Tips for the Perfectionist

May 11, 2016 | Confidence, Stress

Take that, perfectionism

Perfectionism has an enticing allure, but is bound to keep you from succeeding. So what’s the cure?

It’s gotta be perfect

Do you worry about producing something that’s less than perfect?

Is it hard for you to complete something that doesn’t seem just right?

The road to perfectionism is full of worry and doubt. And along the side of that road are many half-made plans, incomplete projects and discarded dreams.

I know. I’ve struggled with perfectionism most of my life. And right now I’m challenging myself to write this blog in half the time it normally takes me, because I tend to spend too much time trying to get them to meet my high standards.

Risks of perfectionism

Perfectionism is an enemy of productivity and completion.

Because there’s always going to be more that you could do to a project, presentation, website, blog or other piece of work.

When the goal is creating something perfect, you are always going to fall short. Worse yet, you’ll always be too afraid to launch it into the world. And if you don’t share your creation, not only is it kind of useless but your talent is being wasted.

If everyone were like this, we’d be missing out on so many brilliant ideas and products.

Updates available

Take Apple, for instance. If Apple waited until its products were perfected before it launched them, they’d never hit the market.

Apple software is constantly getting updated. I know that with my iPhone, I regularly get messages asking me to update to a new and improved operating system.

Updates come out to fix bugs and improve the last version of a system.

Like the iPhone, we’re all just works in progress, with regular updates and improvements being made.

The perfectionism cure

The truth is that we are supposed to mess up, experiment, even fail a bit, because that’s how we learn and grow.

And so the cure to perfectionism is similar to a path to greater confidence:

  1. Adopt a growth mindset. You aren’t supposed to create perfection the first, second or even third time around. You are supposed to learn and grow, and each time you are doing just that. And next time will be better and easier – just like the next software update.Psychologist Carol Dweck, who researches the “growth mindset,” has a great TEDTalk about our brain’s capacity to learn and grow. When we can focus on this growth mindset rather than perceiving something as a failure, we will continue to grow our brains and our confidence. So rather than “I can’t figure it out” or “I can’t do this right,” the growth mindset would say: “I haven’t figured it out yet,” or “I’m getting better.”
  2. Take action, with limits. If you never begin, you’re assuming you can’t. This not only hurts your confidence, but it robs you and others from experiencing your full talent and knowing what you can produce.So simply get started. But resist unreasonable expectations. Set a limit on completion, otherwise you may end up drifting back into a perfectionist’s mindset and a failure to launch.

The perfectionism experiment

So I almost succeeded in my experiment. I completed this post in a little more half the time it normally takes me – not perfect, but better! Take that, perfectionism.

What will your own experiment be? If you – or that project – were simply a work in progress, what might you get done?

Practice makes perfect growth.

Photo by Marc-Andre Julien at


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Jennifer is the creator of Pathways to Change, a framework for mindful leadership development that integrates coaching, neuroscience, mindfulness and mind-body principles.

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