Perfectionism is the need to be perfect, according to a measurement scale of value based on a set of abilities, skills, and personal accomplishments that are beyond improvement. Perfectionism is typically identified as a positive driver for some people that they believe helps them to maintain high standards. The problem with perfectionism is that it is rooted in the fear of failure or rejection and can lead to negative effects on one’s mental health. It has costs in terms of time, learning, and clarity of thought.


        “Perfectionism is not the same thing as striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.”

                      ~ Brene Brown, THE GIFTS OF IMPERFECTION

Perfectionism makes tasks feel too overwhelming or difficult for people in many instances; it slows their progress at best and halts it completely at worst. It drives them into situations of
diminishing returns by which their efforts will not produce gains—they are simply spinning their proverbial wheels. That is, the expectation of perfection yields procrastination—one feels that there is insufficient time to fully commit and complete tasks, so starting becomes difficult…or even impossible.

Perfectionism also can lead to missing opportunities for learning key life lessons. It disallows people to exercise critical thinking skills and keeps them from learning from mistakes. Perfectionism is often a lens through which even the most constructive criticism implies failure rather than being seen as useful feedback. It can also raise anxiety and impact mental clarity.

Overcoming perfectionism can be a major challenge because perfectionists would have to admit their struggle and need for help. To overcome perfectionism, one must recognize it as an issue and then be willing to address it. Perfectionists must take active steps towards changing their overall mindset about achievement and using accomplishments as a gauge of personal worth and value. 

Here are a few helpful ways to face perfectionism when it has gotten out of hand:

  • Set goals that are more realistically attainable.
  • Reevaluate personal standards to accommodate growth moments.
  • Focus on a single task at a time.
  • Focus on the positive impacts yielded in a given situation, regardless of the outcome.
  • Confront negative self-talk by challenging it with positive self-talk.
  • Take time for self-care.
  • Manage your time/schedule such that you are not overextended.
  • Remember that mistakes are not failures; they are learning events.
  • Adjust your perception of constructive criticism.

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Written by Erika Mehlhaff