Strategies to manage perfectionism

Procrastinating, constantly setting the bar high for yourself, being your own worst critic, feeling a need for control and an unrelenting work ethic… Sound familiar??

Struggling to be present, easy going and joyful? I could go on…

If a few of these resonate with you then it’s likely that you’re a perfectionist.

Ooooh a perfectionist? That must mean you’re great at everything! Highly detailed and producing great work in everything you do. What a delight!

Sometimes yes.

But often no.

Why? Because perfectionists, more often than not, are their own worst enemies. Let me explain…

The paradox of perfectionism

Perfectionism is a personality trait associated with high standards and an unrelenting work ethic. But typically… there’s a paradox. You want to achieve perfection so you set incredibly high standards for yourself and by doing so, well… you kind of set yourself up to fail in two ways. Either you set the bar so high that you can’t achieve it and beat yourself up for failing, or you don’t celebrate your achievements, brush right past them and keep raising the bar focusing on what you haven’t achieved, not what you have. Both can lead to an erosion of confidence and self-worth. So, while you want perfection, nothing is ever good enough and you can’t actually achieve it. It’s quite a toxic cycle when you stop to think about it and it’s no wonder a lot of the coaching clients who come to me feel stuck and frustrated with themselves due to their perfectionism.

Why its beneficial to manage perfectionism

If you’re a perfectionist, you might have accepted this is how you are. You might feel powerless to change it or perhaps you’ve never thought to challenge it until now. I’m here to tell you that your self-awareness of your perfectionism is your superpower for positive change. When you manage your perfectionism you’ll allow it to work for you and not against you and you’ll achieve amazing things personally and professionally!

Maladaptive vs adaptive perfectionism

Not to get too technical here but… I want to flag two states of perfectionism, maladaptive and adaptive perfectionism.

Maladaptive perfectionism is ultimately perfectionism that has a negative impact on your life (likely the reason you’ve taken an interest in this blog in the first place and definitely the reason many of my coaching clients seek me out for balance, confidence and sustainable high performance).

Maladaptive perfectionism looks like:

  • Perpetually setting the bar too high for yourself and others

  • Procrastinating

  • Self-sabotaging

  • Measuring your self-worth based on your achievements

  • Struggling to make the ‘perfect’ decision in a timely manner

  • An excessive need for approval

  • Giving up easily if something doesn’t come naturally to you

  • Pushing through to get something just right even if it’s to your own detriment

Adaptive perfectionism could be summarised as a positive state of perfectionism.

Adaptive perfectionism looks like:

  • High standards that are realistic

  • A healthy measure of ambition and persistence

  • Innovation due to a healthy pursuit of making things better

  • Working hard and striving for excellence (rather than perfection)

  • Self-worth based on more than your achievements

  • May appreciate positive feedback from others but don’t require it

  • An ability to accept not meetings your own standards

Rather than the ‘do or die’ mindset of perfectionism, it’s ‘do your best and be ok with it’. This acceptance eradicates the key performance blockers like an overwhelming high bar, fear of failure, procrastinating, giving up, self-sabotage etc. In its best state, adaptive perfectionism can lead to world class performance because you can work exceptionally hard to a high standard but also accept the peaks and troughs that come with it. High performance teamed with strategy and resilience is how the best of the best come to be.

Managing perfectionism

We want you to be functioning less in a maladaptive state and more in an adaptive state of perfectionism. This will require management. To manage something you need to be aware of it’s nuances, you need to be strategic and you need to be active. Here are my top tips to manage perfectionism so it can be a positive trait for you.

4 Keys to managing perfectionism

  1. Accept that perfection doesn’t exist. Release yourself from unrelenting and unreasonably high standards. This isn’t ‘lowering the bar’ so much as being rational about what you expect from yourself and others.

  2. Self-awareness.You don’t know what you don’t know and when you do know, you’re empowered to create change. So, first things first you need to become aware of how perfectionism is affecting you and those around you. The more specific you can be, the more targeted you can make your action plan to manage it.

  3. Embrace curiosity.You’re going to need to be willing to try new things and be curious about the outcomes. Approach things with curiosity rather than an absolute success or failure mindset. It will take the pressure off!

  4. Break it down.Perfectionists tend to make tasks bigger and bigger until they’re so overwhelming, they feel paralysed. If this starts to happen to you, break it down into achievable steps and focus on one step at a time.

There’s a lot to managing perfectionism, the above list is by no means the end of the options you have available to you but they’re a great start to help put you back in control.

That’s if you action them.

You’re going to have to do the hard work to create the change you want to see! A tailored action plan is always the most effective way to create positive change and that’s why I love working 1:1 with my Life Coaching clients, but I love writing and sharing my knowledge too. I hope this blog gives you the inspiration you need to open you mind to a new way of existing as a perfectionist!

Steph x

Certified Professional Life Coach

Launceston, Tasmania

p.s. If you want to talk about how Life Coaching with me will help you to increase your confidence, performance and work/life balance then get in touch to arrange a free intro chat with me. Whether it turns into coaching or is simply an empowering chat, I'd love to support you on your journey!

Author: Steph Edmunds

Certified Professional Life Coach, Launceston, Tasmania

Steph Edmunds is SESC's incredibly passionate, experienced Certified Professional Life Coach based in Launceston, Tasmania, coaching clients across Australia and the world via Zoom to achieve work/life cohesion, confidence and sustainable high performance.

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