How to Manage Perfectionism

Perfectionism can be a big challenge. It typically affects individuals who set high personal standards for themselves, or who are trying to adhere to high standards set by their families or cultures. Perfectionism may seem like the polar opposite of procrastination, but they are really two sides to the same coin. Both habits hinge on the fear of failure and a lack of self-confidence.

Wanting to excel personally or professionally is an admirable goal. However, when the desire to do well becomes an obsession or prevents individuals from following through with daily activities, it can become a problem. In these cases, perfectionism can actually increase the chances of failure, which cyclically reinforces self criticism and can lead to a doubling down on perfectionist tendencies.

If you find yourself struggling with perfectionism, here are three simple ways to address the issue head on and give yourself some breathing room.

  1. Practice self compassion. Self compassion is a way to find acceptance of self even in the midst of struggle and failure. Through self-compassion we view all our actions and decisions as “the best we can do ” and are able to release judgment and self criticism.
  2. Practice failure. It may seem counterintuitive, but some individuals need failure exposure therapy. If you haven’t had a lot of experience with failure, chances are it will be scarier to you and you will take more extreme measures to avoid it. Practice intentionally failing in small ways so you can teach your nervous system that failing is okay and not the end of the world.
  3. Give your perfectionism an outlet. If you are an organized, detail oriented person who gets upset when things don’t go as planned, give those traits an outlet for expression. Instead of applying perfectionism to school or work, try choosing a hobby where you can practice precision in an entertaining way that won’t get in the way of making progress in your daily life.