How Not to be a Perfectionist

by | Feb 15, 2012

In order to not be a perfectionist, we must first define what being a perfectionist is and explain why this is an unattainable goal. A perfectionist is someone who thinks that no matter what they do, it is never good enough. Striving to be perfect can be an enormous source of anxiety. Perfectionists often think they need to be perfect to avoid what they assume others will think of them if they\’re not. They also fear disappointing others. Allowing people to see the real “us” is terrifying. What if they realize what frauds and failures we really are?

Perfectionism is not an entirely bad thing. We should attempt to do our best in every situation, but at the same time we need to accept that we are human. Obsessing over minor mistakes or avoiding things we enjoy but cannot master, however, is not productive. Perfectionists often attempt at all costs to avoid making mistakes. Since mistakes are part of life and unavoidable, a perfectionist may frequently beat herself up over the slightest infractions. A perfectionist might not even realize that when we make mistakes they are our greatest learning opportunities.

So how do we avoid perfectionism? Here are four ways:

  1. First, we must accept ourselves for who we are. This includes understanding that perfection is neither attainable nor desirable. The adage “Perfect is the enemy of the good” is something to keep in mind. Fear of our inability to do something perfectly can prevent us from ever completing, or even starting, a task. Learning to accept our best based on our own criteria rather than our assessment of what other people expect is a good place to start. Many perfectionists try to make everyone else happy by attempting to do too much. Setting realistic expectations is another thing to keep in mind.
  2. We must try not to put too much energy into minor tasks.Completing an inconsequential task to perfection is an enormous waste of time and effort that is better applied to more important things. We need to take realistic views of our responsibilities and accept that “good enough” is truly good enough. Accomplishing a task, for some, is the first step. Some people have never finished anything due to perceived imperfections. Perfectionism kills creativity and productivity. High standards are OK, but they must be realistic. We can learn to give ourselves credit for our accomplishments and achievements and accept that mistakes are part of life.
  3. Treating ourselves the way we treat others is often a place to start. Many perfectionists are much harder on themselves than they are on anyone else in their world. We should try to not hold ourselves to higher standards than we have for other people. Don\’t be afraid to ask for help.
  4. Changing our self talk is another step in the right direction. By identifying the negative thoughts we say to ourselves and replacing them with positive thoughts, we can begin to change how we think and feel about ourselves. By being easier and more compassionate on ourselves we can learn to be more realistic about our expectations of ourselves, thus reducing our anxiety and stress. And we will see that the world will not come to an end.


Making mistakes is the best learning experience we have. In doing so, we keep growing and improving. By accepting the reality of our limitations we give ourselves permission to be less than perfect and at the same time, new goals to achieve. Continually expecting perfection, but being human, we set ourselves up for constant failure. This can lead to feelings of failure and humiliation, resulting in depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances.

Imperfection is what makes us human; interesting and unique. Lately I\’ve watched advertisements for “To The Cloud” photography applications by Microsoft, and wondered why we want “perfect” pictures. All my favorite photos are the ones with stories behind them, which do not lend themselves to perfection. If perfection was attainable, and many of us achieved it, what a boring world this would be!


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