5 Ways To Break Free Of Perfectionism & Unlock Greater Professional Success


Despite all the glamorous rhetoric surrounding habitual perfectionism, it can serve as an impediment to success instead of an asset. When the constant need for perfection drives you in every aspect of your life, no achievement is ever enough for you. You tend to overstretch yourself while still finding yourself lacking, and it’s exhausting.


The problem is not that you’re not good enough: it’s that you believe you’ll never be good enough, so you spend time and energy trying to overcompensate. Trying to appear and be perfect paradoxically then holds you back because:

  • You aren’t maximising your productivity since you’re spending too much time trying to do every little thing perfectly
  • You’re sabotaging yourself by avoiding change and resisting adaptation since you don’t want to risk failure and coming across as less than perfect
  • You’re not resilient enough in the face of failure because you’ve tied your self-esteem to your achievements since that’s what gives the most tangible appearance of perfection

For the sake of your professional advancement, it’s time to make a change. Here are five ways to transition out of perfectionism; fortify it with SSA Academy’s WSQ course on developing personal effectiveness, and you’re golden.


1. Clarify expectations


The entire project of recovering from perfectionism rests on developing the ability to think “this is good enough.” It’s harder than it sounds; as a perfectionist, your mind is habituated to the exact opposite (“this is not good enough.”)

You have to start somewhere. One of the best ways to start is by clarifying the expectations others have of you and comparing this to the expectations you have of yourself.


Perfectionists tend to expect much more of themselves than others do of them. It sounds like a good thing, but that’s also what causes so much overwork and overstretching.

Make it a point to write it down so you can see it clearly. You might already know that you expect much more of yourself than others do, but seeing that contrast visually represented in front of you goes a long way in helping to shift away from overburdening yourself with unrealistic expectations.



2. Prioritise your work


Once you’ve realised the crucial role your expectations of yourself play in causing and perpetuating your perfectionistic habits, you need to act in a way that reduces these expectations to a healthy level for yourself.

It’s not enough to know “I don’t need to do everything perfectly”; you need to start acting this way too. On a day-to-day basis, this requires prioritising your to-do lists.


On every checklist, there are always essential, non-essential, and unnecessary items. Spend a few minutes each day perusing your daily task list to classify each item into those three categories and spread your time, attention, and energy in proportion to the urgency of the task.

Each time you’re able to ration yourself across your task list and focus more on the tasks that matter, you move one step further away from the tendency of wanting everything to be perfect.



3. Understand that your skillset is never static


Carol Dweck, Stanford psychologist and bestselling author of “Mindset: The New Psychology of Success,” posits that perfectionists get themselves stuck because fundamentally, they think their skills, abilities, and talents are all fixed.

That is why perfectionists struggle so much with failure; any time they fail, they take it as an indication that they’re doomed because it means their skills aren’t and will never be good enough to carry them to success.


On the other hand, those who have a “growth” mindset recognise that their skill level isn’t unchangeable and that there’s always room for improvement. These people have a whole other perspective on failure–they see it as an opportunity for growth instead of a reflection of personal incompetence.

Recovering from perfectionism necessitates that you reframe your mind in this way and re-calibrate it to practice the growth mindset.



4. Shift your focus from achievement to learning


Just as you need to reframe your perception of failure, you need to rethink what it means to be successful.

As a perfectionist, your current obsession is to keep up the illusion of being perfect, and the easiest way to do that is to go through your life collecting as many accolades, achievements, and awards as possible. That’s not always a bad thing, but in your case, it impedes you from stepping out of your comfort zone.

You’re afraid to leave the safety of the familiar because the unfamiliar is unpredictable, making it so much harder to keep up the appearance of being perfect. Hence you close yourself off from change.


Start redefining your conception of success from an “achievement” lens to a “learning” lens. Once your focus is on continually improving your skill set in terms of breadth and depth and staying at the top of your game at all times, you’ll make learning your top priority instead of needing to win accolades all the time.

That way, you’ll slowly open yourself up to the idea of taking risks and facing the possibility of failure in exchange for all that you’re going to learn by venturing into unknown territory. It’ll all pay off: once you’re at the top of your game, the awards will naturally follow suit.



5. Practice realistic optimism


If you’re a perfectionist, you’re probably used to engaging in overly harsh self-criticism. The solution is obviously to stop being so hard on yourself and be more positive in your self-talk.

It’s not about sitting in front of a mirror and showering yourself with compliments until you feel amazing. Doing that might result in having self-esteem that’s highly volatile because it’s based primarily on feeling good instead of knowing that you’re good.


Here’s a better idea: realistic optimism. At the end of every day, instead of looking at all the things you didn’t manage to do or couldn’t do perfectly, look at what you did manage to accomplish, and learn to pat yourself on the back for it.

In the long run, it forces you to stop short-changing yourself the way you’re used to as a perfectionist.

Ultimately, it’ll help you alter your thinking from the absolutism of all-or-nothing thought (“If I can’t pull this off perfectly, I’m a complete failure”) to realistic optimism (“If I can’t pull this off, I just need to go back to the drawing board, figure out a new strategy, and keep trying.”)  




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