How to stop being a perfectionist

If the people we coach are trying their best to be their best, why would we ever want them to stop being perfectionists?
person writing perfectionist on paper

How to stop being a perfectionist

Many of the people we coach call themselves perfectionists. That’s because we’re executive coaches, which means that we work with a lot of high-achieving people who are always striving for more. During coaching, they say that they want to excel in their careers, be rockstar parents, and contribute meaningfully to their communities. They want it all, and they want a coach to help them have it all.  

You might be wondering, then: if the people we coach are trying their best to be their best, why would we ever want them to stop being perfectionists? 

Here’s why. 

The problem with perfectionism 

Perfectionism, while helpful in the short term for excelling at certain tasks, can be extremely destructive over the course of a person’s life. Not only does it create cognitive dissonance when someone doesn’t measure up to the wild goals they’ve set in their minds, but it also creates a destructive feedback loop of never-good-enough-ness that can actually make people worse at the things they care about. 

Take, for instance, someone who wants to be the best parent possible and the best employee of all time. They try their hardest to spend as much time as possible with their kids… only to realize that they haven’t spent enough time pursuing their career. 

On the other hand, let’s say this same person spent long hours at work to make sure they received a promotion, finished an impressive project or earned a well-deserved raise. You’d think they’d be elated — but the moment they realize they’ve missed one of their kids’ soccer practices or didn’t have time to make a home-cooked meal that evening, they’re going to view themselves as a neglectful parent.

Is this any way to live?

No, not really. Unfortunately, we’ve seen high-achieving people think this way over and over again. The underlying belief that they need to excel at everything they touch ends up undermining their confidence, exhausting them and, eventually, causing them to crash and burn. 

So how do you escape the loop?

How to stop being a perfectionist 

Ending the perfectionist feedback cycle starts by making a big, difficult admission.

You’re not going to be good at everything. And do you know what else? It’s OK to suck at some things. These are extremely hard pills for most people to swallow. You may be asking, “If I’m destined to be bad at some things, what’s the point of even trying? Shouldn’t I want to be better?”

Yes, of course. We should always want to improve. Improvement is important. But that doesn’t mean we should be mad at ourselves when we’re not perfect. Rather than looking at life as a game to win, it’s better to see it as an exciting experience full of opportunities for improvement.

More than that: do you really need to be the best at everything to be happy? Or is it more likely that having one thing solidly in place helps everything else make sense?

Focusing on “one thing” to combat perfectionism 

Think about it. Maybe you’re at your happiest when you’re with your kids. If that’s the case, being an amazing parent — and de-prioritizing work to make sure you stay a great parent — might actually help you be better at work. You’ll come into the office more refreshed knowing you had a wonderful weekend with your kids, and your job performance will increase as a result. 

Or, if you’re a creative individual who needs to make art to feel okay, then finishing a painting or song before you sit down with your children might help you be a more caring, loving and kind parent when you’re with them. 

See how it works? 

Here’s the difference: perfectionists try to focus on everything. People who actually get things done focus on one important thing at a time. Instead of exhausting themselves by prioritizing a million different tasks, choosing to double-down on one important thing helps them excel in far more places than they could have otherwise. 

And who knows? Maybe your one thing is sleep. I know it was for me: after getting a full night’s rest, I find I’m able to tackle so much more than I could when I’m disoriented, tired and groggy. 

You don’t have to be a servant to your perfectionism 

Perfectionism is a sign of someone who wants to achieve a lot, but it can often have the opposite effect. Perfectionism can cripple us, create ego problems in our minds and, ultimately, work against us by sabotaging our dreams, goals and overall happiness. 

If you find you’re struggling with perfectionism, I want to talk to you. Get in touch with me today and let’s see if we can find your “one thing”: the thing that, with energy and focus, will help everything else fall into place.

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