Many individuals achieve success in life due to their high standards. However, when personal standards include the unrealistic expectation that we need to be perfect at all times in all things, we may be suffering from perfectionism.
Do you fear failure? Are you afraid of changes and new beginnings? Do you feel nothing you do is ever good enough? Are you often indecisive? If the answers to these questions is “yes” then you might be too perfectionistic for your own good. Here are a few realistic ways to manage that relentless urge to be perfect.
1. Stop being your own worst critic
People with perfectionism are unnecessarily hard on themselves. They always criticise their own performance while thinking that other people are judging them harshly as well. It’s important to realise that good enough is sometimes just that—good enough. There is no need to endlessly ruminate about how you could have improved upon a particular task or performance.
It’s one thing to accept constructive criticism, learn from it, and be pro-active about making changes moving forward. But it’s another thing to expect absolutely perfect outcomes from everything and beat yourself up when things fall short of this standard.
2. Recognise irrational thoughts
Many perfectionists hold the core belief that “I have to be perfect, or else I’m a failure.” Evaluate this thought and see if it holds true (spoiler alert: it doesn’t). We all have multiple responsibilities in life, and nobody is perfect in everything every role we play; it’s simply impossible to be the world’s best mom, chef, doctor, sister, friend, etc., all at once.
The more we recognise irrational thoughts like this, the more we are able to reject them and replace them with more rational thoughts that are grounded in reality.
3. Let go of the small things
The mindset of perfectionism often makes people unable to accept and move on from disappointments. They are plagued with nagging thoughts that things could have turned out perfectly if only “I would have done this” or “I should have done that.”
We need to realise that many events in life are only temporary disappointments or setbacks that will not prevent us from achieving our long-term financial, personal, or career goals.
The drive to be perfect obviously sometimes results in positive outcomes. Taken to extremes, however, it can leave you perpetually feeling like a failure. The key is learning when to let go, when to try harder, and ultimately that, sometimes, doing your best really is perfectly good enough.
Dr. Michael Eason is a psychologist and US licensed therapist practicing at MindnLife in Central, Hong Kong.