How to let go of perfectionism

How to let go of perfectionism

Whether you’re planning a holiday gathering or setting goals for the year ahead, it’s easy for perfectionism to set in.

“Perfectionism is the struggle for flawlessness,” Dennis Buttimer, M.Ed, CEAP, RYT, CHC, a life and wellness coach at Cancer Wellness at Piedmont. “Perfectionism occurs when we try to meet a very high standard or reach a place where everything will be ‘just right.’”

Perfectionistic tendencies can be helpful

If you have perfectionist tendencies, don’t beat yourself up. Perfectionism isn’t a curse as long as you keep it in check.

“Perfectionism can be helpful if you are in balance, because you’ll continually strive to improve yourself and situations at work and home,” says Buttimer. “This can lead to high performance and productivity when setting and reaching goals.”

Perfectionistic tendencies can be harmful

Perfectionism can be harmful when you never feel good enough and are never at rest physically or mentally.

“Many perfectionists don’t allow themselves to relax, which ironically would make them more productive,” he says. “It’s also a challenge for perfectionists not to deeply personalize their performance with their personhood.”

The holidays and perfectionism

For some of us, perfectionism can come out during the holidays when we feel pressure to have our families, homes and lives look and feel a certain way. Other people go in the opposite direction, says Buttimer, refusing to set goals or bring their best selves to the table.

“There’s an underlying belief that if you can’t do something perfectly, then there’s no use in trying,” he explains. “In this case, it can be easy to get stuck in procrastination.”

The good news is perfection is an illusion, and when you genuinely start to believe this, you can let go of the idea that you can achieve it.

How to let go of perfectionism

“Life causes us to want to improve our conditions,” says Buttimer. “By nature, we are people who want things to be better for ourselves.”

It’s good to set goals so you can feel better and live better, but the catch is being able to hold them loosely.

“Holding yourself to an impossible standard won’t help you meet a goal,” says Buttimer. “In fact, it’s counterproductive. Many people don’t realize how much pressure they’re putting on themselves mentally, physically, emotionally and relationally.”

If you have a goal, it’s better to make slow, imperfect progress than to make significant progress for two weeks and then give up. So, if you don’t achieve your goal as quickly or flawlessly as you planned, it’s OK. The point is to keep going, rather than letting an all-or-nothing approach derail your progress. 

It’s essential to have a sense of balance and compassion, which will set you up for success, says Buttimer. Self-compassion will keep you from getting overwhelmed and giving up.

Learn more ways to reduce stress and improve your well-being.


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