7 Tips to Overcome Perfectionism

self acceptance overcome perfectionism

You have been conditioned to believe that striving for perfection is a worthy goal. Since young, you know that getting 100 marks is ideal and that you would be penalized even if you have made a mistake out of every ten correct ones. And so, it has become imperative that you perceive that you are being perceived as perfect; that is, without a flaw, failure or weakness. You enjoy gaining social acceptance and possibly, legions of adoring fans too.

Note that there is nothing wrong with wanting to produce your best work or hoping to present yourself in a good light. However, having a perfectionistic streak can have negative consequences. You are in the energy of “striving”, in seeking to meet a certain standard; failing which, you would shred yourself to pieces. The thought of imperfection makes you feel not-whole, incomplete, discontented and ill. The emotion that you experience is shame. There is a strong sense of disapproval towards the self.

Symptoms of Perfectionism

– You are highly critical of your own mistakes or if you fail to meet certain expectations.

– You cannot seem to roll out a finished product such as a book or complete a project because it is “never good enough”.

– You spend hours obsessing over some minor detail that no one else would notice.

– You have a tendency to focus on the 20% that has gone wrong and cannot give credit to the 80% that is going right.

– You believe that you would never be perfect in the way you look. It is important that you never be caught in a photograph with your mouth open wide, in an embarrassing posture or having “crows’ feet”. Any picture of yourself with an unflattering blemish needs to be edited heavily via photoshop before you can show it to others.

– You spend two hours editing three lines of words that never get published in the end.

– You downgrade your assessment of a product or service because you believe that your whole experience is compromised by a spelling error, a grammar mistake or an extra spacing.

Works of Perfection

The fear of not being able to create great work stops you in your tracks from producing anything at all. You have an increased tendency to procrastinate. You often find it hard to make up your mind. You move from one idea to another, unable to decide which is the best. You need to be, do or have the best. The constant bombardment of magazines is not helping. You are made to believe that the perfect appearance means not having a wrinkle, mole or ounce of fat tissue. You have to look every inch coiffed before you step out of the house.

As a perfectionist, you have honed your craft to a fine art. You have an eye for detail. Each detail is important to you. Masterfully, you weave every detail into a tapestry with a meaning that only the few connoisseurs like yourself can truly appreciate. Invariably, you would also turn your nose up at those who could not spot the difference between fine art and common fare. (Which reminds me on the story of the Princess and the Pea. The Princess could not sleep because under the layers and layers of mattress was a tiny pea. Her ability to know the difference allowed others to know that she was royalty. )

Indeed, as consumers, we value the work of the master craftsman. We pay for painstaking work. We would pay high prices for leather goods that take hours to double-stitch by hand. Or sophisticated equipment that has not only passed all lab tests in quality checks but is also sleek and ultra-cool in design. Not to mention, stunning clothes that drape our bodies fluidly no matter what awkward pose we strike.

Shame-based Perfectionism

Problems arise when we lose our sense of perspective, in our strife for perfection. We leak energy from an inability to feel settled and find it hard to take risks and needed action. When we start to tune in, it is possible to discover that the base emotion we are experiencing is shame. We project our shame onto others and become highly critical of others in the process. All in, we put ourselves in restrictive, limiting and contracted – instead of expanded – states of being.

According David R Hawkins in his book Power vs Force, shame is at the lowest level in the Map of Consciousness. He developed this map through kinesiology, after conducting hundreds (or thousands) of double-blind studies and mass demonstrations. Shame is akin to psychological death. It has the energy level of only 20. The highest is Enlightenment at the 1000 level.

“The level of Shame is perilously proximate to death, which may be chosen out of Shame as conscious suicide or more subtly elected by failure to take steps to prolong life.” – David Hawkins, Power vs Force

In shame, we would hang our heads. We experience a “loss in face”. We ask ourselves, “how can we face anyone from now on?” We shrink away from society. Historically, from the earliest caveman days, banishment is synonymous with shame.

Tips to Overcome Perfectionism

Oh yes, wanting things perfect has held me back one time or another. However, what has helped me is having a sense of adventure. Being bold often propels me to taking risks. Incidentally, through a Kolbe test – which helped me to gain better awareness about my strengths – that I took just two days ago, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I scored very highly on the “Quick Start” instinct-based action mode. This means that I have an increased ability to take on risks and uncertainty, kick myself into gear and to improvise under challenging situations.

Consider the following tips:

Tip #1 to Overcome Perfectionism: Work on your self esteem. At the root of it all is the thought “I am not good enough”. Chances are as a perfectionist, you’d be contending with a little voice that says you, your appearance or work is never good enough.

Realize that you are already whole, despite the imperfections that you see. Embrace who you are – faults, warts and all – totally. Bring awareness to your negative self-talk. Silence your inner critic with the light of awareness. Use energy releasing methods such as Meridian Tapping (to find out more, apply for a 30 minute complimentary session with me) to work on shame, if you have identified it as the root emotion.

Tip #2 to Overcome Perfectionism: Look at the big picture. Take a few steps backwards to gain better perspective. Ask yourself if the detail that you are obsessing over is really that critical. Does it truly affect your overall assessment or experience of the product or service?

Changing your perspective allows you to know that it is up to you to perceive meaning. There can be perfection even within the folds of imperfection.

Tip #3 to Overcome Perfectionism: Set reasonable expectations. While you recognize your efforts in wanting to be the best you can, set more reasonable expectations. Acknowledge your limitations. Setting excessively high standards adds unnecessary stress and reduces your overall well-being.

Ask yourself “good enough for whom?” Realize that you are your own harshest critic. It happens when you don’t allow yourself any room for error. And there is no need for exerting undue pressure. No one is born superhuman. If everyone around you thinks that your work is wonderful as it is, consider taking their opinions seriously.

“When nobody around you seems to measure up, it’s time to check your yardstick.” – Bill Lemley

Tip #4 to Overcome Perfectionism: Learn to laugh. Taking things less seriously can help. Learn to loosen up. Take a light-hearted approach to life. Consider: so what even if you have not produced the perfect product, written the best article or grown a wrinkle or two? What is the worst that can happen? Through self analysis, you might discover that you have been overly dramatic in predicting the worst.

Tip #5 to Overcome Perfectionism: Understand that you are a work in progress. You are on a learning journey, as everyone is. Acknowledge your desire to produce an excellent piece of work. However, never allow allow perfectionism to hold you back from producing, delivering or publishing your work. You can always go back to revise, make corrections or amendments after collecting initial feedback.

“When you aim for perfection, you discover it’s a moving target.” – George Fisher

Tip #6 to Overcome Perfectionism: Study successful people. If you review case studies, you would realize that successful people did not necessarily produce perfect pieces of work. Think ipad or iphone. Even Apple offers repeated improvements after the first version of their product.

Tip #7 to Overcome Perfectionism: Learn to get past yourself. So you believe that you have got an important self image to protect. And you would label yourself a failure if you are less than perfect. Understand that beliefs about perfectionism spring from your ego. Your ego is not who you are. Your soul is here to learn about getting past your contrived stories, painted dramas and mistaken beliefs.

And when you do, you would experience much freedom. You would have liberated yourself from untruths that have been stopping you from experiencing fullness in life.

“You see, when weaving a blanket, an Indian woman leaves a flaw in the weaving of that blanket to let the soul out.” – Martha Graham

 

Share Your Tips

What has helped you to overcome perfectionism? Share your tips and thoughts in the comments below.

Abundance always,

evelyn lim signature

 

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Evelyn

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The Vizier - March 15, 2011 Reply

Hi Evelyn,

Yeah, growing up in Singapore has made me familiar with the striving for perfection. It was not until recently that I learned that failure was not a bad thing but actually helping in learning and improving.

Also the striving for perfection takes forever. Sometimes getting things done is more important than obsessing over needless details that do not make much of a difference. This can cause me to take hours to get an article done simply because I want it to be perfect. But by learning to let go, it takes the immense pressure off my shoulders and I can actually produce something.

My favourite tip for overcoming perfectionism is to look at the big picture. This always helps me to see things in perspective. By doing so, I will be able to know what I should or should not do than if I were to obsess on details.

Thank you for sharing this lovely article! 🙂

Irving the Vizier

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Evelyn Reply:

Hello Irving,

Environment definitely plays a factor. When everyone around is aiming to be the best, it kinda robs off on you. Luckily, I was not overly stressed during my growing up years. I just did what I could for school exams. I was fortunate to get into all my first choices in terms of faculty and job. I never had to settle for second best.

I know. I used to edit an article over and over again. Not that it was perfect in the end. I still need to let go more. My desire to be specific over a lot of the words I use in each causes me to pore through the same article repeatedly. I hope to be more efficient because I am really very busy and have a lot of things to tend to. It doesn’t make sense to aim for perfection when the article already largely conveys what I wish to share. So the tip on seeing the big picture is a very helpful one for me too!

Abundance always,
Evelyn

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Barbara Ling, Virtual Coach - March 15, 2011 Reply

Does the phrase, Tiger Mother, mean anything to you? 🙂

I always have different views of perfectionism, so I can always modify my goals regarding it. I’ve learned to recognize that what’s “good enough” for me is often light-years beyond my competitors, so I’m much more laid back about it.

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Evelyn Reply:

I laughed with your mention of “Tiger Mother”. I believe that I don’t “push” my kids to perfection unnecessarily. I don’t insist that they score full marks for a subject like English. However for Mathematics where it is possible to be accurate, I tell them to aim for perfect score. Still, I don’t penalize them if they don’t get full marks. To do well for the finals, I teach my kids pacing and exam skills. I also help them with belief change. It works!

It’s great that you know how to adjust your own goals. It takes self awareness to do that! It’s a wonderful tip that you’re sharing!

Abundance always,
Evelyn

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Stacy - March 16, 2011 Reply

Hi Evelyn,

I’m glad to see from your list that I am no longer a perfectionist! I know that I have worked hard to let go of many aspects of perfectionism and I can see a lot of my old self in the list. I can be perfectionistic about some things but generally speaking I would prefer to relaxed and happy than to have to worry about being perfect or trying to appear perfect.

Creating lists of what is most important to me has helped me to let go of my perfectionism because I would far rather spend quality time with my kids than have a spotless room. Time with them is precious and they will grow up too fast, then I will have time to have a perfect house if I so wish. Having that focus really helps a lot.

Stacy

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Evelyn Reply:

Hello Stacy,

It’s great that you’ve managed to let go of perfectionism aspects that are hindering your personal growth. Thanks for sharing your tip on making lists. That should also help me prioritize without spending excessive time on just one item. Thanks!

Abundance always,
Evelyn

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Alex Blackwell | The BridgeMaker - March 16, 2011 Reply

Evelyn,

Perfectionism has been a chronic problem for me most of my life. As you mention in your post, my perfectionism has been shame-based. When I learned how to move past the shame, I noticed a much freer feeling and much less anxiety.

Thanks for creating awareness about a problematic issue.

Alex

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Evelyn Reply:

Hello Alex,

I am glad to know that you have been able to trace to the base emotion of shame. It takes courage to acknowledge it. Not many would dare to be public about what the root cause is. And I applaud you for sharing it.

Awareness helps to dissipate the energies around the base emotion. You are dealing with your issues not at the symptomatic – but at the root level. It’s great that you are living more freely!

Abundance always,
Evelyn

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Larry Lewis - March 16, 2011 Reply

Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing. ~Harriet Braiker. I always strived for perfection when i was younger, therefore never got anything completed. It took time to learn that good had to be good enough. Now as a blogger I don’t believe i would ever get a post completed if i still aimed for perfection.

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Evelyn Reply:

Hello Larry,

You made me laugh with the comment, “Now as a blogger I don’t believe i would ever get a post completed if i still aimed for perfection.” My sentiments indeed 🙂

To authentic living,
Evelyn

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Patricia - March 16, 2011 Reply

My mum was a perfectionist and since she has released from this earth – well, I am not hounded all the time by my imperfection isms –and feel a sense of freedom.

I am busy reading your wonderful book – Thank you for writing it. I am at that point where once again I think I do not believe enough…my faith is not strong enough…or clear enough…more of a problem for me than perfectionism

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Evelyn Reply:

Hello Patricia,

A release from the past is necessary for freedom. And sometimes, it happens in layers. So if there are any remaining issues surrounding your mother and perfectionism, I hope that you can continue to work on these.

Too much clutter at the thinking level obstructs clarity. A release of negative emotions is also very helpful. It’s like having a weight off your shoulders. There is no magic pill. It’s important to do what’s necessary in removing the heavy burden first before you can sail with the wind. After addressing limiting beliefs and negative emotions, affirmations and strengthening faith gets much easier.

I sincerely wish you much success, joy, financial well-being and happiness. Thank you for purchasing my book. I am glad that you like it!

With love,
Evelyn

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Stephen Gemmell - March 16, 2011 Reply

Hi Evelyn, I guess Perfectionism comes just after Perception in the Self-Development dictionary. Like a lot of behaviours, perfectionism is a relative term and is likely to be be viewed differently depending what end of the telescope you find yourself. Personally, as a guy that’s no longer a finisher, perfectionism is likely to be excluded from the next publication of my own dictionary. Take care, Stephen

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Evelyn Reply:

Hi Stephen,

Welcome to my site. Yes, it’s great that you pointed out that perfectionism is a matter of perception. And perception may not necessarily be the truth. It could be an illusion that the perfectionist is building.

With love,
Evelyn

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Suzie Cheel - March 17, 2011 Reply

Brilliant Evelyn,

I see myself in so many of you examples, especialy with where I am at on my current project.

This is so timely and yes we are all works in progress.
This will help me move forward and into action today
love and abundance
Suzie

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Evelyn Reply:

Hi Suzie,

It’s great that you have recognized that perfectionism can hold you back too. Instead of using my own judgment, I sometimes get my husband or friends to give their opinions. If it is good enough for them, I stop myself from spending more time than necessary. I don’t produce perfect work all the time. Setting clear objectives at the start of any project can also be very helpful.

Let’s kick ass!
Evelyn

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farouk - March 17, 2011 Reply

that’s a very comprehensive and informative post
well Done Evelyn 🙂

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Evelyn Reply:

Thank you, Farouk, for being awesome!

With love,
Evelyn

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Sherina - March 17, 2011 Reply

Evelyn, I couldn’t have read this at a perfect (no pun intended) time!
I started my work day yesterday working on a project I am completing for a client, in an industry I am vageuly familiar with, and I kept thinking about perfecting the details. I was soon overwhelmed simply because I was trying to hit, as they say, the moving target of perfection. Then I read your article. I realised that perfection is in my ability to use my gift(s), which is already perfect.
ESPAVO,
Sherina

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Evelyn Reply:

You had me laughing at the part of “no pun intended” 🙂

It’s wonderful that you hope to produce a great piece of work. It shows responsibility. I am also glad that you recognize that perfection can really be a moving target. It will be a good idea to consider what your original objectives are and see if you’ve already met them.

All the best to your project,
Evelyn

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Chris Edgar - March 18, 2011 Reply

Hi Evelyn — I think that’s an important awareness — that the need for the project to be perfect often has people put off the project entirely, because on some level they know that they can’t meet the standard they’ve set for themselves and that they’ll feel miserable when they don’t meet it.

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Evelyn Reply:

Hi Chris,

Hopefully, having the awareness may allow people to know what’s holding them back and choosing a better way forward.

Abundance always,
Evelyn

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Joyce at I Take Off The Mask - March 19, 2011 Reply

Hi Evelyn! I’m prone to this perfectionism and should constantly remind myself that it’s ok to make mistakes and grow. Sometimes too, we forget to forgive ourselves as we so generously forgive other people. We should also practice kindness to ourselves. 😉

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Evelyn Reply:

Well said, Joyce. I’m also glad that you can recognize what’s holding you back. Mistakes are not failures. They help to point us in the wiser way forward.

Abundance always,
Evelyn

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Bryan Thompson - March 21, 2011 Reply

Hi Evelyn,

I love all of these, but in particular, number 4 (Laugh at yourself) really makes sense. In fact, I think the world would be such a more peaceful place if people could learn not to take themselves so seriously all the time.

I also like how Seth Godin describes the need in his book “Linchpin” to launch. Sometimes, you just have to take what’s there, stop investing more time into its perfection (which is a standard that doesn’t exist), and launch!

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Evelyn Reply:

Hello Bryan,

I have yet to read Seth Godin’s book. It is in my to-read book list. Thanks for highlighting that he has things to say about perfectionism. I would be interested to read his views too!

You said it with “stop investing time into its perfection”. It will be time wasted especially it is not necessary!

Abundance always,
Evelyn

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J.D. Meier - March 22, 2011 Reply

I like how you intersperse practical tools, including the Kolbe test and the emotional freedom technique.

[Reply]

Evelyn Reply:

Thanks for your feedback, J.D. Glad that you’ve enjoyed how I brought the elements together in a post.

Abundance always,
Evelyn

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arina nikitina - March 25, 2011 Reply

Hi Evelyn! Honestly, the first half posed a tightness in my chest. How difficult it must be for “perfectionists” to live that way! They’re the ones that most of us wouldn’t like to deal with; but it got me thinking, maybe even they themselves don’t like dealing with who they are and why they’re like that!

I am so glad about the second half of the post. You should be commended for your hard work and patience in coming up with an artful and positive solution to beat perfectionism.

Keep posting!

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Lynne Quintana - June 6, 2011 Reply

i have always known that i am a perfectionist and known some effects of it in my life which has paralyzed me. I would want to overcome this and am going to start now to apply your tips.

Thank You.

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JC - May 2, 2013 Reply

Wow, this blog post is so full of BS. So full of vague “help” – just a bunch of words with no real actionable steps. Thanks for leading people on with your tips to overcome perfectionism, when there actually are no tips.

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