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9 Ways to Stop Perfectionism from Ruining Your Life

9 Ways to Stop Perfectionism from Ruining Your Life

Are you a perfectionist or a healthy achiever?

Do you follow your dreams or procrastinate until all the circumstances are perfect?

Are you focused on what you want, or on what others think of you?

I’ll give you my 8 brilliant tips for how to become a perfect perfectionist!

The more of my wise tips you can adopt, the more perfect you’ll become. (And yes, I’ll also give you 9 real strategies to overcome perfectionism.)

So let’s get started!

8 TIPS FOR BECOMING A PERFECTIONIST

1. AVOID RISK

Do not – I repeat, DO NOT – take on new challenges unless you’re SURE you won’t fail. Everything worthwhile in life is risk-free.

And when you find yourself being miserable in a career or field of study – don’t change course. Quitting could be perceived as failing. Might as well flush your self-worth down the toilet.

2. PROCRASTINATE 

If you don’t think you can get everything done perfectly in one shot, avoid getting started at all!  But make sure you feel guilty the whole time and judge yourself. Can’t allow joy to seep in!

3. DREAD CRITICISM

Use the fear of criticism to motivate you instead of love for your work. Spend endless hours trying to foresee ways that your report could be criticized – and re-write that paragraph for the seventh time. Rehearsed your presentation 11 times? There’s always time for one more! But make sure to sacrifice personal time and happiness to do so.

4. TREAT EVERYTHING AS EQUALLY IMPORTANT

Do not prioritize. EVERY detail matters. Will anyone notice? Who cares – you’ll know that table should have been olive green instead of forest green.

Don’t get distracted with the big picture of what’s most important to your business – such as making money, meeting deadlines and building customer relationships. Your exacting standards are non-negotiable. If you’re 98% there on a project and it will take you 50% longer to get the last 2% – do it! Other projects can wait. Your employer or customers will understand.

5. THINK IN “ALL-OR-NOTHING” TERMS

Praised for your morning presentation? You’re a success! Criticized for your afternoon presentation? You’re a failure! You’ll fail EVERY time. Why even bother?

6. TRY TO PLEASE EVERYONE

You MUST be liked by everyone. Easy: never say “No”! Agree to everything you’re asked to do, no matter how drained and resentful you feel. And put on that smile!

7. DON’T LET ANYONE SEE THE REAL YOU

If you show people who you really are, they’ll think less of you. Genuine human connection is a myth perpetrated by the media.

Instead, try to live up to others’ expectations by looking like a model citizen. Hide your true self behind the pursuit of status, material possessions and the latest fashion.

Being in debt and feeling disconnected is a small price to pay – hey, no one can see that except you!

8. BEAT YOURSELF UP

You make progress by beating yourself up for the tiniest error. Preferably say things like, “I’m such an idiot” or “How could I be so stupid?”

Make sure to focus only on mistakes instead of what you’ve done right. Surely that will build your confidence and enthusiasm for your work and life.

As Captain Bligh from the movie “Mutiny on the Bounty” would say, The beatings will continue until morale improves. Keep ‘em going!

MY PERFECTIONISM GREMLINS

So if you’ve followed some of these “Ways of the Perfectionist” at some point – welcome to the club!

Perfectionism has a much weaker grip on me than it ever has – but it still occasionally finds a way to rear its ugly head.

One of my first talks about “Money for Meaning” – and about my life – went great. In most respects, that is.

I had given countless presentations in previous jobs, but never had to face the vulnerability of standing on stage, with no slides, to talk about my personal life experiences: childhood, the war and immigration years, triumphs, fears, passions, lessons learned.

My approach for dealing with the fear of vulnerability and making mistakes worked.

First, I gently acknowledged the anxious feeling in my stomach without struggling with it.

Taking a deep breath, I gave myself my usual rallying cry for action: “I’ll be dead someday. No regrets!”

I thought of the people who’d love me regardless of how I perform – especially my husband Mark.

And I focused on why I was there: to deeply connect with people and show them the choices they can have in life – even when things don’t go perfectly.

As soon as I started speaking, the nerves disappeared. I felt grateful to be there and “in the zone”. I could tell by the expressions on people’s faces that the talk was making an impact.

After the talk, over two dozen people filled out the feedback form, and rated the talk exceptionally well.

So I must have felt on top of the world, right?

Briefly – until one minor comment hit a nerve.

A nice, well-meaning lady told me in person how much she enjoyed the talk – but that it seemed to her that I finished my sentences with a downward inflection. She perceived it as me sounding sad.

What happened next is an example of what Dr. Brene Brown, the author of “The Gifts of Imperfection” calls our “gremlins” – the inner voices that sabotage our joy.

I admittedly feel sensitive about my voice.

I have an Eastern European accent because I didn’t start learning English until high school. My first day of high school, that is – two weeks after immigrating to a new continent.

I’ve been known to end my sentences with an upward inflection – sounding like I’m asking a question even when I’m making a statement. In fact, I may have unknowingly over-compensated for this by the “extra” downward inflection. 

But more than anything, it’s always seemed to me that my voice sounds too… girlish.

The gremlins said, “People won’t listen to you! No matter how passionate and valuable your message is, they’ll never see you as an authority. You should just stay in the background and hide behind your husband.”

I’m extremely lucky to have an amazing relationship.

When I shared my vulnerable feelings with Mark, he said, “You know what your problem is?”

I looked at him in shock. I thought, “This isn’t like Mark. He’s usually so supportive. I don’t need to hear about my “problem” right now!”

In a very serious voice, he said, “Your skin’s too thick.”

At that moment, we looked at each other and burst out laughing.

The gremlins usually can’t survive love and laughter.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what my voice is or isn’t. I have a story that I passionately want to share, and that can impact people’s lives.

And I will do so – imperfectly and courageously.

9 STRATEGIES TO OVERCOME PERFECTIONISM

You’ve seen my 8 tips for how to become a perfectionist – and hopefully they made you want to run screaming in the other direction!

Now, let’s dig into the real tools to overcome the pull of perfectionism. Here they are…drum roll…

1. PUSH YOUR COMFORT ZONE

We must cultivate the courage to willingly and intentionally step outside our comfort zone.

This doesn’t need to happen overnight or in giant leaps.

We build courage every time we intentionally do something that makes us feel vulnerable. We acknowledge our fear of failing or being hurt – and we tell our fear brain, “I’m in charge around here. We’re doing this.”

We can find safe training grounds for expanding our comfort zone.

For example, I pushed the heck out of my comfort zone when I started taking improvisation classes. Like many engineers, I like to plan, prepare and rehearse – not improvise!

So the idea of stepping out on stage without a script and improvising a scene terrified me at first. But I wanted to be more spontaneous, present in the moment, and faster on my feet – so I did it anyway!

It was a potent antidote to perfectionism and the fear of making mistakes. Luckily, there’s no “mistakes” when you’re improvising – only gifts that add more joy and spontaneity to the scene.

Think of ways to push your comfort zone. Join a pickup soccer game. Delegate more at work. Take an art class. Purposely fail at something – and then laugh about it.

2. LOOK BACK FROM THE LAST DAY OF YOUR LIFE

When we experience moments of doubt and fear, we can picture the last day of our life. Think about the kind of life you wish you would have lived. You can even write your own obituary!

What would you rather have done – reached for your dreams and sometimes come up short, or lived paralyzed by the fear of failure and criticism?

When we look back on our lives, most of us don’t regret taking risks. We regret not taking them.

One of the top five regrets of the dying is: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”

Being acutely aware that I’ll be dead someday is a powerful tool that gets me past the fear of making mistakes and being criticized.

If you need help feeling the emotional impact of your own mortality, visit a cemetery and picture your name engraved on a tombstone.

This emotional – not intellectual – awareness drives us to make the most of our precious time on Earth.

Dr. Wayne Dyer, a spiritual teacher who inspired millions during his life, wrote a note to himself when he was a teenager:

“Dear Wayne, don’t die with your music still in you”.

Watch this inspiring 1.5 minute video with Dr. Dyer: https://vimeo.com/19672457

3. KNOW AND LIVE YOUR VALUES

Being clear on our deepest values moves us toward living a life that reflects who we are – even when it conflicts with trying to please or impress others.

The goals that will bring us the most joy are rooted in our values. For example, if we value freedom, time with loved ones, deeper connection with nature, being of service to others, etc. – and our goals are a bigger house and a new Lexus – there’s probably a disconnect.

Our free worksheet will guide you on the journey of exploring your values and mission in life, with personal examples. We help you set goals that are rooted in your core values, and make mindful spending choices that bring you closer to your goals.

Become financially free by living your highest values

4. FOCUS ON THE PEOPLE WHO MATTER MOST

Instead of worrying about the way we’re perceived by people we have no meaningful relationship with, including total strangers – wouldn’t it be better to focus on the most important people in our lives?

I gain courage from knowing that my husband Mark will love me regardless of how I do on stage – or in anything I undertake, for that matter.

My children and family will love me independent of my successes, failures – and anything in between.

Who are the people in your life who will cheer you on no matter what?

When you can be your truest, most vulnerable self with someone, and be loved and accepted with all the imperfections that make you a real, whole, unique person – you’ve already won.

Those who have a strong sense of love and belonging have the courage to be imperfect.” – Dr. Brene Brown

5. PRACTICE GRATITUDE

Life is imperfect – and so is each one of us. Perfectionism is an unattainable goal.

So we have a choice. We can focus on what we think we’re lacking, or we can be grateful for what we have.

Here’s a little perspective. A century ago, Kings and Queens could only have dreamed of what we have today.

Don’t believe this?

Check your pocket. I believe you’ll find a mini-computer giving you instant access to humanity’s combined knowledge – or pictures of cats.

Drive down the street. Wait, is that a store stocked with fresh produce from around the world – in the middle of winter? (Mmm…avocados)

Got Paris on your mind? You could fly there in less than a day!

And yet we believe we don’t have enough.

That’s in part because we’re comparing ourselves to fake, advertised images of what “success” and “happiness” are supposed to look like. And we’ve been made to feel that we’re falling short.

Gratitude is the antidote.

When we practice expressing gratitude for what we do have, for the countless blessings in our lives – we start to experience a feeling of greater joy and abundance.

When laughter, connection, and the sunset make us jump for joy, we become difficult targets for advertisers. We shop for what we actually need, and not to keep up with our neighbors.

As a side effect, we can’t help but build wealth too!

6. OWN AND SHARE YOUR STORY

When we’ve made a mistake, done something embarrassing, been criticized by others – or even just fallen short of our own unforgiving expectations, perfectionists tend to experience shame.

The last thing we want is talk to someone about it. It makes us feel scared and vulnerable.

Shame loves perfectionists because it’s so easy to keep us quiet.” – Dr. Brene Brown

But without being spoken, shame tends to fester. It erodes our confidence and willingness to reach for what we truly value – whether it’s related to our career, passions, or relationships.

Sharing our experience with someone who’s earned our trust neutralizes shame and builds a deeper connection. It makes us more resilient to the inevitable criticism when we attempt anything worthwhile.

7. PRACTICE SAYING “YES” REGARDLESS OF OUTCOME

Practice saying “Yes!” to interesting new things without knowing where they may lead. In other words, enjoy the adventure!

Here are just a couple of examples of gifts that saying “yes” has brought me:

  • A friend in grad school said, “I’m going to an entrepreneurship class tonight – you wanna come?”

I was busy and skeptical, but went anyway. This resulted in me starting a biomedical company, winning business plan competitions and raising other start-up capital. The company eventually flamed out, but the experience took me in a direction I found far more satisfying than academic research. It changed my life.

  • A friend in college said, “I’m going to check out fencing tomorrow – you wanna come?”

I hadn’t fantasized about sword fighting – and hadn’t even seen The Princess Bride (gasp!) But I went anyway. This led to a passion for the sport that lasted for a number of years – and in moving to the United States to train with a great fencing coach (and get my Ph.D.). If I hadn’t done that, I wouldn’t have met my future husband Mark. So Mark must have been a fencer too, right? Ha! We met completely by chance at a campus bar called “The Ugly Tuna”. Just as I always planned.

Think about the times you said “yes” and gained something amazing and unexpected. Savor these experiences. Reflect back on them to build the courage to take even greater leaps of faith.

8. PRACTICE MINDFULNESS

Perfectionism is all about judgement. Practicing mindfulness helps us accept our full experience in the present moment without judging it – or ourselves.

We become aware of our thoughts, feelings, bodily sensations and the sounds around us. We’re not trying to get rid of thoughts or change them – but to simply notice the thoughts that arise without holding onto them or identifying with them.

This doesn’t have to involve sitting meditation, though it can. I personally prefer walking outside, listening to birds, feeling the sun, wind or rain on my skin, and fully experiencing the sensations of walking. I picture my thoughts and feelings coming and going as clouds in the sky or as leaves floating down a stream.

Practicing mindfulness in this way teaches us to let go of trying to control – and allows us to just be.

9. GET INSPIRED BY MUSIC

Stuck in procrastination mode on a worthwhile project because you don’t know if you’ll succeed and how it will be received?

In addition to the other tools above, some inspiring music can give us the final push to get started. That’s half the battle!

What kind of music works best? That’s unique to each of us.

I had a friend who got pumped for fencing tournaments by listening to “Skulls” by The Misfits, which begins with this heart-warming line: “The corpses all hang headless and limp…”

For me, silly often does the trick – like Shakira’s “Try Everything”. There’s something about a gazelle in a miniskirt saying “I wanna try everything even though I could fail” that makes me go, “Yeah! Me too!”

What songs get you going?

If you have some perfectionistic tendencies, what tools have you used to overcome them? Let us know in the comments!

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