Perfectionism is often touted as a good thing — a drive that keeps us striving harder for better results. But as anyone who’s struggled with perfectionism knows, it’s often more likely to be crushing to productivity. It inspires procrastination, it goes hand in hand with anxiety and other mental health issues, and it’s even closely linked with suicidal thoughts, according to a recent study.
So learning to manage perfectionism can be a big part of working toward better mental health. There’s no quick, easy way to eliminate perfectionism. Anxiety BC, a Canadian mental health organization, offers strategies grounded in cognitive behavioral therapy, starting with recognizing and examining perfectionistic thoughts:
- Black-and-white thinking (e.g., “Anything less than perfection is a failure”, “If I need help from others, then I am weak”)
- Catastrophic thinking (e.g., “If I make a mistake in front of my coworkers, I won’t be able to survive the humiliation”, “I can’t handle having someone being upset with me.”)
- Probability overestimation (e.g., “Although I spent all night preparing for a presentation, I know I won’t do well”, “My boss will think I am lazy if I take a couple of sick days.”)
- Should statements (e.g., “I should never make mistakes”, “I should never come across as nervous or anxious”, “I should always be able to predict problems before they occur.”)
One of the tools Anxiety BC recommends for dealing with perfectionism is compromise, like asking yourself what level of imperfection you’re willing to tolerate. As they point out, this can be very anxiety provoking, so don’t go overboard too quickly.
Hank Green of vlogbrothers adheres to a version of this technique. Here’s how he describes it in the video below: “Everything creative I do, I do my best to get it 80 percent of the way to as good as I can make it, and go no further. I just don’t try to get it to 100 percent.”
Green goes into further detail in the full video, but that’s the central idea. Perfection is impossible, but if you find a realistic place to be satisfied, you might be a lot happier.
As he says, “You’ll never really know where you’re going to hit until you actually throw the dart.”