5 ways to manage your perfectionism

Feb 6, 2017

By Rebecca Aptekar, PsyD

When is the last time you hiked through a mountain meadow filled with wildflowers and said, “Oh, what a mess!” Wildflowers are beautiful precisely because they are imperfect, irregular, and unexpected.

Just as we accept what we see in nature, we can also practice accepting things as they are – without trying to make them perfect – in other parts of our lives. We can make room for imperfections and make the choice that things are “good enough” for the moment.

“Perfectionism may get you what you want sometimes, but the cost to you and your relationships can be enormous.”

Perfectionism is about having unreasonably high expectations and approaching life with inflexibility. There are many costs to this mindset. It’s anxiety provoking, it creates interpersonal conflicts, and it leads to procrastination. You may have great intentions behind your perfectionism, such as getting a raise, standing out from your co-workers, or appearing competent.

But the problem isn’t with your intentions, it’s with the perfectionistic approach you use to achieve your goals. It may get you what you want sometimes, but the cost to you and your relationships can be enormous.

Here are a few of the thinking patterns that may come with being a perfectionist:

  • Rigid rule following.
    “It must be done this way” or “Do things right or don’t do them at all.” This can lead to procrastination and missed deadlines because things have to be just right.
  • Everything is important.
    “All tasks must be approached with the same level of detail, energy, and effort.” While trying to do everything well, tasks aren’t prioritized according to your values or what’s really important.
  • Mistakes are unacceptable.
    “All mistakes must be hidden” or “The consequences of making mistakes are catastrophic.” This thinking leads to difficulty accepting constructive feedback.

Here are 5 skills you can use to work with perfectionism:

  1. Become aware.
    Develop an awareness of your perfectionist thinking style and label it when it shows up. “I’m overwhelmed because I’m being a perfectionist!” Or “I’m procrastinating now because I think I need to do this the ‘right’ way.”
  2. Act on values.
    Prioritize your decisions and behaviors based on values. You can identify how you want to spend your time based on your deepest beliefs about who you want to be – at work and at home.
  3. Make mistakes.
    Take risks rather than following rigid rules to feel safe. You can practice showing people “works in progress” and reconsidering your catastrophic beliefs about mistakes.
  4. Set goals.
    Break goals into small, achievable steps. You can stop avoiding and address tendencies to procrastinate by not attempting to complete entire projects at once.
  5. Question standards.
    Challenge your standards and rigid expectations. You can practice thinking about things in a more balanced way. Ask yourself, “Am I thinking in black-and-white? Where’s the gray area here?”

I tried to write the perfect sentence to end this blog, but I couldn’t. So instead, I just started writing the last paragraph. What if you could approach your life like this – by engaging with things just as they are, without unnecessary, rigid expectations?

Practice being okay with the potential disappointment, anxiety, and stress that comes when you fully engage with life. Accept the wildflowers.


If you’re suffering from your perfectionist mindset, Lyra can connect you to a therapist. If Lyra is offered by your employer, you can get started today. Sign up now.

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DISCLAIMER: The content of this blog is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Rebecca Aptekar, PsyD, is a clinical psychologist who specializes in using acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT) and other evidence based therapies. At Lyra, she manages clinical programs, develops content for workshops, and conducts therapy for high-tech employees.