A hand takes different coloured sweets from a pile and puts them in perfect, matching lines, symbolising a perfectionist mindset.
Image: © pavel siamionov/Stock.adobe.com

How to get over a perfectionist mindset

14 Jun 2021

Being a perfectionist has its place. However, leaning into this mindset too much can create a serious block on both productivity and creativity.

Do you have a strong attention to detail? Are you hyper-organised? Have you been called extremely diligent? Perhaps some might even say you’re a perfectionist.

Perfectionism has its place in the working world. There are plenty of jobs that require a certain level of perfectionism, but it is a trait that needs to be controlled or else it could become detrimental to growing your career.

Being a perfectionist can often stem from a fear of failure, which is exacerbated by the fact that perfectionists often set ridiculously high standards for themselves.

Fear of failure or of being judged can cause a blockage when it comes to creativity and innovative thinking. If you’re worried about failing or not being perfect, you’re less likely to take risks or think outside the box. Creativity requires room to fail, which perfectionism rarely allows.

A perfectionist mindset can also lead to a very specific brand of imposter syndrome where the person feels like a failure for even asking for help. But not only is asking for help important to lighten your load or help you learn, it’s a critical skill for your career growth and essential for personal development.

Being able to ask for help is a sign that you are self-aware, that you know your limits, that you’re open and willing to learn, and that you are able to set yourself realistic targets.

Perfectionism also slows your actual progress. That strong fear of failure means perfectionists are more likely to procrastinate or spend hours ruminating on how to approach a particular task, terrified of making a misstep.

But learning to manage your time, solve problems efficiently and make fast, effective decisions are all vital skills that can only be learned by getting away from a perfectionist mindset. So, how can you go about changing your perfectionist ways?

Acknowledge the problem

As with most things, the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one. Consider the questions at the start of this article. Does your attention to detail mean you spend a long time on tasks? Do you stay hyper-organised as a way to procrastinate from actually starting projects? Has your extreme diligence led to overworking?

Perfectionists often already know they are perfectionists, but the important part is acknowledging that it may have gotten out of control and could be hindering your career growth and your ability to work effectively. Once you’re ready to admit that, you can take action and do something about it.

Consider the worst-case scenario

In order to tackle that innate fear of failure, it’s important to stop worrying about what might happen in the worst-case scenario and start considering what you will actually do if you are faced with that situation.

Think about the different scenarios that might happen if you don’t get your task done, or if it’s not absolutely perfect.

Forcing yourself to face the situations you’re most worried about will help you realise what is most important to focus on and will help you troubleshoot these situations instead of being paralysed with fear.

Adjust your standards

Perfectionism becomes a problem when your standards are too high. Often, these standards are self-imposed and unrealistic, so one of the most important things perfectionists need to learn is the difference between what is perfect and what is good enough.

What you consider to be perfect stops being perfect the moment you start spending too much time on it. It will take time to let go of perfection but once you start deciding what is a good enough standard, this should be your new bar for what you consider perfect.

Change your deadlines

There’s an old adage that suggests if you give yourself four hours to do something, it’ll take four hours to do it. But if you give yourself half that time, you’ll still be able to get it done.

Since we have established that perfectionists are often guilty of procrastination to avoid starting the task they are already worried about failing at, it might be time to move the goal posts.

This goes hand in hand with adjusting your standards to good enough instead of perfect. How long will it really take you to get your task done? Give yourself that amount of time and strive for it.

However, be careful not to allow this new deadline to become another perfectionist stick with which to beat yourself. The point is not to give yourself another impossibly high standard, it’s to get you into the habit of working smart and reducing the time you have to ruminate unnecessarily.

Ask for help

Since not asking for help is often a side effect of being a perfectionist, it makes sense that building a habit of asking for help is an actionable way to change your mindset.

If you’re not sure where to start, try talking to your manager. They may be able to help you refocus your mind on the bigger picture with certain projects or they may be able to give you a steer on what you can do to readjust your attention.

They may even have perfectionist tendencies themselves and be able to offer some practical advice on how they work around it.

Turn your perfectionism in on itself

Once you start practising these habits, it’s time to use your powers of perfectionism for good. Instead of focusing on doing your tasks absolutely perfect and to ridiculously high standards, use your perfectionist mindset to become perfectly imperfect.

This means striving for success in changing your mindset. Don’t allow yourself to overwork for the sake of getting everything ‘just right’ – focus on being excellent at managing your time, at finishing a task efficiently, at not spending too long on solving problems.

Essentially, become a perfectionist at unlearning your negative perfectionist habits.

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the deputy editor of Silicon Republic in 2020, having worked as the careers editor until June 2019. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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