How to Change Perfectionistic Thinking

Perfectionism tends to have a series of greatest hits – thoughts you think over and over and over.  

“That’s not good enough.”
“I should have done it better.”
“I’m struggling and everyone has it all together.”
“How come my house is messy and I’m getting take-out because there’s no time to cook and my kids haven’t done their homework and I didn’t finish that thing for work and my friend on Facebook has a beautiful home and time for a glass of wine?”

Getting out of the pursuit of perfection takes awareness.  Once you recognize the perfectionistic thoughts that drive your actions, you can start to adjust them.  You can replace them with thoughts that are more self-compassionate. More hopeful, more productive, more real. 

Thinking that support Perfectionism
There are a number of ways we think that support perfectionism.  These types of thoughts may have been with us for so long that they seem like the only way to view a situation.  

All or Nothing – You think in absolutes.  I am a success or a failure. “If I don’t get the promotion it’s because I suck at my job.”  “If my child misbehaves, I’m a terrible parent.”  

The Change – Describe the situation as a whole rather than using labels like success/failure, good/bad.  This will take more words but will also be more accurate.

“Joey is misbehaving. There are lots of reasons why this might be happening…”

Imagine the absolutes as two ends of the spectrum – the black and the white.  We want to hang out in the middle – if you like grey, go with that. I like tie-dye – a swirly interesting variety of colors.

Selective Attention – You focus on the mistake rather than the experience or task as a whole.  In the positive performance review, you can’t stop thinking about the one piece of constructive criticism.  

This pattern works in another way too.  When you meet your standard you discount it. You tell yourself anyone could have done it or it’s not that hard.  Then a higher standard is set.

The Change – Describe an event, situation or task in terms of both what worked and what didn’t.  

Double Standards – You think others can make a mistake but you can’t.  Your friend’s home doesn’t have to look a Real Simple cover but yours does. 

The Change –  Check out your standards with a friend, family member or coworker – are they realistic? Consider why you have separate standards.  How come you’re different?

Overgeneralizing – You think one mistake means you are a failure overall.  The report had an error which proves you are not good at your job. 

The Change – Stick to the specifics.  If a mistake was made, describe just that mistake in that area when you think, write or talk about it.

Should – You have a list of rules that must be followed.  “I should go to the party because that’s what I’m supposed to do.” 

The Change – Disconnect from shoulds.  Ask yourself if you want to. Ask yourself if it would benefit you. There is no giant rule book with all of them should be written in it. I promise.

Comparison – You look at others and come up short. It’s easy to look at others -in life and online – and see their strengths and to look at yourself and only see your challenges. “Why am I not always happy and successful with the immaculate house and well-behaved family?” 

The Change – Consider limiting social media time. Remind yourself that social media is showing everyone’s highlight reel.  It’s the bright shiny moments in most folk’s lives – you know, the vacation photos and beautiful happy family moments. You know your backstory – the things going on in your life that may be messy or complicated. Remind yourself they have a backstory too – you’re just not seeing it on Facebook. 

The Journal
Upset about a task, a situation or event?  Write it down. Take a few minutes to write down what happened and your thoughts and feelings about it. The thinking patterns that underly perfectionism are easier to recognize when they’re on paper.  Like any new skill, it may take some practice to recognize the thinking that leading to stress and change it.

Wondering what less perfectionism in your life might look like?  If you’d like to know more about getting out of perfectionistic thinking, I’d love to help.