In previous articles, we have discussed the disadvantages of striving for flawlessness or perfection. Perfectionism may lead to exhaustion or stagnation, and it can hinder learning and development, impede progress, and cause procrastination, anxiety, and stress. If you recognize signs of perfectionism in yourself (✋), then what can you do about it?
First, a disclaimer: I am not a psychologist. Approach these suggestions as common-sense ideas, not definitive truths.
These are the methods I have used to start overcoming my own perfectionism (and imposter syndrome). The process has taken seven years, so there are no quick fixes. Nevertheless, each step has eased the journey in its own way, and taking action has felt better than remaining stagnant. That’s why I dare to recommend these strategies to others as well.
Increase your understanding of the subject
A crucial step for me in developing a healthier approach to work and doing things has been realizing what is going on within me. The more I have learned about imposter syndrome, perfectionism, demandingness, and their interconnections, the better I have understood my harmful behaviour and thought patterns.
Key sources on this journey have been:
- Valerie Young: “The Secret Thoughts of Successful Women – Why Capable People Suffer from the Impostor Syndrome and How to Thrive in Spite of It”
- Carol Dweck: “Mindset – The New Psychology of Success”
- Brené Brown: “The Gifts of Imperfection”
Talk about it
Shameful or difficult topics tend to gain more power the more we keep silent about them. When I started talking about my own feelings with others, I noticed that:
- I am not alone; many others struggle with the same issues.
- Others have good ideas, experiences, and insights on the subject.
- Acknowledging my vulnerabilities seems to ease the pain of others and vice versa.
- We tend to get stuck on our own thoughts. Discussing with others enhances our thinking.
- It is easier to be compassionate toward others than toward yourself.
Therefore, I recommend openly discussing perfectionism and imposter syndrome with others. The more we think we are alone, the more desperate the situation may feel. Having a peer group makes things easier.
Seek professional help
In addition to talking about these issues with the people close to you, I also recommend seeking help from a mental health professional. You don’t have to be crazy to go to therapy. And you don’t need to have a life-altering crisis to benefit from talking to a therapist, a psychologist, a mentor, a counsellor, or even a coach.
I have used representatives from all of the above professional fields to support my own process, and each has been beneficial in different ways. Currently, I am taking care of my mental well-being with an excellent psychologist-coach from Laavu Performance (not a sponsored ad).
Our mind is our most important tool, so shouldn’t we take good care of it? If you have the opportunity, make use of all available professionals to develop your own mind.
Practice self-compassion and self-acceptance
A key method to manage your perfectionism is to practice self-compassion, self-forgiveness, and self-acceptance. All of these strengthen self-esteem, making it much easier to tolerate imperfection, incompleteness, and mistakes. No matter how much we strive for perfection, we are not and will never be perfect.
I practice self-compassion by asking for feedback. There was a time when I avoided feedback because I feared that I wasn’t enough. Now, whenever possible, I ask for feedback and delight in the opportunity to practice. I have learned to separate my self-worth from the value of my work. I have learned to develop myself and grow – and nevertheless believe that I am already enough as I am.
The surprising effects of softness
Initially, I had a terrible fear that if I didn’t constantly expect the best from myself and if I weren’t demanding, nothing would work out. I would become a lazy underachiever and would spend my days making excuses for myself. However, that has not been the case.
On the contrary, I am in many ways a better professional than I used to be. I am more efficient when I no longer demand perfection in everything. I get more things done. I’m better at receiving feedback. The process of development and growth is joyful, not compulsive. I can laugh at myself. I am more compassionate toward others as well. I don’t stress as much; I feel lighter, and I no longer need antacids.
This journey is ongoing and may never be finished. I still have not completely rid myself of perfectionism and imposter syndrome (not even now). However, they come and visit much less frequently nowadays, and their hold on me is lighter. I have learned that despite the tendencies of perfectionism and imposter syndrome in me, I am something else. Much more.
And so are you.
TL;DR How to get rid of perfectionism?
- Study the subject to understand what it’s about.
- Talk about perfectionism and imposter syndrome with others.
- Seek help from a mental health professional (a therapist, a psychologist, a mentor, a counsellor, or a coach).
- Practice self-compassion, self-forgiveness, and self-acceptance.
- Believe that being demanding toward yourself doesn’t help you become better.
- Instead, gentleness and self-compassion will help you grow and learn.