Control Perfectionism

The perfect is the enemy of the good. —Voltaire

The desire to excel is usually a good thing, but when it spills over into perfectionism it can also cause a lot of trouble, burn you out, and waste a lot of time. The key is finding the balance.


  1. Forgive yourself for your shortcomings. Nobody is perfect, and everybody has strengths and weaknesses. That's not to say you should not try to grow. You can always learn something new or try to improve, but there are times when you'll have to go with what you already know and do what you can based on that. Don't waste time worrying about what you can't do (yet).
  2. Focus on what is really needed. Is the real purpose to be perfect or produce a perfect result, or is it to get something done? What really matters? Perfectionism can often be the opposite of a timely result, because the uncertainty that comes with it leads to procrastination.
  3. Define a goal. Knowing what you want to achieve not only helps you go in the right direction, but also helps you know when you are finished.
  4. Separate Results from Judgment. Strive for the results that are best for you. Do not let your productivity be dictated by fear of others' judgment. Accept a broader form of excellence, rather than narrowly defined perfection. Study to learn; rather than to get a perfect score. Eat and exercise for health and fitness; not for simple weight targets. Perfectionism can be self-destructive when the perfectionist is too concerned with how others may perceive an imperfection.
  5. Learn from Judges/Critics. Achieving acceptance often is only a step to truly desired results. Do not set judgment up to be perfect. Expect to learn from the knowledgeable judges' opinions. Expect judges to help you improve, not simply give approval. Seek out diverse judges' opinions.
  6. Get started. Even if you're not sure yet what you're doing, give it a try. You may be better at it than you think, or your task may be easier than you imagined it. Even if your first attempt doesn't get you anywhere, perhaps you'll know what or who to ask to get going. Or, you may just discover what not to do. Most of the time, you'll find that you imagined the barriers as larger than they really are.
  7. Set a time limit.
    • Some things, such as housekeeping, are never really finished. No matter how well you clean the floor today, it'll get just as muddy tomorrow when somebody forgets to wipe his/her feet. Instead of spending hours scrubbing, set a timer for a reasonable amount of time, and clean for just that long. The place will still get cleaner and you'll work faster and without obsessing over details. Make this sort of upkeep work a regular, brief part of the routine and things will stay at an acceptable, pretty good level.
    • On a longer or more detailed project, a deadline, even a self-imposed one, can get you started and keep you moving instead of worrying over details. Break things up into smaller parts or intermediate goals if they're too big.
  8. Create a sheltered environment for learning, one where you have permission to make mistakes. Rehearse. Practice. Experiment. Quiz yourself before the real test. Write a rough draft. During all these processes, tell your inner critic to take some time off, leaving you free to learn and experiment without worrying that you might mess up.
  9. Try new things. The accepted method isn't always the best and doesn't always work. Whether you're inventing something or learning a new language, you will have some false starts. In fact, the newer and more unusual an activity you undertake, the more you will have to learn by trial and error. Then, be sure to learn from your mistakes.
  10. Recognize that for many activities, especially anything with an element of creativity, there is no one 'right' way, no one 'right' answer. If you're evaluated at all, it is subjectively. You cannot possibly please everybody who reads your writing or gazes at your painting, for instance. While keeping an audience in mind can help give your work direction, you should also allow for a large element of personal expression and style.
  11. Recognize the beauty and benefits in imperfection. Dissonant harmonies in music can create tension and drama. Leaves left on the ground insulate plants' roots and decompose to nourish the soil.
  12. Benefit from Failure. Failure is relative. Perhaps you thought your cookies were a bit overdone, but everybody else gobbled them up. As the doer, you probably know more about what went in than anybody. Whoever benefited from your work cares more about the result and may never even notice the process. In addition, consider what you learned from your failures, and how that will help you do a better job next time. You cannot learn without making some mistakes.
  13. Failure is really opportunity, an opportunity to become better, to discover yourself and inspire others to feel better about themselves. Often times we live with the feeling of "I am not good enough." There is no such thing: we are all good at something and we all excel in something. We simply have to listen to our heart's desire. You are "enough" just as you are.
  14. Reflect on your successes. Think back to something you have done or made that was successful. It may not have been perfect, but it still achieved a goal or objective. Probably you experienced some uncertainty along the way to creating that success. Your reservations and concerns may keep you out of trouble, but don't let them drag you into inaction. Rather than do a few things perfectly, accomplish many things successfully.


  • Never compare yourself to others. We all have our own pace, set of experiences, and different outcomes. You are an individual, and will never be exactly like someone else. This is what builds your character.
  • If you're great at something, help others who wish to learn. Practice being patient and not expecting them to do everything perfectly or just like you.
  • Notice what you notice about others. Can you say what your friend was wearing last Monday? Have you caught many other people making the sort of mistake you're worried about? Even if you have, did you hold it against them? Sometimes we apply to others the same unrealistic standards that we apply to ourselves. This is another manifestation of perfectionism, and thus another way to control your perfectionist tendencies.
  • Be flexible. Dealing gracefully with unexpected developments may be more important than sticking strictly to a predefined system or plan.
  • Be just a bit lazy. No, you don't have to quit your job and slack off full-time. Rather, look for tasks you can readily eliminate and easier ways to do what remains. The lazy way may well be the most efficient!
  • Be aware of the underlying thoughts and beliefs that are driving your need for perfection. Often just noticing those thoughts will be enough to shift your energy and allow you to relax.
  • Trying to be a perfectionist will cause you to become neurotic. Not only that you will lose your mind, you will also lose the support of your loved ones who care about you. Everyone falls short of something, so learn to accept that everyone is not perfect, even yourself.
  • Join a support group for co-dependents, like Al-Anon or Coda.
  • Schedule yourself Free Your Time by Reducing Your Possessions, if that is what it takes to get some. Then, relax and take the time off.
  • You don't have to be perfect at everything. Everyone has their own special talents, and you do too! Even though your talents and strengths aren't the same as the people around you don't beat yourself about it! You might be good at something they aren't good at and vice versa. Even though it may seem people are always judging you, they're probably feeling the same way.
  • Always look on the positive side of your mistakes. That way, you'll realize that it's ok to make mistakes.


  • Excellence can attract competition, envy, and animosity. Remember how everybody feels about a teacher's pet? If you're good, don't get cocky or rub it in. Don't rest on your laurels, either.
  • Perfectionism -- at its most extreme -- can be a symptom of OCD. If you experience one of more of the following, it might be time to talk to a counselor.
    • Things must be "perfect" because if they aren't, very bad things will happen.
    • Things left "not perfect" cause you serious anxiety.
    • The repetitive nature of your perfectionism is causing a serious disruption to daily life.

Related Articles

Sources and Citations