8 Ways to Overcome Perfectionism

Perfectionists struggle to get their work done on time, mainly because of the false belief that everything has to be done flawlessly.

“If certain tasks daunt you because you dread having to meet your own standards of perfection, it may help to imagine what a B-minus student, writer, attorney, or radiologist would accomplish. Force yourself to perform only that well, in the interests of accomplishing the task. You’ll be amazed not only by the amount of work you’ll produce, but also by its quality; it won’t suffer as much as you think. You’re not a B-minus worker, and that will show through, no matter what you do. And with fewer trivial details to obscure them, your main points will carry more force and be clearer. (58)”

 

Perfectionists struggle to get their work done on time, mainly because of the false belief that everything has to be done flawlessly.

Allan Mallinger’s addresses this in Too Perfect: When Being in Control Gets Out of Control by offering the following advice.

1. Instead of telling yourself “It’s got to be flawless,” tell yourself “No, it’s got to be completed!”

2. Focus on how good it feels to make progress on a task rather than continually judging whether the work is good enough.

3. Draw up a realistic schedule for the work, remembering that ideal performance and conditions will never happen.

4. As each checkpoint arrives on your schedule, move on to the next part of the task regardless of how good your work is to this point.

5. Each time you start getting sidetracked by details or with thoughts on how the work will be evaluated, stand up, take a deep breath, re-focus on the goal, and move forwards.

Imagine yourself swimming down a river, with the current, toward a goal. You have to arrive there before dark, or it will be too late. Whenever you get sidetracked by details or fine points, envision yourself losing the current and drifting slowly out of the main river into a stream, and from there into a never-ending maze of smaller and smaller streams. They are seductive and interesting, but you lose momentum when you investigate them. Get back into the main river and move into the central current again! (57)

6. Aim for average.

If certain tasks daunt you because you dread having to meet your own standards of perfection, it may help to imagine what a B-minus student, writer, attorney, or radiologist would accomplish. Force yourself to perform only that well, in the interests of accomplishing the task. You’ll be amazed not only by the amount of work you’ll produce, but also by its quality; it won’t suffer as much as you think. You’re not a B-minus worker, and that will show through, no matter what you do. And with fewer trivial details to obscure them, your main points will carry more force and be clearer. (58)

7. Practice for #6 by doing as many little B-minus exercises as you can — whether it’s writing an email, painting a room, cooking, mowing the lawn, etc.

8. Do your work in short, structured periods of time rather than long, open-ended sessions. Mallinger says that “Many of my patients accomplish more in a few two-hour blocks per day than in an unplanned eight-to-nine-hour workday. The quality of their work is every bit as good, and they have far more free time.” He concludes:

Do the finest piece of work you can, given the limitations of deadlines and the legitimate requirements of your health, family, social life, and leisure pursuits. Remember that all of these dimensions are crucial to your enjoyment of life.

David Murray is Professor of Old Testament & Practical Theology at Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. This article first appeared on his blog, Head Heart Hand, and is used with permission.