How to Turn Perfectionism into a Healthy Habit

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In the last few decades, perfectionism has gotten a bad name. It wasn’t always that way. People, especially job applicants when asked what their weaknesses are, love to proclaim they’re perfectionists, hoping to be seen in a positive light by interviewers.


Things have changed. What used to be an admirable human attribute is now included in the DSM, the standard handbook used by psychiatrists, psychologists and other mental health professionals to diagnose mental disorders.

Backed by evidence, results of several studies have consistently shown that a perfectionistic inclination is a symptom of obsessive-compulsive disorder and other personality pathologies. They also showed that perfectionists are more vulnerable to anxiety, depression, suicidal tendencies and psychosomatic illnesses.

But before you totally dismiss perfectionism as a bad habit, take another point of view. Without it, the world wouldn’t have Steve Jobs’ Apple computers and iPhones, Picasso’s paintings, Hemingway’s books, or Kubrick’s movies. They are some of the most brilliant and creative minds, and they are perfectionists.  

Are you one, too? Do you scrutinize every minute detail of your project and not stop until it is absolutely error free? When you look in the mirror, do you fixate on your eyebrows and take hours to shape them until they look like identical twins? Are you overly critical of others because they don’t meet your standards for excellence?

Aiming for perfection means you’re always trying to improve on your work or performance. When you aspire for flawlessness and excellence, you create an impeccable finished product. On the downside, uncontrolled perfectionism can wreak havoc on your mind, making you constantly apprehensive and stressed from worrying that you’re never good enough.

If you want to overcome your dysfunctional behaviors that are the result of perfectionism, curb your fastidiousness and harsh self-evaluation. They are restrictive and prevent you from achieving success.

Here are tips to turn your perfectionism into a healthy habit:

1. Set a realistic deadline for completion of goals.

setting deadline

One shortcoming of always striving for a completely faultless outcome, whether it’s a task, product or project, is procrastination. Your fear of failure and impossibly high standards paralyze you to the point that you keep delaying work on your project.

To finish a project on time, set milestones and track their status. Create mini-deadlines for every phase of your project and stick to them. Tell someone about your self-imposed deadline. Keep in mind that a completed task is more important than an unfinished possibly perfect work.

2. Develop self-compassion.

Perfectionists tend to be extra hard on themselves. Do you agonize endlessly over a minor mistake or an oversight? Practice being kind to yourself. Strive for perfection but if you can’t achieve the standards you have set for a specific project, stop tormenting yourself over what you could have done or where you went wrong. Get off the guilt train, embrace the failure and make it a motivation for doing better the next time.

3. Don’t lose sight of the value of relationships.

The problem with perfectionists setting absurdly high standards for themselves is, they also expect these criteria from other people, at work and in intimate relationships. Bear in mind that people are unique and different from you. Not everyone strives for the same goals you have and if you expect them to, this will create friction and negative feelings.

If your perfectionism makes you overly critical, employees feel unappreciated and tense, and they lose the motivation to perform better. In your marriage, don’t aim for a Stepford spouse. It will only make them feel pressured and stressed. You’re in a marriage to love and respect your partner and not to change them to meet the archetype of the ideal person.

Cultivate tolerance and be nonjudgmental. Let go of minor mistakes. Praise people for their achievements instead of competing with them.

4. Take a breather.

Perfectionists working on a goal often do not stop until it is completed. They are so focused that they can go for hours without eating or sleeping. It’s counterintuitive but taking time out from your work results in getting more done in a shorter time.

Take a walk to clear your mind. Find a quiet place and meditate for 20 minutes. Don’t feel ashamed or guilty for doing so. When you come back to tackle your work, you’ll have a fresh perspective and you see the task from another angle, motivating you to go on.

You don’t have to get rid of your perfectionism. Just learn to recognize cataclysmic thought patterns and practice forgiveness for yourself and others. Cut yourself some slack. In time, you’ll see the improvement in your physical health and alleviation of psychological issues. You enrich your way of living by having happier and closer relationships with the significant people in your life.

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