Gain self-confidence

Help, I’m to much of a perfectionist. How can I let go of that?

Henk Veenhuysen
by Henk Veenhuysen
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Your perfectionism, pffft, sometimes hell on earth. It can help you do a great job in achieving a top performance and on the other hand, it makes you anxious and restless about whether you are doing it right. This causes your work to take endless time because you keep at it. After all, it’s never good (enough). It could make you sick. But then again, what can you do about it? And do you actually need to do anything about it?

Could there be such a thing as the golden mean? How wonderful that would be! Could you use the positives of your perfectionism while taking the negative edges off? What tools are there to control your perfectionism?

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I tell you all about it in this perfect blog 🙂

What is perfectionism?

To get right to the point: the harsh reality is that the cause of your perfectionist behavior is often to be found in insecurity. There is a kind of sacred belief in your head that says, for example, “If I don’t go to the limit I will do a poor job and be criticized.”

And so you just stubbornly cling to your perfectionism, against your better judgment, even when you rationally know it doesn’t help and even makes your work worse.

Eye for detail

Basically, of course, your perfectionism is a talent. Maybe that’s crazy to hear but having an eye for detail is just a very good quality. So it’s more about keeping your perfectionism somewhat under control than it is about unlearning it.

This is less difficult than you think. And rest assured, it’s not about setting your goals lower. It’s more about reframing how you look at things. Your goal is mainly to take some of the pressure off yourself.

Dealing with Perfectionism. How do you do that?

I’ve listed some ideas for you to release / get your love of perfectionism a little bit under control. Not totally of course, because I think it’s a talent, people with attention to detail.

1. Get in the helicopter first

You have to make quite an effort to be perfect. Your dedication with attention to every detail takes a lot of effort and is literally time consuming. After all, just a satifactory grade is never enough … or is it? In fact, from time to time you should look to see if your behavior (because that’s what we’re talking about) can’t be different. Detaching yourself a bit from your perfectionism.

Step out of your work for a very short time (preferably before you start), hover over it like a helicopter and ask yourself the following:

  1. Am I currently using my time wisely?
  2. Am I being productive?

What matters is that you ‘discover’ earlier that there is no added value in the effort you put into it and recognize that the work is just done.

Example: tomorrow you have a presentation for an important client. You’ve already gone over your presentation once with your supervisor. Yet you decide to “connect the dots” the night before by spending 3 hours working on the presentation. The helicopter question is: Does the updated presentation improve the impact to the customer.

With the helicopter approach, you consciously choose to address your perfect mindset. In doing so, you step out of your pattern of being a perfectionist. You can then decide much better whether it makes sense in that moment to be less perfect and focus on what is important.

2. Adjust your standards

I’ll say it again: you don’t have to let go of your perfectionism, just bring it under control.To keep your sweet, perfectionist dragon 🙂 in check, it’s important to take a good look at your own standards and adjust them when the situation calls for it. I can already hear you sighing, “yeah but then it’s not good enough” or “I’m still a little doubtful because….”. or “what do others think? Exactly the thought you need to address.

For example, like this:

You are busy getting an important report right down to the last detail. You really go all the way because you know what depends on it. Only when you are satisfied the report can go to your client and into the organization.

That last phrase: “not until you are satisfied” is your (perfectionist) standard. It’s a standard you can address yourself by submitting the first draft of your report to your client, colleague or supervisor early on.

You ask that this person review your report and provide feedback. Of course, you may indicate that the report is “not yet finished” but that you would like initial feedback.

The crux of this strategy? Engage more quickly with people in your organization and consult whether you are on the right track. Chances are you (with your perfectionist nature) are already pretty much in the right direction.

3. Make a checklist

The pursuit of perfectionism is perhaps best depicted as a journey without a goal. You keep walking and walking without knowing exactly whether you are getting closer to your destination. Rationally, of course, as a perfectionist, you understand very well (and have experienced yourself) that always continuing to work on a task rarely, if ever, gives you fulfilling energy.

break the pattern

To break this pattern of the aimless journey, you can do something you are probably already good at. You can put together a personal checklist before you begin the work you need to do. The checklist includes things such as:

  • Are there no spelling mistakes in it?
  • Do I have all the elements that are necessary in there?
  • Supplement with things you think are important

‘Check the box’ helps

By “checkboxing” these items, you work in a focused way to complete your work, and you don’t have to keep plodding on endlessly to connect your perfectionist dots. With checkboxing, you’re just done, you simply follow a process of concrete and measurable goals tailored to you. That gives you much more energy.

How am I going to doubt, fret and grind less

Many perfectionists can (re)chew over a thought or problem long and perfectly without ever reaching a solution. They are the typical characteristics of perfectionism. Research shows that this is mainly due to fear. Also, perfectionists are generally a little less kind to themselves. By that I mean they are sometimes unhealthily self-critical.

Letting go of perfectionism

As a perfectionist, you think this grinding and doubting is the way to come up with a solution to the problem/or issue you are working on. I can quickly bail you out: it’s not! The only way to solve the problem of rumination is to look for ways to break the “circle of grinding”. Letting go of your perfectionism then becomes a lot easier.

How do you break through the grinding?

1. What are your triggers?

As a first step to break the grinding, it is best to observe yourself (perhaps with some help from a colleague/friend who can give you feedback on this). In doing so, you learn to recognize the situations that trigger the rumination and “turn you off,” so to speak. You can use these questions:

  • What is the situation?
  • Where are you?
  • What is the time of day?
  • Who is near you?

Assignment

Once you have collected a few of these situations, see what the common thread of these is. What factors “trigger” your rumination mechanism and how might you ignore, control or break these factors?

Example dealing with criticism

Situation. Every time you have a consultation with your supervisor you worry what he/she will come up with and worry that he/she will not like your solution. You grind on and on trying to come up with the right solution.

Breaking through: Decide on the agenda for this consultation and send it to your boss. Think of 2 or 3 questions to which you would like a concrete answer from him. Only those questions are central to the consultation.

2. Leave your1st impression alone for a while

Many people sail on their first impression. In itself, a good strategy. In doing so, perfectionists have a “habit” of focusing on all the bad aspects of that first impression.

Recognizable to you?

To break through this, it is better to take some time and distance yourself from the situation. So before you act, think about what perspectives are possible beyond that first impression. If you don’t, you run the risk of doing way too much based on this first impression.

3. Find some (mental) distraction

A good working strategy for getting out of the “grinding mill” is to seek distraction. Doing something else rather than what you are doing at that moment. It’s best to choose something that requires your head.

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For example: pay a bill, or run through your calendar for that week and see what preparations you need to make for it. With this (mental) strategy, you distract yourself and step out of the pattern of endless overthinking.

4. Give positive thinking a chance.

One consequence of your perfectionism may be that you stop doing certain activities. You then think, “If I can’t do it perfectly then it’s not necessary for me.” To break this pattern of negative thinking, you could think concretely about something new, which you have tried in the past, and which just went really well.

Just bring that event forward in your mind. Remember the success you had with that without knowing 100% in advance if it would go well. With that experience, you can also engage in new activities.

Article continues after image

coping with perfectionism
What can help well is to find a buddy who can help you rein in your perfectionism a little bit.

Let others help you

What can help well is to find a buddy who can help you rein in your perfectionism a little bit.

How to do that?

You can tell a colleague/friend/family member that you are working on getting your perfectionism a little under control. Then you ask this person to point out to you if you get a bit carried away with your perfectionism again. “Warn” this person that you will probably react somewhat defensively at first. Promise him or her that you will think about the feedback.

Of course you should do that … 🙂

Monitor your own progress

You can support managing (i.e., not controlling) your perfectionism by reviewing your progress weekly. Look at yourself from a distance and ask yourself the following questions:

  • Did I avoid anything this week for fear of making mistakes?
  • Were there events where your attention to detail didn’t really help?
  • Did I do things (actions) that made something move forward, even though I wasn’t entirely sure?

With these questions, you will learn to properly assess when your perfectionism is helping you and when it is getting in your way.

Handy checklist to let go of perfectionism

Release perfectionism checklist

  1. Reflect regularly

    Reflect regularly on whether the work you are concretely doing is really adding value. Learn to recognize that point.

  2. Think of examples

    Think of examples in which you successfully managed your own perfectionism.

  3. Releasing 1st impression

    Leave your own first impression alone for a moment and take some distance from the situation.

  4. Breaking the Circle

    Endless pondering and brooding is not the same as solving the problem. Think of ways to break this cycle.

  5. Break through by asking for help

    Breaking through your own perfectionism is best done with the help of others.

Free introductory call,

Run into a lack of assertiveness or self-confidence?

Want to get rid of that, once and for all? Then my 1-on-1 coach approach is really something for you. Lets get acquainted first, no strings attached. See if we have a 'click' and if I can help you.

> Schedule your free call now

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