1. Make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of trying to be perfect or holding yourself to high standards.
Writing out your own list of the costs and benefits may help you to discover what it is that you gain and lose because of the perfectionism, and how ready you are to make some changes.
2. Adjust your definition of success.
You might like to consider the following questions to help you to adjust your rules or assumptions about success or failure:
- What is the unhelpful rule or assumption I would like to adjust? (e.g., “I must not fail.” “I can’t have others think poorly of me.” “I must always get a HD”)
- Where did I learn this rules or assumption? Where did it come from?
- In what ways is this rule or assumption unreasonable? Unrealistic? Unfair? Unhelpful?
- What are the negative consequences of having this rule or assumption?
- What is an alternative more helpful (i.e., balanced, flexible, realistic) rule or assumption?
- How would I behave differently on a daily basis, if I believed this helpful alternative?
- Set some small goals to change your behaviour in line with the helpful alternative, even if your old unhelpful rules or assumptions still feel true. Small but repeated changes in behaviour can lead to a gradual change in your beliefs.
3. Challenge Perfectionistic Thinking
Learn to identify and actively challenge patterns of thinking which maintain Perfectionism. For example:
- All-or-Nothing Thinking – seeing only one extreme or the other. E.g, “If I make a mistake I am a complete failure.”
- Mental Filter – focusing on one aspect of a situation and ignoring the rest. E.g., focusing on the few errors on a report and ignoring the positive feedback on the rest of the report.
- ‘Shoulding’– Frequently saying “I should…” can put unreasonable pressure on yourself and others and often reduces our mood and motivation. E.g. “I should have got more done today”. Instead, try to rephrase this as “I could…” e.g., “Tomorrow I could use an app to block social media so I get less distracted”.
- Check out this factsheet for more on Perfectionistic Thinking…
4. Starting with “good enough”
Often avoidance and procrastination come from anxiety about aiming to write a perfect first draft. Take some pressure off by allowing yourself to write a completed “rough first draft” which is at the "Good Enough" level (see diagram below). Once you have answered all the questions, and if there is still time left before the deadline, you can go back and edit to improve the work. Remember, it is easier to rework a rough first draft than to stare at a blank page. Additionally, if you run out of time then you have something that is complete that you can submit.
5. Learn to let go of self-criticism and develop self-compassion.
Harsh self-criticism is often an unhelpful and misguided attempt to improve our performance. It can activate the ‘threat’ pathway in our brain, leading to anxiety, low mood and unhelpful coping strategies such as avoidance. To learn how to hold yourself accountable with kindness, check out the free workbook from Centre for Clinical Interventions on “Building Self Compassion”.
6. Seek support
The beliefs which underlie perfectionism can be deeply ingrained and difficult to shift. If you have tried a few strategies, but find that perfectionism is still impacting on your life, why not see one of the University's counsellors for a free and confidential appointment to help you overcome the obstacles.
Video: TEDx talk by Martin Antony - "When Perfect Isn't Good Enough" (18.51 min)