Perfectionism: How to overcome all-or-nothing thinking

Perfectionism is one of our “favourite flaws” and is fuelled by social media and culture pushing us to achieve sky-high standards. But it can also can result in damaging self-criticism, procrastination and the fear of failure. So how can you overcome the all-or-nothing thinking?

Perfectionism: How to overcome all-or-nothing thinking
Do you feel like you can get stuck on tasks trying to make them perfect? Spend hours on work presentations to make sure they look beautiful, or get stuck in a loop of amending things, and then stressing that it could have been better? If you’re feeling heard, you might be a perfectionist.
Perfectionism is a non-clinical term for feeling like you and/or others have to meet sky-high standards in one or more areas of life. It’s often considered our “favourite flaw” and can be celebrated with awe and respect. While perfectionism can be a powerful engine for success, it can result in damaging self-criticism, unrealistic expectations of ourselves or those around us, or an unrelenting fear of failure.
But here’s the thing: there’s no such thing as perfect. And by giving more than is generally required of a task or situation, you could be wasting energy and negatively affecting your mental and physically wellbeing.

What is perfectionism? And how do you recognise it?

Perfectionism, at its core, is the relentless drive to meet exceedingly high standards, often to the point of impossibility. It's a mindset where 'good enough' is never enough, and where every task or goal is approached with an uncompromising demand for flawlessness. Perfectionism isn't exclusive to clinical conditions like OCD or anxiety disorders. It's a trait that can stand alone, sometimes inherited from culture or upbringing. Neuroscience also points to how our brains react to mistakes: when perfectionists err, their brains light up with stronger negative emotions.
Recognising perfectionism is key to understanding and managing it. Here are some telltale signs:
  1. Fear of Failure: A deep-seated fear that any mistake or shortcoming is a sign of personal failure or inadequacy.
  1. Procrastination or Avoidance: Delaying or avoiding tasks due to the fear that the outcome won’t be perfect.
  1. Overemphasis on Results: Focusing solely on the end product rather than the process of learning and growing.
  1. Harsh Self-Criticism: Engaging in constant self-criticism and being overly critical of others for not meeting high standards.
  1. All-or-Nothing Thinking: Viewing things in black and white terms – if it's not perfect, it's a failure.
Perfectionism often masquerades as a virtuous trait, pushing us towards excellence. However, it’s crucial to spot when it starts doing more harm than good. If these signs resonate with you, perfectionism could be playing a role in your life. So here’s some ways to overcome the fear of failure.

5 Ways to Overcome Perfectionism

Easing the grip on perfectionism can help you be more productive, less stressed and a live a more balanced lifestyle. Embracing imperfection, taking risks (that might fail) and recognising progress over perfection will help you learn and grow much more than spending an extra hour on a presentation to make it just right. You could try the 80/20 method which states that 80% of results can be done with 20% of your efforts, or these 5 tips.

1. Remember “Done is Better Than Perfect”

Perfection is an illusion. Embrace the beauty of imperfection by valuing progress over perfection. Perfectionists tend to put off tasks through fear of failure, but doing the job to the level needed is enough. Celebrate small victories and remember: a finished task is better than a perfect one that’s never completed.

2. Know That Perfection Isn't Real

Recognise that the idea of perfection is subjective and often unattainable. What you perceive as perfect is subjective and studies show that accepting imperfections leads to greater satisfaction and well-being. By knowing that perfect doesn’t exist, you can embrace the journey of getting from A to B and spend energy in the right places.

3. Take a Breather

Overworking is a perfectionist’s tendency. Take a step back and check where you’re putting your energy. Ask yourself, “will the world end if this isn’t perfect?”. The answer is probably no.
Perfectionism often narrows our focus, too. Take a step back and look at the overall goal and the bigger picture. This perspective shift can reduce the pressure of minute details and highlight what truly matters. Plus, regular breaks and relaxation techniques can help reset your mind and help you be more productive in the long run.

4. Avoid Social Media

Social media often portrays unrealistic standards. Whether it’s job promotions or pristine homes, social media and success stories can skew our view on what ‘normal’ is. Taking a step back from these platforms can significantly reduce the pressure to be perfect and boost mental health. Spend a weekend offline or unfollow accounts that don’t make you feel great.

5. Embrace Making Mistakes, It’s When You’ll Learn.

Making mistakes is when we learn the most. When you’re a child, you learn not to do things by hurting yourself or getting told off. This applies through your whole life. Mistakes are part of the journey. Every leader and business will have made mistakes that have helped them develop and succeed. Strive to make them to learn, rather than wasting energy on doing everything to a sky-high standard.
Breaking free from perfectionism isn't about lowering your standards, but rather about adopting a healthier, more realistic approach to your goals. Embrace the journey, accept imperfections, and remember, you are more than enough just as you are. Strive for progress, not perfection.

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