Strategies for Coping with Perfectionism

I’m a self-proclaimed recovering perfectionist. In hindsight, for the first twenty-something years of my life I tortured myself striving for perfection that couldn’t exist; 4.0 GPA, leadership positions in too many clubs, staying in touch with endless people. If I was late to a meeting by five minutes or got an A- on a paper, I was so angry and frustrated with myself. I’d spend so much time thinking about what I should’ve done differently.

I should’ve left ten minutes earlier.

I should have phrased this sentence differently.

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All the “should haves” and wasted energy I poured into my mistakes was exhausting, unproductive, and self-destructive. In the past year and a half, I’ve been working harder to shake this negative self-talk and deeply entrenched perfectionism. I have respect for all perfectionism has allowed me to achieve–a wonderful education, strong friendships, a solid work ethic–but I have also learned a few tools that allow me to ditch the downsides of perfectionism:

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Who actually cares? Probably NO ONE, but if someone does care they likely do not know you well and might not be the type of person you want to value in your life.
  2. Will this matter in five years? Most likely not. Think about small mistakes you made five years ago–do they impact your life today?
  3. What am I losing? You’re probably only losing out on time you spent feeling regretful, upset, or disappointed.

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Do these things:

  1. Give yourself a hug, maybe even a small kiss on the shoulder–practice self-compassion.
  2. Treat yourself like a friend. If your best friend made this mistake, say to yourself what you might say to them
  3. Distract yourself: watch a quick show, ted talk, or call a friend.
  4. Focus on the positive: sure, one thing in your day went wrong. Now, focus on what went right.

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In school mistakes might mean a less than perfect grade and in the professional world, it might mean a frustrated client or a mistake in a presentation. Whatever it is, it’s likely not life-threatening and often we are the ones who suffer most. If you’re anything like me, I highly recommend trying out some of these tips and learning how you can change your perception of perfection.

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Are you a perfectionist? Do you use any of these strategies?

Hannah

One Comment

  1. Those questions are SO helpful, especially #1 and #2. It’s so easy to get caught up in a spiral of negativity and ‘should’. I’m really trying to recover from perfectionism, too!

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