How to Let Go of Perfectionism

November 30, 2021
Shanna Windle

If you are one of my beloved Type A friends or clients, you are no stranger to perfectionism. Perfectionism is often defined as the need to be or appear to be perfect.  It is different from being a high-achiever, however, many high-achievers have perfectionistic tendencies.  Perfectionists strive for excellence and flawlessness but with unattainably high standards.  They are generally motivated by fear and paralyzed by the idea of failure.  Perfectionism can cause a loss of self-esteem and sense of peace.  It can also lead to a ton of negative emotions including stress, anxiety, feelings of inadequacy, etc, and for these reasons, it is important to let go of perfectionism.  Instead, how about striving for excellence without compromising your mental health?  Read on for some tips on how to begin to let go of the desire to be “perfect.”  

How to Let Go of Perfectionism

Try New Hobbies

The fear of failure can be all consuming sometimes, so if you feel you are struggling with perfectionism, trying out a new hobby can be just what the proverbial doctor ordered.  Hobbies are a great way of changing things up and finding the joy in life.  They’re an area that we don’t have to be “perfect” in, we get to just be ourselves, enjoying the activity that brings us happiness.

Practice Being Vulnerable

Mistakes are a normal part of life, we all make them.  But it can be hard if you are stuck in a perfectionistic mindset to admit to our loved ones that we messed up.  Or perhaps a mistake wasn’t made, but you think that by showing a weakness or shortcoming you have, someone might see you as less than perfect because of it.  The biggest antidote to these situations?  Practice being vulnerable.  Admit you’re wrong when you’re wrong.  You’d be surprised how quickly relationships heal with this simple admission.  Show someone you love and trust your fears or weaknesses.  The likelihood is they will love you even more for trusting them with this precious information.

Do Small Things Imperfectly and on Purpose

I can hear a resounding, “WHHHAAAAAATTTTTT????!!!!!,” even from the crowds in the back.  I’m not saying you should lower the standards of your work product, but when we do small things throughout our day imperfectly with the intention of imperfection, we begin to retrain our brain and nervous system to be okay with imperfection.  The world is not going to end if you intentionally mess up your morning latte art, I promise you.  But the more you practice this, what you will start to find is a lowering of your cortisol levels while also a potential creative boost.

Be Kind and Compassionate to Yourself

This is a hard concept even for those of us who are not perfectionists, so I get it!  We can be our own worst critics with mistakes or missteps that we make throughout our lives.  The kinder and more compassionate we can be with ourselves will start to heal the negative mental health issues that perfectionism can cause.  Pay attention to your self talk – or the inner critic as I like to call it.  When you hear that inner critic starting to rear its ugly head, meet it with kindness and compassion.

Look to Yourself for Validation

So often in life we can look to others to validate us.  It starts with the relationship with have with our parents or caregivers at a young age and evolves depending on how we are raised.  The need to “prove” ourselves either academically or athletically early in life in order to receive love can actually have a negative impact on us later in life.  This is where being our own parent to that inner child within us comes in handy.  When we give ourselves the validation we are looking for from others, we redirect that external locus of control back inside ourselves (where it needs to remain).  Looking to others for validation will always be problematic because there is a high likelihood those people are consumed with their own “stuff” and will be unable to validate you in the ways you seek validation.  As you become aware of this tendency, you can make validation an “inside job.”

Set Attainable Goals and Expectations

There is absolutely a time and place for dreaming big and reaching for the stars.  However, chopping those dreams into bite size-actionable pieces is very important for our own sense of success.  When we set goals or expectations that are way out of line with where we are presently, and without a real plan with how we are going to reach them, the inability to attain those goals leaves us feeling like a failure.  So just like our parents had to cut up our food into bite size pieces so we didn’t choke when we were little, structure your goals and expectations in bite size pieces so you can feel accomplished and celebrate as you make progress in this part of your life.

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