If you’ve found your way to this article, I’m guessing you consider yourself a perfectionist. And if you’re reading about how to stop being a perfectionist, you also know your drive for perfection can be as much a curse as it is a blessing.
Like any natural force of nature (e.g., wind, fire, or water), too much of anything can lead to chaos. When the rain waters the earth, for instance, think about how it revives and brings new life to everything it touches. But excessive rain can cause flooding and leave a trail of devastation in its wake.
The same principle is true with perfectionism. You already know the benefits of being meticulous, detail-oriented, conscientious, and successful. The challenge comes when pursuing these things does not lead to a sense of well-being and fulfillment.
Continually striving to get everything right and be the best can come at a high cost and affect your personal relationships, health, and well-being adversely.
I’ve worked with many highly-successful people quick to identify themselves as perfectionists — striving for the perfect life, the perfect relationship, the perfect body, the perfect email, the perfect image, or to be the perfect student, the perfect wife, the perfect employee… You get the point.
They are talented people whose relentless drive has helped them achieve many great things. Although others may be in awe of their achievements, they talk about feeling stressed and anything but perfect.
Listening to clients’ experiences, I’ve seen very clearly that striving for perfection is destined to bring pain, exhaustion, and a sense of failure because it is unattainable. There’s no finish line, checkbox, or wrap party. (Even if it were attainable, and there was a party, would there be anyone left to celebrate with?)
What Is Perfectionism?
The dictionary defines perfectionism as “the refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.” One study describes it as “an irrational desire to achieve along with being overly critical of oneself and others.” Perfectionism is an unrelenting need to meet your or others’ expectations of yourself.
Refusal. Irrational. Unrelenting. These words represent difficult feelings for anyone to live with daily. These feelings can be attributed to the underlying fear and belief that they will never be good enough.
As author and speaker, Brené Brown shares on Oprah’s Lifeclass:
“When perfectionism is driving, shame is always riding shotgun and fear is the annoying backseat driver….[perfectionism] is “a way of thinking…if I look perfect, live perfect, work perfect, do it perfect, I can avoid or minimize shame, criticism, blame, judgement or ridicule…perfectionism is a 20-ton shield that we carry around hoping it will keep us from being hurt. When in truth, it keeps us from being seen.”
So, how do you harness your perfectionist powers for good? How do you honor your drive, ambition, and motivation without causing undue stress, frustration, and pain?
9 Steps on How to Stop Being a Perfectionist
As you read the following steps, remember that it isn’t about throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Instead, it’s about thinking deeper and wider about how you can keep those high standards without experiencing negative consequences.
A mentor once told me that awareness is 90% of the solution.
When you are aware, and you acknowledge something in your life, it loses its power over you. When you bring it from an unconscious pattern to a conscious choice, you are now back in the driver’s seat.
Seek to understand what fuels your perfectionist nature. What’s your core driver?
There’s a reason why you are striving for perfection. Perhaps you learned that you needed to achieve that somewhere along the way or someone praised you at some point, and such comments made you feel worthy, validated, and recognized.
Many strive to be perfect to fill a need for love, or a lack of self-esteem. I learned that much of my own perfectionist behavior came from my fear of getting rejected, even though it was ironically causing the rejection I was trying to avoid.
Consider what drives your perfectionism. Being a perfectionist – no matter how painful or problematic it becomes – is likely serving you in some way, so try to understand the reasons behind it.
3. Identify Consequences
Based on an article, perfectionism can cause low productivity, troubled relationships, lack of confidence, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. This drive you pride yourself on can come at a cost. When you identify and acknowledge the consequences of your perfectionism, it compels your mind to want to do something about it.
How is perfectionism impacting your health and wellness? Have you missed opportunities to do something new out of fear that you wouldn’t do it perfectly? Is your pursuit of perfection causing friction in your relationships with your partner, kids, or friends? How is this trait sitting with your co-workers?
As a leader and team consultant, I’m highly aware of how those perfectionist tendencies can be career-limiting if not recognized and managed.
Identify three negative consequences of perfectionism on your life, career, health, or relationships.
4. Know You Are Enough
Many people beat themselves up for not being ‘enough’ of something; for example pretty, fit, rich, successful, at home, etc. This is the inner critic’s voice. But guess what? That little voice that tells you that you’re not enough is wrong!
You are enough. You are more than enough. You were born enough and will always be enough. You are deserving of love, happiness, and success, regardless of the things you do or how perfect you are. It might not be believable right now, but deep down, some part of you knows this to be true.
I know it’s not easy. As a perfectionist, you tend to see what’s wrong before you see what’s right, including the one wrong question on the test, the single typo in your winning presentation to the team, or the three pounds you didn’t lose versus the seven you did.
But instead of focusing on what went wrong, why don’t you acknowledge all the things you’re doing right? At least do that before you try to figure out how to make future improvements!
Your new mantra: progress over perfection
Acknowledge your successes, talents, and strengths. Every day for 30 days, write down three things you are good at and what you like about yourself. These can be personality traits (kind, loving, hard-working); strengths (writing, speaking, your job); or wins from the day or lifetime achievements.
5. Do Your Best Every Day
Over the years, Dad has shared countless words of wisdom with me. However, “do your best every day” is the piece of advice I rely on the most. I’ve called my dad many times, worried about something that happened, beating myself up or second-guessing a decision. Here’s how our conversation goes every time:
Dad: Did you do your best?
Dad: That’s all you can do. You can’t control what happens from here.
That’s it. Simple, right? But if you really stop to think about this, it’s a powerful way to stop being a perfectionist.
When you do your best, you can rest, knowing you did everything you could. You can live with no regrets. Sure, you might want to do things better next time, and there are likely areas of improvement, but it’s just that — next time. You can’t change what has already happened, so using energy to beat yourself up about it achieves absolutely nothing.
Next time you beat yourself up over something you’ve already said or done imperfectly, ask yourself,
“Did I do my best that I could [with what I had, with what I knew]?”
If the answer is a resounding yes, then permit yourself to let go, move on, and use your time and energy to make things better next time.
Replace perfection with something more significant and attainable.
Take a conversation I had with a friend of mine about my daughter, who is a successful and awarded competitive gymnast.
Friend: Is she going to be in the Olympics?
Me: No, she isn’t.
Friend: Then, why does she spend so much time at the gym?
Me: Because she loves it.
Friend: Yes, but if she’s not going to the Olympics, why the waste of time and money?
Me: Well, you run your own company, right?
Me: Will your company be the best and most recognized one in your industry?
Friend: No, of course not. You know we’re a small company.
Me: If you are aware of that, why would you keep the company running at all?
That’s when she got it, but I was still concerned by her logic.
“If my daughter won’t be THE BEST in the ENTIRE WORLD, why would she even do the sport at all?”
Is this what our kids are hearing from us? If they won’t play NFL football, sing on a sold-out stage at Madison Square Garden, or display their work on the Guggenheim, why on earth would they continue pursuing sports, singing, or art, respectively?
If you talk with my daughter, you will quickly learn that she does the sport because she loves the challenge. It pushes her body to the limit, and she finds joy, satisfaction, and purpose by going to the gym. I love that she loves it and know that she is learning life lessons that will serve her future success.
Why not replace your drive for perfection with something much deeper and more significant?
Make the switch and identify what’s really important to you. Perhaps you can replace your drive for perfection with purpose, kindness, joy, fulfillment, contribution, or love. What resonates the most with you?
7. Embrace Failure
You’ve likely heard countless stories of successful people who have used their failures as a stepping stone for success.
Walt Disney was fired from the Kansas City Star because his editor felt he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas.” Oprah Winfrey was told she was “unfit for television.” And, in the words of Michael Jordan:
“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Most successful leaders, entrepreneurs, and elite athletes will tell you that failure has made them successful. Embracing failure is, of course, easier said than done.
In one of my first jobs out of college, I worked on a project to get more people into a program I helped create. I was convinced it was awesome, and we could easily fill seats. I spent time, money, and energy trying to get it off the ground but to very little effect.
I was embarrassed, defeated, and felt like a complete failure: I had let the company and myself down. One day, wallowing in self-pity, I called my mentor and told him what had happened.
“Tracy, failure is an event, not a person.”
That single sentence has stuck with me throughout my career.
If you are growing and striving (which you likely are), you will fail a lot in your life. You will make mistakes, mess up, and let others down.
When that happens, remember that you have made a mistake, but you are not the mistake.
8. Celebrate Imperfection
What if your greatest weakness was actually your greatest strength? What if your adversity is your advantage?
In the famous 1937 personal development book Think and Grow Rich by Napoleon Hill, Napoleon talks about his son, Blair, who had a birth defect. He had no physical signs of ears and was destined to be deaf and mute.
Napoleon believed, “His affliction was not a liability, but an asset of great value.” He also thought that “every adversity brings with it the seed of an equivalent advantage.”
While he had no idea how his son’s affliction could become an asset, Napoleon had faith that it would. And he was right — Blair went on to lead an incredible, successful life. He attained his hearing and lived life on a mission to bring hope and help to the deaf and hard of hearing, positively affecting millions.
Think of all the people who have overcome imperfections. Think of those who have inspired you many times. Often, our vulnerabilities and ability to overcome struggles and fears can create not only inspiration and hope but also a connection with others.
“We cannot connect through this façade called perfection. Now more than ever, we are craving connection, but it is in the imperfect moments that our hearts speak to each other and the lessons are learned.” — Petra Kolber
9. Step Back
Chances are, sometimes your perfectionism gets a hold of you. Like a runaway train, you don’t even realize you are wasting time, money, or energy on something that doesn’t need to be perfect.
When this happens, here are a few proven ways to get perspective.
- Don’t do an A+ job on a C-level task. Identify what’s needed and decide on what is really important. After that, let the rest go. In economics, this is called the law of diminishing returns. It is the point at which the level of profits or benefits gained is less than the amount of money or energy invested.
- Learn to satisfice (yes, that is a word). In his book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More is Less, Barry Schwartz talks about the power of satisficing instead of maximizing. Maximizers want to make the absolute best decision, while satisficers seek to find what is “good enough.” They know there is never a perfect choice, so they seek a decision that meets most of their needs or requirements. When you learn to satisfice instead of maximizing, you can make better, faster decisions with less regret.
- When all else fails, meditate. Meditation has become the cure for all that ails you, and there’s a good reason why. It allows you to calm your thoughts, achieve greater clarity, reduce fear and anxiety, and create a silence that enables you to access your true self. Simply put, meditation will help you quiet your perfectionist tendencies, reduce your worries, and return your mind to a healthy state of balance.
We Are All a Work-in-Progress
You are human. Simply by being a human, you cannot be perfect.
We are not finished “things” — we are ever-evolving beings. There will always be room for improvement, mistakes, and something new to learn. Like Sisyphus rolling his rock up the hill, perfectionism is never-ending.
How to stop being a perfectionist when you are already one?
Instead of focusing on perfection, focus on the learning, the growth, and the journey, and strive to be the best version of yourself every day.
I’ll leave you with this beautiful passage from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life:
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft.”
More on Ending Perfectionism
We often hear people talk about the importance of living in the present and the different ways it will benefit us. It all sounds wonderful, especially the lower levels of stress and anxiety, but how exactly can we live in the moment when our mind is constantly worrying about the past or plans for the future?
In this article, we’ll discuss some of the benefits of living in the moment you may not be aware of. Then, we’ll look at some of the obstacles and why we worry. Finally, and most importantly, I’ll show you how to live in the moment and stop worrying using some simple practices that you can easily incorporate into your busy schedule.
The result: a happier and more fulfilling life.
Table of Contents
The Importance of Living in the Moment
“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.” -Buddha
While it can be difficult to live in the moment, it has innumerable benefits.
Here are just a few that will enhance your life tremendously:
By reducing stress and anxiety, you avoid many of the associated health consequences, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and obesity. Studies have shown that being present can also improve psychological well-being.
Improve Your Relationships
Have you ever been with someone who is physically present, but mentally s/he’s a million miles away?
Being with unavailable people is a struggle, and building relationships with them extremely difficult.
How about being with someone who is fully present? We enjoy being with her/him because we can make a much deeper connection.
By living in the moment, you can be that person other people enjoy being with, and you make relationships much easier.
You have greater control over your mind, body, and emotions. Imagine how much better your life would be if it weren’t at the mercy of a racing mind and unpredictable emotions. You would certainly be more at peace, and much happier.
Why Do We Worry?
Before we answer this question, it’s important to distinguish between worry and concern.
When we are concerned about something, we are more likely dealing with a real problem with realistic solutions. Then, once we do whatever we can to address the problem, we’re willing to live with the outcome.
Worrying, on the other hand, involves unrealistic thinking. We may worry about a problem that doesn’t really exist, or dwell on all the bad things that can happen as a result. Then, we feel unable to deal with the outcome. Either way, we have difficulty dealing with uncertainty, which is a normal part of life.
Certainly, some of our problems may not have desirable outcomes, such as a serious health issue. Some problems may be beyond our control, such as civil unrest or economic downturn. In such cases, it can be hard to avoid worrying, but not impossible.
3 Steps to Start to Live in the Moment
Step 1: Overcome Worrying
In order to overcome worrying, we need to do two things:
Calm Your Mind
When you calm your mind, you are able to see more clearly.
The reason some problems seem so daunting is that our mind is racing so fast that we cannot see things as they truly are. Then, we make up a bunch of possible scenarios in our mind, most of which are unlikely to come true.
In addition to seeing more clearly, a calm mind will help us think more realistically. Unrealistic thinking is fueled by confusion and uncontrolled emotions. Calming your mind will reduce confusion and calm your emotions, allowing you to live in the present.
Focus on Solutions Instead of Problems
Some people tend to be more solution-oriented, and others more problem-oriented. Some of the factors that may determine this are gender, upbringing, and education.
People with more education tend to be problem-solvers. That is what their years of education train them to do. In addition, their jobs probably reinforce this way of thinking.
If you’re not problem-solving oriented, don’t worry. You can train yourself to worry less. We’ll discuss that soon.
Step 2: Identify Obstacles to Living in the Moment
In today’s busy world, it can be a challenge to live in the moment. The reasons revolve around how our mind works, as well as outside influences.
Many busy people have a racing mind that never seems to slow down. Their mind gets so agitated from too much sensory stimulation.
You see, anything that stimulates any of our five senses will trigger a thought, and that thought leads to another, and then another, and so on.
If you have a busy life, all your activities will overstimulate your mind and make it seemingly impossible to slow it down.
Unpleasant Situations and a Troublesome Past
None of us want to be in unpleasant situations, or remember those of the past. They can bring up painful emotions, which we don’t want to feel.
So how do most people cope with painful emotions?
By doing whatever we can to avoid them, we can take our mind to another place and time where things are more pleasant.
In other words, we avoid living in the present moment.
Some people resort to things that stimulate sensory pleasure, such as food, alcohol, or sex. Others will consume substances that dull their mind and keep them from thinking about unpleasant or stressful situations.
A Wandering Mind
From the moment we are born (likely sooner) until the time we die, our body and mind are active performing some function. Therefore, it’s natural for our mind to have some level of activity, whether conscious or unconscious.
Generally, a wandering mind is unproductive. One thought starts an endless chain of thoughts, and this process can go on until we need our mind to perform a specific function or get distracted with something else.
Now, there are times when a wandering mind can be productive, such as when creating works of art, or trying to find creative solutions to problems. In such cases, we need our mind to explore different possibilities.
Most of us are not fully aware of how our environment and social norms influence our thinking and behavior. People and institutions are constantly competing for our attention. The media draws our attention to the past, and advertising usually to the future.
Many people around us who dwell on the past or future try to draw us to their way of thinking. Even the whole concept of the American dream is geared toward the future. It tells us that if we acquire things like a good career, family, and house, then we’ll be happy.
Step 3: Practice Mindfulness
So how can we live in the moment in a world that is constantly trying to draw our attention to the past and future?
Before we get into concrete actions you can take, it’s important to understand what mindfulness is. You’ve probably heard the term before, but may not fully understand what it means.
The concept of mindfulness is actually quite simple. To be mindful is to live in the moment.
When you are mindful, your attention is focused on what is happening in the present moment, and you are fully in touch with reality.
You are aware of what is happening in your body, mind, emotions, and the world around you. This is different than thinking about these things. To develop greater understanding, you don’t have to think about them so much, but rather just observe them.
This may be counterintuitive to many people, especially intellectuals, because they’re so used to using logic to develop greater understanding. With mindfulness, we calm our mind and emotions so we can see clearer. Then, much of our understanding will come from simple observation. When we develop mindfulness, we literally expand our awareness.
To develop mindfulness, we need to train ourselves to observe things more objectively, that is, without our emotions or preconceived ideas influencing our views.
If you’re ready to live a better life, read on for some simple mindfulness practices that you can incorporate into your daily routine to help you live in the moment.
You don’t have to do all of them, but rather choose the ones that appeal to you and suit your lifestyle.
Mindfulness meditation is the mainstay of developing mindfulness and living in the moment. To practice mindfulness meditation, all you really have to do is sit quietly and follow your breathing. When your mind wanders off, just bring it back to your breath.
Notice how your lungs expand with each in-breath and contract with each out-breath. Let your breathing become relaxed and natural.
You don’t have to do it perfectly. The idea is to start spending time away from the constant sensory stimulation of all your activities, and just allow it to settle down naturally. Start with about 5 to 10 minutes per day and work your way up to about 20 minutes or longer.
This practice is highly effective, and can have both short-term and long-term benefits.
If you want to learn more about mindfulness meditation, take a look at this article:
While this may sound the same as mindfulness meditation, all you’re really doing is taking short breaks occasionally (10 to 15 seconds) to observe your breathing. Stop whatever you’re doing, and take a few mindful breaths, then resume your activity. That’s it.
You can do mindful breathing at any time of the day during your busy schedule. What it does is interrupt the acceleration of your mind. It is like taking your foot off the accelerator while driving. It’s a nice refreshing break you can take without anyone noticing.
Here’re some breathing exercises you can try to learn: 5 Breathing Exercises for Anxiety (Simple and Calm Anxiety Quickly)
Walking is an activity that you perform several times throughout the day. We often think we’re being productive by texting or calling someone while walking. But are we really?
Instead of getting on your cell phone or letting your mind wander off, why not use your walking to train yourself to live in the moment and focus on the task at hand?
Mindful walking is similar to mindful breathing, but instead of focusing on your breath, focus on your walking. Pay attention to each footstep. Also, notice the different motions of your arms, legs, and torso. When your mind wanders off, just bring your attention back to your walking.
You can even make a meditation out of walking. That is, go walking for a few minutes outside. Start by slowing down your pace. If you slow down your body, your mind will follow.
In addition to paying attention to your walking, notice the trees, sunshine, and critters. A mindful walk is enjoyable and can really help your mind settle down.
You can discover more benefits of walking in nature here.
Eating is an activity that most of us perform mindlessly. The reason is that it doesn’t require your attention to perform. Therefore, many of us try to multitask while we eat. We may talk on the phone, text, watch TV, or even hold a meeting.
The problem with not eating mindfully is that we don’t eat what our body and mind need to perform at an optimal level. We may eat unhealthy foods, or too much. This can lead to various health problems, especially as we get older.
Mindful eating has many health benefits, such as reduced food cravings, better digestion, and even weight loss.
So how do you eat mindfully? Start by slowing down, and avoid the temptation to distract yourself with another activity. Here are 3 different aspects of eating where you can practice mindfulness:
- Eating itself: Focus your attention on choosing a portion of food to insert into your mouth. Notice the smell, flavor, and texture as you chew it; then finally swallow it. As with following your breath during meditation, pay close attention to every aspect of eating.
- Choice of foods: Although you’ve already chosen your food before you have begun eating, you can still take the opportunity to contemplate your choices. Think about the nutrients your body needs to sustain itself.
- Contemplating the sources: Most of us don’t think about all the work it takes to provide us with the food we eat. While you’re eating, consider all the work by the farmer, shipping company, and the grocery store. These are real people who worked hard to provide you with the food necessary for your survival.
You can find more tips about mindful eating here: 7 Simple Steps to Mindful Eating
Choose an activity that you perform regularly, such as washing dishes. Focus all your attention on this activity, and resist the temptation to let your mind wander,. When it does, just bring your attention back to washing dishes.
Notice some of the specific movements or sensations of washing dishes, such as how the soapy water feels on your hands, the circular motion of scrubbing the dish, or the rinsing. You’d be surprised at how such a mundane activity can truly expand your awareness.
You can choose any activity you like, such as ironing, folding clothes, mowing the lawn, or showering. Over time, you will begin doing all these activities with greater mindfulness.
Practicing mindfulness is like regularly putting small amounts of change in a jar. They will all add up over time, and this will add up to greater peace and happiness, as well as get you closer to achieving your goals.
Remember, you don’t have to do the mindfulness practices perfectly to get the benefits. All you have to do is keep bringing your mind back to the present moment when it wanders off.
Practicing mindfulness may be a bit challenging in the beginning, but I can assure you it will get easier.
The benefits of living in the moment are well within your reach, no matter how much your mind is racing. If you stick with these mindfulness practices, you too will learn how to live in the moment and stop worrying. When you do, a whole new world will open up for you. This is what Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh calls the ultimate reality.