Perfectionism can feel like a trap. The desire to perform at your best can help you set goals and achieve them — but it can also cause unnecessary stress and anxiety. This is especially true in today’s social media-driven environment, where perfectionism is increasingly common. An American Psychological Association study on perfectionism found that cases of it have risen 33 percent since 1989, thanks in part to the pressure of showing off picture-perfect lives on Facebook and Instagram.
Here’s the trouble with perfectionism: Expecting everything you do to be flawless can actually inhibit you from making progress. It is possible, however, to harness the positive side of just a bit of perfectionism while keeping more obsessive or extreme perfectionist tendencies in check. Here are a few tips to get you started.
1. Set a few realistic goals (and leave it at that)
Perfectionism sometimes arises because we feel like we have to do it all, and we have to do it perfectly. By setting several straightforward goals that you’re relatively confident you can achieve, you can set yourself up for success.
Start with a day at a time. When setting your goals, try and step back to see the big picture. Do you actually need to complete each and every task, and how well?
Make sure to reward yourself when you achieve major goals or even sets of smaller goals. Recognize that reaching goals, large and small, is an accomplishment. Do something fun. See a movie or have coffee with friends.
Rewarding yourself is a valuable technique that can help with procrastination. The desire to be perfect can lead you to putting assignments off until the last minute. Unfortunately, many people sabotage their own success when they don’t turn projects in on time because they’re not yet perfect. But by setting small goals ahead of time — such as completing a first (imperfect) draft of your work ahead of your deadline — you’ll set yourself up for doing the best you can in the allotted time that you have.
2. Learn to say no
Saying no to someone or something isn’t easy. Most of us want to please others, and we want to be liked. But if you find that you are spending your time on activities that make you feel resentful or exhausted, it’s time to learn how to say no.
Perfectionists tend to be ambitious, wanting to commit to anything and everything. Setting healthy boundaries is a solid way to manage your perfectionism because learning how to say no will set you up for doing what you actually value, enjoy and need to achieve.
Start by saying no to little things, and don’t worry how you’re coming off to others. Research finds that our perceptions of our own assertiveness are often unreliable. If you feel confrontational, there’s a good chance others don’t see you that way at all. In fact, they’ll probably respect you more for saying no.
3. Practice self-care
Making time for self-care isn’t easy, but it’s essential. Striving for perfectionism can cause stress and take an unhealthy toll on your body. Don’t burn yourself out in pursuit of perfectionism — save some of your energy for your self-care routine. Self-care is different for everyone but it might include a relaxing bath, a nap or alone time with a book — anything that will help you unwind.
The truth is that there aren’t enough hours in the day, and something will probably have to give. Focus on your essential tasks and leave the rest for tomorrow. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. It won’t be easy putting tasks on the back burner, but by giving yourself rest and recovery time, you’ll conserve more energy so you can avoid burnout, and you’ll actually be able to get more done.
4. Take a vacation
Many perfectionists have trouble letting go and checking out, but there’s a reason why schools build in vacation breaks. Taking extended time off is rejuvenating; it takes you out of the day-to-day grind and allows you to see the big picture. The best thing you can do to curb perfectionism is to interrupt your desire to stay late at work. Stop obsessing over your to-do list and give yourself that vacation you’ve been thinking about but never planned.
Taking a vacation, it turns out, is also good for your bank account. Studies show that people who take at least 11 days of vacation are more likely to get a raise or bonus than those who don’t. (Music to a perfectionist’s ears!) By taking your vacation days, you will boost your happiness, take the pressure off yourself and lower your stress level, too.
5. Talk with a therapist (online!)
If pointers like these aren’t working or you could use more support, you may benefit from talking one-on-one with a trusted therapist who can help you identify your triggers and manage or minimize your perfectionism. A therapist can be incredibly valuable in bringing a new perspective and helping you find better work/life or school/life balance.