In my first post in this series, I talked about the dark side of perfectionism. If that sounds all too familiar, there is another way. While it can feel difficult to abandon perfectionism entirely, you can learn ways to loosen it’s grip, so that you can spend more time enjoying your life.
As a recap, here’s why the drive for perfection is unhealthy and limiting:
- Perfectionism is rooted in fear. When you’re afraid of making mistakes, you stick to what is safe. You only take on something new when you know you can excel. You overdo everything for fear of making mistakes or being found out.
- Perfectionism is a cover up. Underlying true perfectionism is usually a sense of insecurity. You’re trying to prove yourself as worthy to your parents, your colleagues, society in general, or to yourself. You feel this inner drive to strive to appear “good enough.”
- Perfection is a myth. We think that by constantly striving, we can effort our way into being perfect. In fact, perfectionism is a purely unattainable goal. Sooner or later, you’ll make a mistake. Will you handle it with grace, taking it as a minor setback, or will you be crushed under its weight?
Letting go of perfectionism
Letting go of perfectionism is (unfortunately) not a one-and-done event. It’s a process and doesn’t happen overnight.
Be patient and kind with yourself as you develop new, more supportive habits and beliefs to replace your perfectionistic tendencies.
Here are 12 ways you can free yourself from perfectionism and start enjoying your life:
1. Take note of where perfection is holding you back. Perfectionism is a way of staying safe, a defense mechanism. Because you are always in your locus of control, you don’t put yourself out there, try new things, or take risks. You fear failure (or — even worse — appearing like a failure) so much that you stop trying. What is this costing you?
2. Accept responsibility. Realize that you are the one who puts the pressure on yourself. Think it’s an overbearing parent? A demanding spouse? When you look deeper, you’ll notice that the burden of being perfect is something you’ve willingly accepted. Only when you fully accept responsibility for your life are you able to choose differently.
3. Practice self-compassion. Once you realize how much perfectionism has cost you, you might get down on yourself. Instead of feeling resentment or regret about the things you haven’t done, make a new start. Commit to trying the things you’ve dreamed about, even if (and especially if) they are outside your comfort zone. Forgive yourself for the past and start fresh.
4. Detach from rewards and recognition. As a perfectionist, you love to be recognized for your work. You enjoy receiving the reward, whether it’s a raise, pat on the back, or a verbal acknowledgment. But realize that you don’t need this type of recognition to be a worthy person. Start recognizing yourself as worthy. When the acceptance and love comes from within, you don’t need to keep seeking it outside yourself.
5. Accept yourself as you are today. Constantly striving, you’re likely never happy with your current status. You may succumb to the thinking, “I’ll be happy when______ happens,” whether it’s a better job, a relationship, a new house, more money. Decide to be happy now, as that’s the only path to true freedom. Accept yourself as is — unfinished achievements and all — for who you are, not who you wish you were.
6. Embrace your “failures.” Perfectionists tend to only embrace the “good” parts of themselves. But, what if you embraced the totality of who you are, good and bad? Once you are able to view your perceived failures as learning experiences, you can stop punishing yourself. Every mistake or misstep has a purpose, even if it’s purely to teach you that something is not for you.
7. Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness means checking in with yourself and being aware of your experiences. One way to tap into mindfulness is through meditation. Meditation allows you the unique opportunity to quiet your mind. You’ll sharpen your awareness of your thoughts, without being so reactive to them. To learn more, read this post on mindfulness for more.
8. Try experimenting and taking risks. Make a decision to stop running from your fear and face it. Once you conquer your fears, they no longer control you. Start experimenting by taking small risks. Find little ways to get outside your comfort zone. Apply for the job you’re not 100% qualified for. Take a class on something you’re curious about but feel intimidated by.
9. Look for joy in the process and not the outcome. If you’re putting off happiness until you achieve the perfect outcome, you’re wasting a lot of time. Measure your life in joy, not in outcomes. Look for ways to find joy and celebrate the small moments, rather than waiting until the big prize at the end.
10. Constantly remind yourself, you are enough. At the center of perfection is the inner belief: I’ll never be enough. It’s at the core of why we constantly strive to be perfect. We think that once we’re perfect, we’ll be enough. When you learn to strengthen your self-belief, you can let go of striving and embrace who you are.
11. Practice letting go. Changing your thoughts and actions is a practice. You might start with these practices and feel great, only to feel the perfectionist creeping in the next time you are faced with a new challenge. Anytime you feel the grip of perfection taking hold, you can become aware of it, and choose to let it go.
12. Focus on self-care. Developing a self-care practice benefits you mentally and physically. When you take care of yourself, you feel better about yourself. You demonstrate that you value your well-being. Here are 10 tips to help you include self-care in your day.
If you choose just one of these practices to focus on for each day or each week, you’ll find yourself more willing and able to let go of perfectionism. You’ll start embracing your true nature, and in turn, you’ll experience more joy.
To learn more about freeing yourself from perfectionism, download this free tool: 10 mantras to make peace with perfection.