How to stop being a perfectionist. Well, if you’re going to talk about dealing with perfectionism… you may as well talk to someone who has experience with it. There are countless examples in my life that point to perfectionism controlling me. So, if you’re wondering how to stop being a perfectionist, you’re welcome here, and you’re understood here. Let’s dig in, and start trading perfectionism for purpose.
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Perfectionism & Control
Is it possible to stop being a perfectionist? The answer to that is not straight forward. What I have found to be true is that some people are prone to struggle more with perfectionism. Myself 100% included in that demographic.
Just like any struggle that the human race faces, overcoming perfectionism is not linear, and there will always be room for growth. The good new is, there’s so much beauty in that refinement process. If there’s not any room to grow, what’s the point? God is so good, and he fosters and supports our growth through our struggles.
2nd Corinthians 12:9-10 says: “But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
The key is this: We’re not perfect. And that’s OK. God uses our weaknesses to show his strength.
To begin to overcome perfectionism, we first have to understand how detrimental perfectionism can be. Let me use my own mistakes as an example. I’ve struggled with perfectionism since I was a child, stressed out and studying for a science test 2 weeks in advance. I have many stories I could tell… but instead, I’ll just share a couple of the most defining ones. The ones that helped me realize that my drive for perfectionism turned me into my own worst enemy.
Perfectionism in the High School Years
I’ll start with high school. Ah, high school. The best of times, the worst of times.
I was always on sports teams throughout my school years. My favorites were basketball and volleyball, and I was always good at them (I was a perfectionist- I’d have it no other way). Starting line-up, top of the points list, fastest, most competitive… On the outside, it seemed like I was doing GREAT.
However, inside, I was a bundle of nerves, suffering from severe perfectionism anxiety. What if I didn’t score (X) amount of points? Or, what if I missed all my foul shots? What if instead of serving an ace I served into the net? And the big question… What if someone will be better than me???
Well, as I began to stew in that fear, I decided to quit. I quit basketball, I quit volleyball… I just quit. When people asked why, I feigned non-nonchalance and said it was because I didn’t really like it. You know what that was? A straight up LIE. Sports was probably the thing I enjoyed most about high school. As an introvert, I didn’t care for the busy hallways, or the noisy lunch breaks. And as an independent learner, I really didn’t care for the classes.
But the sports? That I liked. But my anxiety about making mistakes, about not being perfect, about falling from the top of the pile… it cost me that joy.
Perfectionism as a New Mom
Motherhood came to me at a time when I had carefully structured my life to avoid failure at all costs. I picked a “safe” career, and strategically made it as high as I could by the age of 22.
My husband and I were married, we had bought a brand new house, we lived on a nice corner lot, the house was spotless, our dog was doted upon. I made sure I got 8 hours of sleep each night and exercise each day. “Control” doesn’t even begin to describe the handle I had on my life.
I was living with perfectionism. And more than that, I was holding onto the idols of control and perfectionism. Trust me when I say that holding onto the idols of any sort is a dangerous place to be.
My first pregnancy was rough. The doctors were sure my son would be born early, and they took me off work a couple months before he was born (unplanned episode #1).
He was also born via emergency C-section (unplanned episode #2). In the days and weeks following his birth, my recovery was rough (the worst of all 3 C-sections). To make it harder, my son was allergic to every formula, I was not able to produce enough breast milk, and even if I could, he was not able to breastfeed effectively. Feeding our son consisted of borrowed breast milk from my sister-in-law, pumps, tubes, and all sorts of contraptions (unplanned episode #3).
He was constantly sick, and we rarely had a week we weren’t in the doctor’s office or the hospital.
I had been holding on so tight to perfectionism and control. When it came down to it, I was in total denial about my need to begin dealing with perfectionism and the negative impact it was having on my life, and ultimately, my health. I was diagnosed with an autoimmune disease when my son was about 6 months old, and stress was a likely contributor (unplanned episode #4).
Motherhood was not perfect. In fact, motherhood was starting out a bit disastrous, and a whole lot out of control.
How to Stop Being a Perfectionist
Before we dig into how to stop perfectionism from running your life, make sure you check out this blog post on priorities. There’s a free worksheet attached to it that will ground you in what matters most. That in itself will release some of the weight of perfectionism.
Now, if you’ve noticed that perfectionism is getting in the way of you living your life fully, and with purpose, then you’re ready to learn how to stop being a perfectionist... and to stop being your own worst enemy.
Here’s some negative effects of perfectionism:
- Increase your anxiety levels
- Decrease your self worth – when you strive for perfect, you never measure up
- Cause chronic procrastination. Your thought process will be: “It won’t be good enough… why start?” Perfectionism and procrastination go hand in hand.
- Lack of motivation – When you want a perfect result, you won’t even know where to start.
- Unable to enjoy the journey – In life, we learn as we go. This can often mean mess and mistakes. But when we want perfect, the journey gets sacrificed.
Step 1 – Embrace & Remember Truth
Embrace truth. What is the truth about who you are? What is your identity? As a Christian, I believe that I am a child of God. Made in his image, with purpose, passions, and intention. I always “knew” this… but I didn’t really know it. Ya know? When you can fully embrace this truth, and remember it, you’re on your way to letting go of perfectionism.
Step 2 – Do Something You Suck At
Do something that you suck at. Something that terrifies you. Get up and sing karaoke. Skydive. Go eat alone at a restaurant. Create something and share it. Make yourself vulnerable. When you do this, you’ll see that you can do something (and badly), and survive. There is so much freedom in knowing that nothing will ever be just right.
Step 3 – Find Humor and Humanity
When something goes wrong, look for the humor. Chances are, no one really cares when things don’t go 100% as planned. In fact, imperfections bring a beautiful level of humanity, and an irreplaceable sense of personality. When people aren’t scared of you and your need for perfection… watch your relationships blossom.
Step 4 – Ask For Help
Honestly, as I typed those words “ask for help,” it brought up some icky feelings. Clearly, I’m still in the refinement process, and still working on overcoming perfectionism. To admit the need for help is a big step. It’s showing your cards. It shows that you have limits. Imperfections. Areas that need growth. But you know what asking for help accomplishes? It humanizes you. Creates relationship. It means that whatever you’re working on will have 2 brains and hearts working on it instead of one. It means that things can only be BETTER. And I know that is speaking your language, am I right, fellow perfectionist?
Step 5 – Keep Walking
Remember, no one gets over a vice in a day, and God’s not finished with you yet. Keep walking. Make the decisions that align with who you want to be… with who God calls you to be.
These are the things I have been doing as I’m learning how to stop being a perfectionist. I find it incredibly helpful to learn from others, so I’m including this list of books that speak to this topic:
Other resources on perfectionism:
- Relevant Magazine
- Desiring God
- Overcoming Perfectionism – My One Comfort
- Perfectionism & Motherhood – A Clay Pot
As you seek to overcome perfectionism, it really helps to make sure you can fully identify, understand, and structure your life around your true priorities. Grab this free worksheet to help you do just that!