3 Ways to Overcome Perfectionism: Affirmations, Cognitive Restructuring and Taking Action

Perfectionism, defined as “as a combination of excessively high personal standards and overly critical self-evaluations”, is officially on the rise.

Our growing perfectionistic tendencies have been identified as a leading driver of poor mental wellbeing in millennials.

As Nicky Lidbetter, CEO of Anxiety UK, explains:
“Individuals who experience high functioning anxiety are often very driven, high achievers who set incredibly high standards for themselves. They can find themselves constantly striving for perfection in everything they turn their hand to.”
When we put too much pressure on ourselves, we’re essentially signaling to our brain that our demands outweigh our resources.

Our brain can interpret this as a danger, and this risks triggering our stress response.

When your stress response is activated on an ongoing basis, you may end up experiencing ongoing physical anxiety and feeling constantly overwhelmed.

Brené Brown, author of The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, offers us a compelling insight into understanding the causes of perfectionism.

Shame and Fear of Judgement Are at the Heart of Perfectionism

"Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgement, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight." – Brené Brown
“Healthy striving is self-focused: How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused: What will they think?” – Brené Brown

Many people who struggle with perfectionism have had difficult childhoods. They've been given the message that they lack inherent worth and that it has to be earned somehow.

Perfectionism is therefore akin to a coping mechanism. It's our attempt to avoid feelings of shame and unworthiness. It runs deep!

Nonetheless, over time, it's possible for us to reduce it.

Here are three methods you can use to start overcoming perfectionism today.

1. Overcoming Perfectionism Through Affirmations

Anti-perfectionism affirmations are one of the many tools available for changing your mindset.

For affirmations to be effective, it's important to choose one that holds genuine meaning for you.

It's also important to develop a regular habit of using them.

10 Anti-Perfectionism Affirmations

  • I let go of the need for other people's approval
  • I love and accept myself
  • I am enough. This is enough. I have enough
  • I am worthy
  • I am whole
  • I focus on my own journey and my unique path
  • My worth does not depend on my work
  • My worth does not depend on my productivity
  • I own my story
  • I trust the process

2. Overcoming Perfectionism Through Mindfulness and Cognitive Restructuring

As Jon Kabat-Zinn notes:
"Most people don't realize that the mind constantly chatters. And yet, that chatter winds up being the force that drives us much of the day in terms of what we do, what we react to, and how we feel."
How do you approach your mind? Do you observe your mind's activity, or are you fused to it?

Many people spend their lives fused to their thoughts.

And here's the thing: you are not your thoughts.

You are not your mind.

Mindfulness teaches you to become the observer of your mind.

Once you've developed mindfulness, you'll become more aware of your cognitive distortions – the unhelpful thinking patterns that contribute to anxiety and low mood.

A type of cognitive distortion related to perfectionism is should/must statements, which can be reframed using cognitive restructuring.

For example, you might notice thoughts such as "I must impress everyone with my presentation," which can be reframed as "I'd prefer it if I could perform well, but it's not a disaster if I don't."

Interested in practical self-help tools? Check out The Mental Wellbeing Toolkit.

3. Overcoming Perfectionism Through Taking Action

It's likely that perfectionism is preventing you from realising your full potential, given that perfectionism often leads to procrastination.

Here are some quotes to help you overcome the tendency to procrastinate.

Why not stick one of these up somewhere in your workspace?

10 Affirmations for Taking Action

  • Done is better than perfect
  • Progress, not perfection
  • Nothing works unless you do
  • One day, one step, at a time
  • Feel the fear and do it anyway!
  • Stop thinking about what could go wrong and get excited about what could go right
  • What you do today can improve all of your tomorrows
  • There is no such thing as perfection, only improvement
  • I am not afraid to make mistakes. I embrace mistakes as learning opportunities
  • There is no such thing as failure, only learning

Bonus Tip: Overcoming Perfectionism Through Remembering the Good

Our final tip for you comes from author Seth Godin, who believes that keeping track of every positive thing that happens is the key to success.

Keeping track of positive events is particularly helpful for people prone to perfectionism due to their tendency to focus on perceived shortcomings.

Think about it: How quick are you to move onto the next thing once you've achieved something?

How often do you celebrate your progress and how far you've come? Or are you always chasing the next thing?

The more often you celebrate your progress, the more worthy you'll feel, and the more inspired you'll be to take action.
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