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Mental health, Personality and self

7 ways to overcome perfectionism

Feeling the pressure to be perfect? Exhausted by your own high expectations? Here’s some pointers if your perfectionism becomes counter-productive…

29 February 2024

Find out what kind of perfectionist you are

Self-orientated perfectionists set extremely high standards for themselves and may be very self-critical, whereas socially prescribed perfectionism arises when an individual perceives significant others as having very high expectations of them, and, to be accepted they must meet these expectations. Read more about the challenges of both types

Ditch the self-blame

Many psychologists would agree that perfectionism can have its roots in developmental experiences – indeed, looking at our parent’s relationship with performance and success can often help us understand why we are trying so hard to ‘get it right’.

Discover when perfectionism gets in the way for you (and when it doesn’t)!

Perfectionism doesn’t always have negative consequences. Psychologist Oliver Stoll and his team discovered that athletes for example, can benefit from perfectionism when they hit the sweet spot of striving for perfection and negative reactions to imperfection

However, when you’re not trying to improve a personal best on your morning run, is perfectionism causing problems at work or in day to day life? Researcher, Paul Flaxman discovered that those of us struggling with self-critical perfectionism can often struggle in our careers, or when we try and take a holiday!  

Watch out for perfectionism’s bedfellow: Procrastination

Procrastination is often the other side of the same coin when struggling with perfectionism. Waiting until you can 'get it right' or ruminating about how to ‘be perfect’ can result in lack of action and stuckness. Back in 2010, Michael Who and his team carried out research with 134 undergrads and found a surprising cure for the negative effects of procrastination. Read more about his findings here.

Give yourself permission to fall in love with failure

Perfectionists often view failure as catastrophic which may be down to the scripts you heard as a child. We explore how our parent's reactions to failure can affect us here and we also take a look at the positives of failure. Re-framing failure is also discussed here between two clinical psychologists and here in a round up of ways to cope when things go wrong.

Find the support that’s right for you

There are hundreds of different therapies that claim to be helpful for perfectionism so it can be useful to have a good awareness of what would suit you. Here we review A Straight Talking Introduction To Therapy which helps us to understand if we are getting what we need from our therapy; and Kal Kseib reflects on what he has learnt from talking to some founders of modern-day psychotherapy approaches. When it comes to re-framing what ‘being perfect’ means for you, ACT and other third-wave therapies can be potential therapeutic options as can finding ways to regulate your nervous system.

Take collective action

Professor Tim Curran is known as The Perfectionism Professor and has written The Perfection Trap: The Power of Good Enough in a World That Always Wants More. He argues that the rise in perfectionism, especially among younger people, needs to be addressed collectively, "We need to recognise the societal structures that are impacting these feelings and confront them," he says. Curran argues that by starting to discuss the pressures and insecurities that can manifest in our lives is a step towards overcoming perfectionism and accepting ourselves for who we are.

- This is just a small selection of our archive content on perfectionism: find more here.