Truthfully, the relationship between perfectionism and anxiety is pretty complicated and one can very easily fuel the other. For example, striving for perfectionism can come as a method of coping with anxieties that then fuels further anxiety by crafting standards that are just too high.
This negative cycle can then continue until the person becomes completely exhausted and fatigued. It is only at this point, where the person can physically and mentally no longer continue to work on the task, that they will stop. Many people who struggle with perfectionism will experience constant self-judgment and always be anxious about the many different ways that they could “fail” in what they are doing.
Now, this is not the mental state that you want to be in — no one wants to constantly feel like they aren’t good enough — so, how can you change it?
How to Overcome Perfectionism
Here are three steps that you can take to help you overcome your perfectionism:
Step One: Recognize It
The first step is learning how to recognize perfectionism. This step can help you to know if you are struggling with perfectionism or if you simply are setting high standards for yourself. There is nothing wrong with high standards, and in many cases, these high standards can help motivate us to do our best, but when those standards get too high they can negatively affect our ability to do work, have healthy relationships, and enjoy life.
So, try answering these questions to find out if you are struggling with perfectionism:
- Am I never meeting my own standards?
- Am I feeling anxious, frustrated, depressed, or angry when trying to meet my standards?
- Do people tell me that my standards are too high?
- Are my standards getting in the way of doing tasks, meeting deadlines, interacting with others, or enjoying my life?
If you find yourself identifying with one or more of these questions you may be struggling with perfectionism that is leading you to not enjoy your life how you may want to.
Step Two: Make Changes
Alright, so now you’ve established that you have a problem with perfectionism and the next step is overcoming it. There are two aspects that you need to make changes to: thinking and behavior.
Great, sounds super easy right? Unfortunately, nothing is ever that easy. Our thinking and behaviors are oftentimes done subconsciously and we need to actively make efforts to change them if we want to overcome perfectionism.
Let’s tackle thoughts first and then we’ll move on to actions after.
Overcoming Perfectionist Thinking
Changing how we think about ourselves and what we achieve can be extremely difficult, but with enough practice and drive, it is 100% achievable. When it comes to shifting our thoughts from being perfect to just doing our best — and that being enough — there are four main types of thinking we can use.
First, is realistic thinking. With this type of thinking, you are working to replace your perfectionist thoughts with more positive realistic statements — such as “no one is perfect” or “making mistakes does not make me a failure, it makes me human.”
Next, is changing your perspective. For example, if your friend was the one who wasn’t “perfect,” would you call them a failure? What would you tell them?
Third, is focusing on the big picture, rather than the details. Ask yourself if what you are worrying about really matters, what the worst possible outcome is, and whether or not that outcome will still matter in a day, week, or year.
Finally, the strategy is compromising. This means setting more realistic — and less black-and-white — standards for yourself.
These shifts can be difficult to make, but they can be incredibly helpful in transitioning your thinking from perfectionist to positive.
Overcoming Perfectionist Behaviors
There are several ways that you can work to overcome the fear of making mistakes. The most effective of these is to expose yourself to these mistakes. Just like any other fear, gradually introducing mistakes can be a great way to help you realize that they are not as bad as you think they are.
You could try leaving a visible area of your home messy, wearing a wrinkled shirt or a piece of clothing with a stain on it, trying a new restaurant without looking at the menu or reviews online first, or even telling people when you are tired or stressed out. There are tons of practices that you could do to begin gently exposing yourself to mistakes and letting yourself be seen as “imperfect.”
Another extremely common behavior of perfectionism is procrastination — which only makes the process more stressful and can cause greater anxiety. This behavior can simply be addressed by creating realistic schedules and breaking down larger projects or tasks into smaller steps that you can tick off your list one by one. Prioritizing certain tasks over others can also help you to understand where your attention is needed most.
Step Three: Reward Yourself
A lot of people might ignore this step but this last step is actually incredibly important. Making the effort to actively change negative behaviors is very hard work and not recognizing that or not taking the time to appreciate your work is undervaluing the effort you are putting in. So, give yourself a treat every once in a while! This can not only be extremely motivating, but it can also really help to positively reinforce being more gentle with yourself.
Now, just because overcoming perfectionism requires a lot of reflecting and conscious re-defining, does not mean that you need to overcome it on your own. Talking to a trusted person, like a therapist, can be an incredibly helpful tool to not only help you stay on track but also help give you new ideas and practices that you can use to overcome your perfectionist tendencies.
So, if you are looking for some external accountability or simply a more personalized strategy to help you overcome your perfectionism, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us at Love Heal Grow.