, that intellectual belief isn’t enough to override our subconscious (and strongly held) belief that failure is a reflection of our (lack of) worth.
This belief – that everything should be natural and effortless – is what causes so many of us to procrastinate! So I’m beginning to unravel that story by always looking out for evidence of how much effort and hard work successful people have put in to achieve what they’ve achieved today.
Still, in the face of overwhelming evidence, I can catch myself feeling that failure is a reflection of my worth. It’s a work in progress, but I’m definitely beginning to change the way I look at failure and what I make that mean about myself!
FACE THE FEAR OF WASTED EFFORT
Because perfectionists believe that talent and skill comes naturally, we take effort to be an indicator of inadequacy. Which makes us scared to put effort into so many things, even if they’re guaranteed to work (like eating healthy and going to the gym)!
This is why so many of us cram for exams, only do half-assed last minute applications for grad jobs and stop working out as soon as it looks like we might not get results. We’re scared to put in the effort in case it doesn’t work (because as I talked about before, we make failure mean that we’re not good enough).
It can take a while to wrap your mind around this one and I still find myself hesitant to pour hours of my time into something. But I always do my best to remind myself that effort yields skill. And that effort is not a sign of inadequacy.
I also find it helpful to think about what I’d be using all of that ‘saved’ effort for. When the answer is Netflix, I know it’s fear talking! Which doesn’t mean the fear goes away. But when I know it’s fear I’m feeling, it’s a tiny bit easier to push through.
SEE INACTION FOR WHAT IT REALLY IS
For this point, I it’s easiest to share a quote I created for Instagram. Here it is:
GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO BE A BEGINNER
In the last few months, I’ve really started to change my self-talk around being a beginner. As I’ve mentioned, I’m already willing to be a beginner when it comes to sport and fitness because I take failure as information, rather than evidence that I’m not good enough (which means I’m not scared of failing and in fact, I often lean into it).
But when it comes to the business world, I’ve always been very critical of myself. I’ve told myself the story that if I’m going to be good at business then it should come naturally. And that effort is a sign that I’m not good enough. So I’ve often found myself procrastinating when it comes to publishing blog posts, offering products and services, creating videos and basically anything else you can think of – I’m trying to avoid failure and leave myself a feel-good excuse for things not working out!
But in the last couple of months you might have noticed that my production levels have absolutely soared. I’m putting out a blog post every week, no matter what. I’m sending a newsletter every week, no matter what. I’m uploading a YouTube video everyday, no matter what. I’m publishing a podcast episode every week, no matter what.
One thing that’s helped me with so much content production has been raising my standards – I turned my shoulds into musts. But the main thing has been that I gave myself full permission to be a beginner (yes, even with blog posts, which I’ve been writing for 4 years). I took the pressure off myself to put out perfection because I was no longer willing to sacrifice growth.
I know from experience that, if you’re in the perfectionist mindset, you’ll be scared that lowering your expectations of yourself will mean that you’ll start to produce sub-standard work. And it also seems like the best way to drive yourself towards high levels of achievement is with negative self-talk.
But the incredible thing has been that removing my insanely high expectations hasn’t meant that I’ve produced sub-par work and it certainly hasn’t reduced my drive to achieve. Instead, I’ve found that I’ve produced the same standard of work as before, if not better. That what I’m producing is constantly improving. And that taking the pressure off myself and stopping (most of) the negative self-talk has made me want to achieve even more.
The thing that’s important to note here is that you need to be willing to be a beginner for years if not decades. So many of us are willing to be beginners for a few days or weeks or maybe even months. But after we’ve given something a few tries we start to expect more from ourselves. And the negative self-talk kicks back in.
Once we start to connect failure to our self-worth again, the procrastination starts and the goal stops. So I’ve given myself permission to be a beginner for decades to come. And it has given me the creative and mental freedom that will help me grow the fastest!
CREATE EFFORT-BASED GOALS
I’ve spoken about effort-based goals a lot this year. But I need to talk about them again because I’ve found that effort-based goals have been the most helpful tool for getting myself out of the fixed mindset and into the growth mindset.
When I’m talking about effort-based goals (instead of result-based goals), I’m talking about:
- I’m going to go to the gym 6 times this week (instead of: I’m going to get to X% body fat)
- I’m going to eat 3 healthy meals today (instead of: I’m going to lose X kilos)
And this is what it looks like for my business:
- I’m going to upload a new YouTube video everyday (instead of: I’m going to get X YouTube subscribers)
- I’m going to do 2 hours of focused writing (instead of: I’m going to write a perfect blog post)
- I’m going to create something insanely valuable for my readers (instead of: I’m going to make $X)
Of course it’s important to set goals. But once I’ve set a goal, I translate the goal into the effort that will make that goal inevitable. And then I focus on the effort (and don’t constantly ask myself whether it’s ‘working’).
I also find effort-based goals particularly helpful from a life-satisfaction point of view too. The moment we finally achieve a goal is so brief that, unless we can learn to love the process, we’ll constantly be dissatisfied. Particularly because by the time we achieve a goal, we’ve already mentally moved onto the next one!
I talk more about effort-based goals here.
CALL YOURSELF OUT ON YOUR EXCUSES
I know what it’s like to feel like you’re too busy and too exhausted to get anything important done. But I’ve found that calling myself out on these excuses has seriously helped me make progress with overcoming perfectionism.
The thing about these excuses are that they’re hard to call yourself out on because they feel so real. Often we are busy and we are exhausted. But what’s hard to realise is that this can be the result of perfectionism – we’re filling our schedules with unimportant tasks so that we don’t have time for the important stuff. We do this so we can convince ourselves that the reason we haven’t succeeded with the important stuff is because we didn’t have the time or energy, not because we weren’t good enough.
Whenever I find myself feeling too busy or too exhausted to do something important, I try to look at how I’ve been spending my time and energy. And whether I’ve started to self-sabotage by filling my time with the unimportant. It’s easy to fall into self-sabotage so I constantly have to pick myself up on it, but even just catching it every now and then makes a big difference!
So there you have it! I hope you found this blog post helpful.
Get Out Of Your Own Way is a motivational 7-day challenge that will teach you how to overcome perfectionism and reach your full potential. You’ll find step-by-step instructions, inspiring pep talks and thought-provoking exercises to help you stop procrastination, create true self-confidence and become the best version of yourself that you can be. Learn more here.