Letting go of perfectionism: how to do it?

What to do with your perfectionism?

Perfectionism: how to get rid of it? Your perfectionist pattern is probably firmly rooted in your thoughts and feelings, coloring how you perceive the world and what choices you make. Can you change that? Can that be unlearned? Fortunately, yes. The good news is that you can develop a different way of thinking and acting. However, this does not happen automatically. You must take action in order to achieve results.

In this blog, read the ten skills that will help you let go of perfectionism (from the book The Perfection Paradox). Below you will find a download that you can use as a handy reminder.

1. Check your ideal pictures

The ideal pictures in your mind that your perfectionist striving is focused on, are full of unachievable goals and expectations. About how you want to be seen or at least how you don’t want to be seen. Letting go of those ideal pictures will not be easy. These pictures are unfortunately far too explicitly present in our lives, advertising and social media. So what can you do?

– Be aware of the situations in which you are prone to these ideal pictures, because that is when you are especially vulnerable to fall into the perfectionism trap.
– Then check those ideal images. What is actually the level of reality of what you consider in your mind to be the norm? Are there people who always and everywhere deliver flawless work? Is there someone around you who is always happy at work? Do you know people who never fuss with their partner? Do you ever see real people who have no wrinkles or spots or outgrowths at all?

2. Chop up your goals

Are you embarking on a new job or an assignment that demands a lot from you? As a perfectionist, you run the risk of becoming paralyzed by the scope of the job and the need to execute every part flawlessly. Start from the beginning by breaking each new project into small pieces. Each part is a small step toward the end result.

Divide a large assignment into small pieces and communicate about it with others to avoid procrastination.

Make a list of actions for each intermediate step and agree with your colleague, client, customer or supervisor what these intermediate steps are and when they will be completed. Be bright and clear to others as well as to yourself: the intermediate results will not be perfect. After all, they serve as part of a larger whole. By definition, a concept is an unfinished product. By dividing a large assignment into small pieces and communicating about it with others, you help yourself avoid procrastination.

3. Develop a growth mindset

Carol Dweck, professor of psychology at Stanford University, researched differences in mindset between people. She discovered that there are people with a fixed mindset, who are convinced that their success depends on innate ability. These people are afraid to fail because it would say something about who they are. In addition, there are those with a growth mindset. These people assume that you can develop skills by practicing and learning from your mistakes. This attitude helps to see mistakes not as personal failures, but as a way to grow and develop. For recovering perfectionists, that helps keep your focus on the process.

A fixed mindset can be recognized by word usage that is focused on results: “That was smart of me. A growth mindset can be recognized by language that says more about the process that has been gone through: ‘I did my best for that’. A growth mindset leads to a life with less stress, and it can help perfectionists see a chore or a task as an opportunity to learn and develop, rather than as an accomplishment or a goal to achieve.

4. Flex your courage muscle

Is there something you would love to do but avoid for fear of failure? Maybe you always wanted to join a choir. Or you would like to write poetry. Do you perhaps want to move into leadership? Or do you dream of owning your own business, but don’t take the step, because you feel insecure and fear that things will go wrong. Perfectionism can cause covert dreams and desires to never materialize for fear of failure.

Give yourself the opportunity to learn as well as fail.

What you need is courage. The courage to experiment without the guarantee of success. You can build that courage. It works like a muscle, a courage muscle. Every time you do something exciting and new you build up a little courage. A little bravery, just like a muscle that gets a little stronger each time after a workout. You do not need to start right away with the most exciting thing in your life, but rather experiment with something small. Give yourself the opportunity to learn as well as fail. Your courage muscle develops with each experiment because you learn to tolerate the discomfort and uncertainty that come with doing something new.

5. Live your values

A life with choices based on your own values is a valuable life. The more clear you are about what is important to you, the less you will be distracted by the expectations of others. You can think of your values as a light on your path in this life. Your values guide your choices. That is not to say that your choices will always have the desired result. But they are your choices. And believe me, the consequences of choices you make for yourself are easier to bear than the consequences of pursuing the expectations of others.

How do you choose your values?
– Make a (long) list of words that are important to you. Don’t limit yourself. Take a few days or weeks for it and, if necessary, keep adding to the list.
– Are there no more additions? Then cluster the words that, to your mind, belong together. Is there an overarching value that appeals to you? See if you can arrive at two or three values this way.
– Then answer these questions:
– Is this who you, deep in your heart, want to be?
– If this value were a person, how would it help you make difficult choices in your life?

6. Learn to set boundaries

Many perfectionists find it difficult to set boundaries. They lack boundaries for their own behavior, with leads them to work late into the night. But also boundaries to the expectations, demands and behavior of others. And, fair enough: we are also not very well raised and trained in clearly communicating and holding our boundaries in a calm, clear and yet friendly way. In the Netherlands, this is very evident from the very word: tolerate (gedogen). A typically Dutch word, not found in any other language. Tolerating, that’s something like, “It’s not allowed, but if it happens anyway, it’s no big deal”. When we as a society treat each other this way, it is no wonder that it is difficult for individuals to clearly communicate boundaries and most importantly: to hold them, while staying in connection with others.

It’s good to be clear about what boundaries are important to you and not to cross them (or have them crossed).

Holding boundaries is necessary. Because every time a boundary is crossed, resentment or irritation arises. You may be thinking, oh well, never mind, I shouldn’t worry about it so much. But you already did. That emotion is already there. And the next time it happens, resentment builds up again. And again. And again. Until the proverbial straw causes the bucket to overflow and you lash out. Which you will probably regret. It is a much better idea to be clear about what boundaries are important to you and not to cross them (or have them crossed). Not by yourself and not by anyone else.

7. Don’t believe everything you think

Our brain is a fantastic invention. We can think of SO much! This ensures that we can execute plans, make dreams come true and make great inventions. But the downside of this, is that our brain is also very good at brooding, ruminating and dramatizing all that is happening. Your brain operates like this from the “best intentions”, that is, to keep you safe and understand the world.

However, the danger is that we easily believe everything we think. Because much of what our brain comes up with is not really true. Be aware of the claims your brain makes about perfection: ‘The longer I work, the better my work becomes.’ Or, ‘You can achieve anything, if you work long enough.’

Train yourself to see your thoughts for what they are: thoughts – not facts. With mindfulness exercises, you can train to observe your thoughts without believing everything that comes along in words, images or fabrications.

8. Talk to yourself as to your best friend

One of the key elements of perfectionism is unbridled self-criticism. Your inner critic can hardly be stopped. Many people, especially perfectionists, live by the belief that this inner critic helps us achieve our goals.

However, Kristin Neff, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin and one of the leading researchers on self-compassion, discovered the opposite. Her research shows that people with little self-compassion and an overactive inner critic are much more likely to give up when a project fails or a job is difficult. In contrast, people with a lot of self-compassion take time to experience the complexity and difficulty of the situation, after which they regain their energy and strength to try again.

We need to change this idea of self-compassion.

Self-compassion is something quite different from self-pity. The best definition of self-compassion is this: talk to yourself as if you were talking to your best friend. Surely you would not scold them in a situation of failure? So don’t do that to yourself either!

9. Focus on an energized body and a fit mind

Change takes energy. And learning a different way of thinking, feeling or doing takes a of bandwith. So make sure you take good care of yourself. This is always a good idea, but especially if you are working to change patterns of thought, feeling and behavior, it is necessary to be aware and alert. After all, before you know it, you fall back into your old, familiar way of thinking and doing things.

For that, self-care is crucial. Think of it as a marathon. You train for it and you practice. You sleep enough and eat healthy. Of course you don’t smoke and are moderate with alcohol. And also you know that rest is important and that sometimes you need to relax for a day.

To be physically and mentally energized, you take good care of yourself. It is wise to take care of yourself in this way as well if you want to exchange your old patterns for new behaviors. If you’re tired or lacking in energy, you have no buffer to face your challenges. So make sure you eat healthy food, get enough sleep, rest and relaxation, and social connection with others you love. Be moderate with alcohol as well as social media. Plan in your week enough space to exercise, go outside and do something you like, something you enjoy doing. Make those agreements with yourself just as important as all those things that are expected, from yourself or from others.

Talk to friends, colleagues, your partner or your supervisor about your intention to let go of your perfectionism.

10. Don’t do this alone!

Learning and development must be done by yourself. Letting go of your perfectionism is not something that others can do for you. No one can do this for you. You are the only one. But that doesn’t mean you have to go it alone. Rather the opposite, Humans were not made to live by themselves. And changing patterns in your daily life doesn’t have to be tackled alone, either.

Talk to friends, colleagues, your partner or your supervisor about your intention to let go of your perfectionism. Be specific. In what area would you like to become less of a perfectionist? How do you plan to do that? What do you worry about or dread? What is your resolution for the day, for this week? How can the other person support you? Tell your story and show them a bit of your heart. You will be surprised by the responses.


Gift for you: free download with 10 skills

As a bonus to celebrate the arrival of the English translation of the book, you can download these 10 skills as a handy reminder. Click on the image or the link below.

Download the 10 skills

Read blogs like this more often? Browse on this website, there is more to find out! Based on scientific insights and practically translated into actions for every day. A different perspective on how you do things and an invitation to make courageous choices. Let me know what you think!


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