Perfectionism and 3 Powerful Tools to Deal With It

Striving to become the best version of yourself is an admirable desire. Having this motivation is beneficial in sticking to a routine and putting in the hard work necessary for success. However, when this type of thinking is taken to the extreme, many negative consequences can arise.

This extreme obsession with doing your best is referred to as perfectionism and is a vicious cycle of never being satisfied.

What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is defined as the need to be and appear perfect. Striving for perfection is not the same as striving to be your best. One reason for this is perfection is not attainable due to the continual possibility of achieving more.

So, by aiming for perfection you are setting yourself up to be a failure in your own mind. However, research has found that not all perfectionism is negative, and that is why it can be broken down further into two categories: adaptive and maladaptive.

Adaptive Perfectionism

This is the type of perfectionism that is thought to be “healthy” because it refers to someone having high standards for themselves and others. It is centered around goal-directed behavior, meaning you set a lofty goal for yourself and aim to do your best at achieving it.

Individuals with this form of perfectionism derive satisfaction and joy from achievements that require hard work. The key difference, though, is that these individuals do not self-deprecate and criticize themselves for imperfections and not achieving their goals.

Maladaptive Perfectionism

Maladaptive perfectionism is the complete opposite of adaptive, and the form I will be focusing on throughout this article. It is defined by having high personal standards and being very self-critical when it comes to evaluating your performance.

Negative attitudes are a constant among those with maladaptive perfectionism because they are continually evaluating their performance and seeing it as less than desirable. It is often associated with the need for external approval due to the low self-esteem that results from being too judgmental of yourself.

Are You a Perfectionist?

The question that often arises in an individual’s mind when learning about perfectionism is “Am I a perfectionist?”. In this sense, the idea of maladaptive perfectionism is being used because that is the one that causes harm and destruction to a person’s psyche.

It can be difficult for someone to identify as a perfectionist because they will only see it as them having a strong ambition towards something. However, as previously described, when this type of ambition is taken to the extreme, it can cause incredible harm to someone’s life.

So, it is valuable for you to understand the ways in which perfectionism can be recognized.

10 Ways to Recognize Perfectionism

  1. You are extremely hard on yourself. There are many forms that this can take, but the simplest explanation is that you are harder on yourself than others. Let’s say your friend studied really hard for a test and received a B+. You understand the amount of work that was put into achieving the grade and congratulate him on a success. However, you also studied hard for the test, but you got an A. Instead of feeling proud of yourself, you immediately think that you should have gotten a higher grade, such as an A+ or a 100%.
  2. You get depressed when you fall short of perfection. Here lies one of the key differences between healthy and unhealthy perfectionism. When someone has a normal desire to succeed, they push themselves to achieve this success but do not feel an overwhelming sense of failure if they do not achieve it. However, someone who is a perfectionist will be overcome with depression when they do not achieve their goal. I can relate to this aspect of perfectionism very well. Before I understood the depths of my own perfectionism, I used to go into a full-blown depression following a baseball game that I felt was below my performance standards. My mood would completely shift, I was embarrassed to be around my teammates, and I would wake up the next morning feeling completely defeated and just down on myself.
  3. You set extremely high standards for yourself. Since you crave success so much, you set standards for yourself that, by other people’s point of view would be very extreme. Now, I am a strong believer that we must set high goals for ourselves. The difference here is the goals are almost so impossible you are setting yourself up to fail. For example, a salesman believes he should close on every single phone call he makes. Realistically, this just isn’t going to happen. So, by expecting this of himself, the salesmen is putting himself in a lose lose situation.
  4. Plagued by guilt. Due to your constant feeling like you have failed, guilt will likely become a state of normalcy. When you perceive your performance as a failure, you will in turn believe that you have let either yourself, or someone else down. As a result, you will become guilty of your failure.
  5. Success is never enough. No matter what you accomplish, there will always be something more. Whether it is more points, more wins, more clients, a higher grade, or etc. This type of thinking takes all the joy out of life because no matter what you achieve, it will never be good enough in your own eyes.
  6. You are prone to procrastination. This is seen a lot in individuals with perfectionism. Before starting a project, paper, assignment, or anything really, the plan must be perfect. I felt myself becoming this way a little bit even when starting this website. By constantly planning, you procrastinate starting the task due to your fear it will not be perfect.
  7. You are constantly looking for mistakes. Within the mind of a perfectionist is an interesting dance between wanting to be perfect and not believing you can be. This results in you always examining your performance and your life for mistakes because you can never be satisfied with anything. Many times, the mistakes you find will not be present to other people, but if you look hard enough, you’re sure to find somewhere you messed up. Then, these mistakes become obsessions, where you cannot stop thinking about them.
  8. You never feel perfect. Interestingly, even when a perfectionist achieves the goal, they set for themselves, perfection will never be felt. Some mistake will be found that prevents them from truly feeling perfect.
  9. You cannot allow yourself to celebrate success. Since you are constantly in search for more, you never are able to stop and appreciate all the success you have achieved along the way. For example, an athlete may have had the goal of playing their sport in college. They sign to a good school and then all they can think about is going pro. Then they go pro and all they can think about is the next level within the professional system. Then it’s all about winning a championship or some accolade. All along the way the athlete feels like they haven’t accomplished their ultimate goal. But the truth is, there were many successes experienced that were just never celebrated due to perfectionism.
  10. You avoid taking on a new challenge. As a perfectionist, you must feel like you can be perfect at whatever you are doing. So, it will be very difficult for you to take on a new challenge due to the fear of failure.

"Perfectionism is defined as the need to be and appear perfect. Striving for perfection is not the same as striving to be your best."

As you can see, these behaviors can be debilitating to you, and what you believe to be a strong drive to succeed is actually keeping you from reaching your true potential. If any of these 10 behaviors resonate with you, then it is likely you are dealing with maladaptive perfectionism.

But don’t worry, there are tools that you can learn that will help you deal with your perfectionism. Below are three tools I really believe are powerful in helping you do just this.

3 Tools to Overcome Perfectionism

Tool #1: Focus on the Positives

One of the main reason’s perfectionism leads to depression, anxiety, and other terrible ways of thinking is due to a constant focus on the negatives.

As a perfectionist, you will always look for ways to improve, and in order to do that you must find faults within yourself and your performance.

By constantly looking for negatives in your life, you will be sure to find more and more of them. This can then make it seem like you have little to no positives whatsoever.

So, the best way to combat negative thinking is to first focus on the positives. No matter what you do, when evaluating yourself always look for the positives initially.

Only after you have found all the good qualities should you start to examine the ways in which you need to improve. Processing your life in this way will lead you to always find positives in every situation.

And I can promise you, no matter how lousy you think your performance was, there are always positive aspects to be found.

A good habit I have found when working on training your brain to focus on the positives rather than the negatives is list making. After whatever event it is that you usually become critical of yourself for, such as a game, a test, or a presentation, list out as many positive aspects as you can think of.

No matter how big or small they may seem, list them out. After a while of doing this you will begin to realize your brain does not automatically start criticizing you. Instead, you will start to see more of the positives first, and then be able to objectively look at the areas you can improve upon.

"Within the mind of a perfectionist is an interesting dance between wanting to be perfect and not believing you can be. This results in you always examining your performance and your life for mistakes because you can never be satisfied with anything."

Tool #2: Alter Your Self-Talk

The second tool focuses on the conversation that goes on inside your head. As a perfectionist, it is likely that your internal dialogue is a negative one.

You continually degrade yourself with sayings such as, “I’m not good enough”, “I am a failure”, “I suck”, etc. So, in learning to overcome perfectionism, it is important that you focus on shifting your internal dialogue to a more positive one.

Now, you may be wondering how this can be done because it feels like your brain is wired to feed you negative thoughts. The reality is your brain is trained to do that, but you are the one who trained it.

This is great news because if you trained your brain to automatically think negatively, then you can retrain it to think positively.

Affirmations are one of the best ways to do this. Write down a list of positive phrases about yourself. They can be anything that makes you feel empowered, confident, and like the person you want to be.

Then, start writing them down every morning and reading them back to yourself out loud. After doing this for a while you will begin to see more positive thoughts coming to your mind.

The most difficult part of reframing your self-talk is being aware of it in the moment where you feel like a failure. When you are just beginning to work on affirmations, you will need to try your best to be aware of when you are talking down to yourself.

And trust me, the last thing you will want to do in that moment is say a positive phrase, because honestly, the negative ones feel good in a sick way. But just force yourself to, and the positive self-talk will begin to overcome the negative talk.

Another strategy I have found to be effective in changing your self-talk is the mirror drill. I learned about this tactic in Jack Canfield’s book The Success Principles.

He recommends that every night before you go to bed to look at yourself in the eyes in the mirror and speak positively to yourself. Here you are wanting to say all the aspects of you that you are proud of.

Speak as if you are talking to someone else by using phrases such as “I am so proud of you”. I get it, this feels completely silly at first. But I can honestly say from my own experience that it works.

Your self-confidence will begin to grow, and your self-talk will definitely become more positive. Here is a great video where Jack Canfield discusses the power of the mirror drill:

Tool #3: Learn to Enjoy the Process

Learning to enjoy the process is honestly one of the best skills you can learn. If you talk to anyone who has achieved success, they will tell you that one success only makes you hungrier for another.

So, as a perfectionist this means you will never be satisfied in life and you’ll always be telling yourself you can do better. The only way to overcome that thinking is to be less end goal oriented and start to enjoy the process along the way.

Enjoying the process becomes much easier when you actually enjoy the task you are doing. If all you believe you will enjoy is the end result, then I hate to say you are in the wrong field. To achieve the success you desire, you must enjoy the hours spent working on achieving it.

To enjoy the process, you need to become process oriented. That means you set a desired goal for yourself once, and then focus on the daily process of getting there. As long as you continually focus on the end result, you will not be putting as much effort into the process.

This will actually hinder your chances of attaining success. So, slow down and learn to enjoy the process, and the outcome will take care of itself.

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