Overcoming Perfectionism: Lessons from a Recovering Perfectionist. Part II.

Last week we offered part I of Overcoming Perfectionism: Lessons from a Recovering Perfectionist Part I. This week we are picking up right where we left off with Part II. We encourage you to read part I if you have not already, as it gives a description of what perfectionism can look like. Perfectionists do not always recognize themselves as perfectionists. Don’t confuse being a “neat freak” or having OCD with perfectionism.

Process focused/ Overcoming perfectionism/ Birmingham Al

Treat Life Like a Science Experiment: Focus on Process for Overcoming Perfectionism

Adopting the mindset of treating life as a science experiment can fundamentally alter our approach to goals and the hurdles we face. This perspective encourages us to focus on the process rather than becoming overly fixated on the outcome. By doing so, we liberate ourselves from the narrow definition of success that equates our worth with our achievements.

In a scientific experiment, each step, observation, and result—regardless of whether it meets the initial hypothesis—is valuable. This approach fosters a learning mindset, where the emphasis is on discovery and adaptation rather than on securing a specific result.

When we engage with our endeavors as experiments, every attempt becomes an opportunity to learn something new, to refine our methods, and to adjust our course based on what the data tells us. This way of thinking allows us to detach our self-esteem from the outcomes and to place it instead on the effort, the innovation, and the resilience we demonstrate along the way. It prompts us to ask questions like, “What can I learn from this?” and “How can I adjust my approach for a better result next time?” rather than dwelling on what went wrong or what could have been.

This experimental mindset also teaches us to appreciate the variables outside of our control, understanding that they too are part of the process. It shifts our focus from a future-oriented fixation on results to a present-moment engagement with our actions and decisions. By doing so, we cultivate a mindset that values growth and progress, understanding that each step forward—no matter how small—is a part of a larger journey of exploration and self-discovery.When we shift our mindset to see life as a continuous experiment, we open ourselves up to the beauty of discovery and learning, rather than fixating solely on outcomes.

This approach encourages us to focus on the steps we’re taking and the decisions we’re making in the present moment. It’s an invitation to be fully engaged and curious, to hypothesize, to try, and then to observe what happens without attaching our happiness to a specific result. By doing so, we learn to appreciate the journey, understanding that each action is a part of a larger process of growth and self-discovery. This perspective liberates us from the weight of expecting perfection and allows us to find contentment in the effort and progress, not just the finish line.

It teaches us to value the experiments that didn’t go as planned just as much as those that did, recognizing that every outcome brings valuable insights. Embracing this experimental mindset fosters a resilience to the unpredictability of life, empowering us to continue moving forward with curiosity and openness, no matter the results.

little boy flexing muscles focusing onnhis stregnth

Recognize Your Strengths and Stop Minimizing Them to Overcome Perfectionism

For those grappling with other-oriented perfectionism, where the expectation is for others to meet your high standards, recognizing and valuing your own strengths can shift your perspective and reduce the strain you place on relationships. This form of perfectionism not only places undue pressure on yourself but also on those around you, fostering an environment of criticism rather than support. Start by acknowledging that everyone, including yourself, has unique strengths and areas of expertise. Encouraging yourself and others to leverage these strengths can create a more collaborative and positive atmosphere, where success is shared and celebrated collectively. It’s essential to understand that expecting perfection from others is as unrealistic as expecting it from yourself. By focusing on individual strengths, you cultivate patience and empathy, recognizing that growth and excellence can manifest differently across people. This approach not only alleviates the pressure of perfectionism on your relationships but also enriches your appreciation for the diverse talents and contributions each person brings to the table. Recognizing this diversity as a strength, rather than a deviation from perfection, paves the way for more meaningful and supportive interactions.

As a part of other oriented perfectionism, often times perfectionists minimize their own strengths. This becomes a big problems in how we interact with and view others. For instance, if you are really strong in one area but don’t really see yourself accurately, you may have the thought that everyone should be able to do this particular thing easily. So you ask an employee to do this thing without giving any instruction because it is so easy to you. The employee does not complete the task successfully in the way you want it done because it was not easy or self-explanatory. You are upset with the employee and the employee feels defeated. However, if you are clear about your own strengths, you will not assume that something that is easy to you, is easy to everyone.

two women comparing themselves to each other in mirror/ Overcoming perfectionism/ 35223

Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

The habit of comparing ourselves to others is a common pitfall that exacerbates perfectionist tendencies, creating an endless cycle of self-doubt and unreasonable expectations. When we measure our own worth or abilities against someone else’s, we’re often selecting their highlight reels to benchmark against our behind-the-scenes footage. This skewed comparison magnifies our perceived flaws and minimizes our unique strengths, propelling us further into the depths of perfectionism.

Comparisons to others tend to lead us to be more unreasonable with ourselves. We do not tend to compare our hair to someone who has less desirable hair. We compare ourselves and our hair to someone with the most beautiful hair we have ever seen. In comparison, our hair falls short, making us think our hair is not good enough. This drives us to attempt to prove that we are enough in some other area, driving perfectionism.

Instead of focusing on the achievements or qualities of others, direct that energy inward to celebrate your own progress and milestones. Remember, each person’s journey is distinct, filled with different challenges, opportunities, and timelines. Embrace the concept of running your own race, focusing on your path and growth, rather than glancing sideways to monitor someone else’s. This shift in perspective requires intentional practice and mindfulness.

Whenever you catch yourself making comparisons, gently remind yourself of your achievements, strengths, and the progress you’ve made on your personal journey. Redirecting your focus in this manner not only diminishes the drive to meet an impossible standard of perfection but also cultivates a healthier, more self-compassionate mindset. Engaging in this practice consistently can liberate you from the chains of comparison, allowing you to appreciate your own value and journey with greater clarity and peace.

Recognize that each individual’s journey is unique, filled with its own set of challenges and triumphs. Instead of measuring your worth or progress against others, focus on your personal growth and the goals that matter most to you. Redirecting your energy towards self-improvement, rather than external validation, dismantles the need for comparison and nurtures a healthier, more self-compassionate approach to achieving excellence. By embracing this mindset, you cultivate an environment where you can thrive on your terms, free from the constraining comparisons that fuel perfectionism.

Learn How to Be Reasonable with Yourself to Overcome Perfectionism

One effective strategy for overcoming perfectionism involves reevaluating our approach to time management. Often, we find ourselves trapped on a relentless hamster wheel, always chasing the next task, never feeling quite satisfied with our progress. Reflect on your experiences with to-do lists:

How often have you actually completed every item in a single day? If you’re like many of us, the answer might reveal an unsettling pattern of setting unattainable daily goals, leading to a persistent feeling of inadequacy.

This realization invites us to adopt a more reasonable stance towards our expectations and capabilities. Instead of packing our schedules with back-to-back tasks, we should allow ourselves the grace to accept that not everything can be achieved in one day. It’s about quality over quantity, focusing on what truly matters and giving those tasks the attention and effort they deserve, rather than rushing through a list that’s too long to be feasible.

To counteract this, start by setting more realistic daily goals. Prioritize your tasks based on urgency and importance, and be honest with yourself about what can genuinely be accomplished within the confines of a day. This might mean limiting your to-do list to three to five critical tasks rather than an overwhelming ten to fifteen. By doing so, you align your expectations with the reality of time and energy available, reducing the self-imposed pressure to perform flawlessly. This approach not only fosters a healthier relationship with time and productivity but also bolsters your sense of self-efficacy as you achieve these more attainable goals, step by step.

It teaches us to be kinder to ourselves, acknowledging that our worth is not tied to how many boxes we check off a list but rather the effort and intention we bring to our most critical activities. This shift in mindset is crucial for stepping away from perfectionism and moving towards a more balanced, fulfilling approach to our daily lives and responsibilities.

Set Big Goals and Immediately Break Them Down

For many perfectionists, the act of setting goals is fraught with anxiety and hesitation.

Perfectionists tend to procrastinate in many different ways. Some perfectionists struggle to set goals at all for fear of falling short and failing to reach these goals. Some perfectionists set goals that are so unattainable they can never take the first step toward the goal. Some perfectionists set high but attainable goals but become overwhelmed when deciding what to do to reach the goal.

The fear of not achieving or the pressure of setting sky-high goals that seem beyond reach can immobilize even the most ambitious individuals. The key to navigating this challenge is to set substantial goals but then immediately segment these goals into smaller, more manageable steps.

This technique allows you to maintain your visionary outlook while making the journey toward these aspirations more approachable and less daunting.

Begin by defining your overarching goal in clear terms. Once you have this big picture in mind, start the process of breaking it down. Ask yourself, “What are the incremental steps required to make this goal a reality?” Consider these steps as milestones on your path, each contributing to the larger outcome. This approach not only demystifies the process but also provides a roadmap that guides your efforts, making the goal feel more achievable.

For each smaller step, assign realistic timelines and define specific, actionable tasks. This detailed planning transforms abstract goals into a series of concrete actions, significantly reducing the overwhelm that can come with pursuing large ambitions. It also creates a series of checkpoints to celebrate progress, which is crucial for maintaining motivation and combating the perfectionist’s tendency to undervalue incremental achievements.

By focusing on the process and recognizing that each small step is a stride toward your ultimate goal, you reinforce a growth mindset. This mindset appreciates progress over perfection and understands that setbacks are not failures but opportunities for learning and refinement. Adopting this strategic approach not only mitigates the paralysis often induced by perfectionism but also cultivates a sense of empowerment and achievement as you navigate the path to your aspirations.

Follow Through to Overcome Perfectionism

Follow Through is a critical component in the journey of overcoming perfectionism. It involves committing to the steps you’ve outlined and pushing forward, despite the fear of imperfection that may loom.

Consistency and persistence in action can significantly reduce the hold perfectionism has over your life, as it shifts the focus from fearing failure to celebrating progress and resilience.

Implementing the smaller, actionable steps you’ve identified requires discipline and a willingness to accept that not every effort will be flawless. However, the act of following through itself is a triumph over perfectionism, reinforcing the understanding that growth and improvement are cumulative results of continued efforts, not isolated moments of perfection. It’s about embracing the learning process and understanding that setbacks are not indicators of failure but opportunities for growth and recalibration.

Cultivating a routine that supports your goals, while integrating flexibility to adapt to unforeseen challenges, is key. This may involve setting regular check-ins with yourself to assess progress, adjust plans as needed, and celebrate the milestones achieved. Holding yourself accountable, perhaps through a journal or with the support of a mentor or community, can provide the encouragement needed to persist.

Moreover, embodying the qualities of the person you aspire to be—someone who values progress over perfection, who is kind to themselves and resilient in the face of challenges—can profoundly influence your ability to follow through. This self-conception not only minimizes self-criticism but also propels you towards your goals with a healthier mindset.

In essence, follow-through is not just about reaching an end goal but about building a relationship with yourself that is based on trust, resilience, and self-compassion. It’s a testament to your commitment to personal growth and the pursuit of a life unencumbered by the unrealistic demands of perfectionism.

Empower Counseling has therapists who are experts in Perfectionism and how to Break Free

Empower Counseling and its compassionate therapists in Birmingham, Alabama know what perfectionism anxiety can do to you. And we know how to help. We offer Acceptance Commitment Therapy for Anxiety and Perfectionism.

We offer therapy in Birmingham at our Mountain Brook Office in Office Park. We also offer online therapy anywhere in the state of Alabama. LuciaMartiSavannah, and Kathryn serve Homewood, Mountain Brook, Vestavia, Hoover and all of the surrounding areas of Birmingham. Our therapists offer counseling for teens, counseling for college students (SamfordAlabamaAuburn, and more), therapy for young adults, and therapy for professionals.

In addition to anxiety therapy at Empower Counseling, we offer counseling for depressiondifficult life transitionstrauma, bipolar disorder, perfectionism, and eating disorders. We are happy to announce that both Marti and Savannah offer EMDR therapy.

It is easy to get started.

  1. Click here to send us a request for a free consultation or your first appointment.
  2. Get to know your new therapist.
  3. Begin moving away from anxiety and toward a more peaceful life.

Other helpful blog posts for you:

Does My Daughter Have An Eating Disorder? By A Birmingham Eating Disorder Therapist

Trauma-Focused Acceptance And Commitment Therapy: Another Way Of Treating Trauma

I’m Kathryn, founder of Empower Counseling and a recovering perfectionist. I have learned methods to move away from perfectionism and the self-criticism that comes with. Moving away from the unhelpful parts of perfectionism, does not mean lowering your standards. You can still be high achieving without hanging on the the very unhealthy parts of perfectionism. Let me show you how.

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