Perfectionism: “Striving for flawlessness and setting exceedingly high standards for performance, accompanied by tendencies for overly critical evaluations” (Stoeber, 2011, p. 128) 
We live in a world where perfectionism reigns. From early childhood, we are bombarded by advertising campaigns telling us how to look, what to eat and the lifestyle we should aspire to. The narrative starts early with young people being the target of social media adverts depicting flawless skin, rippling torsos, and luxurious lifestyles. 
 
Yet lurking in the shadows of our perfectionistic world is shame, blame and judgement. Despite our best intentions, we get sucked in to the messages portrayed around us leading to feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness. Waiting to pounce when we least expect it, our inner critic feeds the continued drive for perfection as we never seem to do enough to achieve our high standards. 
 
Perfectionism often stems from childhood and the adults who surround us in our early years of life. Children learn perfectionism from adults who might unintentionally set high expectations for them or be highly successful, perfectionistic adults themselves. Our educational systems are built upon a framework of academic success which can lead to children being highly critical of themselves if high grades are not met. Perfectionism is often the unintended consequence of how we educate and parent our children in today’s modern world. 
 
As a recovering perfectionist myself, I know only too well how powerful the pull to be perfect is. I realised the negative impact perfectionism was having on my life whilst studying for an Msc in Positive Psychology. Before this, like many others, I was ignorant to the negative effects of perfectionism on my wellbeing. I thought being a perfectionist was aspirational and something to be admired. I worked hard and sought external validation for my achievements but never felt entirely fulfilled or good enough. 
 
If, like me, you struggle with perfectionism, you’re not alone. Research suggests that perfectionistic tendencies are on the rise and are negatively impacting our wellbeing, self-esteem, and performance. Perfectionism is damaging our ability to connect with each other by increasing our feelings of loneliness, failure, and burnout. As we experience these painful emotions, we see a rise in self-loathing and shame. 
 
So how do we start letting go of these high expectations? How do we face into difficulty and challenge ourselves to embrace progress not perfection? 

1. Accept humility 

Recognise that perfection is an impossible feat. You will make mistakes and you will come across barriers – just like everyone else. 

2. Set realistic goals and deadlines 

Goal setting is a critical part of letting go of perfectionism. Set yourself “SMART” goals that won’t set you up for disappointment. Setting realistic deadlines and incremental targets will help you to pace your progress more realistically and build your inner sense of achievement. 

3. Recognise your ability to recover from mistakes 

Most likely, you can recall some mistakes you’ve made previously. You may remember feeling upset at the time, but you managed to get through them and may have gained some valuable insights along the way. 

4. Be Reflective 

Take time to reflect the costs of perfectionism; constant self-blame, poor self-esteem, and ill health (to name but a few!). Embracing imperfection is incredibly liberating as you accept learn to accept it. 

5. Be patient 

Changing thoughts and behaviours from a lifetime of perfectionism can take time. Think about using a journal and personal reflection to review your progress and be kind to yourself along the way. 
Setting stretch goals and striving towards high standards can be motivating and rewarding if approached from a place of compassion and reflectivity. Getting the appropriate balance between the expectations we set ourselves and the negative inner dialogue we experience during times of challenge is a fundamental step in shifting a perfectionistic mindset. Once we start moving the dial towards the messiness of imperfection, we become able to embrace new challenges and opportunities with humanity and compassion.Author Profile 

Author Profile 

Sarah Sen is a Positive Psychology and wellbeing practitioner who works with individuals and teams to create thriving organisational cultures. Building on her extensive experience in people and culture roles globally, Sarah utilises her passion for strengths, compassion and incremental goal setting to shift the dial from perfection to productivity. Contact Sarah to find out more; sarah@sen-hr.com or tel: 07810 258 667. 
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