3 Steps to Stop Being a Perfectionist

Sometimes, life gives you exactly what you want. Sometimes, things turn out exactly the way you imagined. When that happens, everything is right with the world.

But that’s not what happens most of the time. Most of the time, life is a whirlwind of happenings, like a shaky rollercoaster on old creaky tracks that goes way too fast or way too slow, with deep dives where you’re holding your breath while slipping a quick prayer under your tongue, and high peaks where you feel like you’re ruling the world.

Life is not clean. No matter how rigorous you are, how manicured your lawn is or how clean your house is, you can’t fit life into a neat, clean, organized mold that you can control. No. Life is messy. Look at children, and you will see life. They’re messy, all over the place, and go from bliss to terror in 0.2 seconds.

How do you take life? Are you able to just go along with it, allowing yourself to break down when you can’t take it anymore and live it up when things are good? Do you just trust that it will take you where you need to go even if the road is rocky? Or do you get frustrated, and end up trying to fit your life into the clean image you carry around in your dreams?

As tempting as it may be to ignore it or call it “good work ethic”, perfectionism is far from being good for you. It puts undue pressure on your soul and prevents you from fulfilling your potential and enjoying the wonderful, if messy, journey that is life.

Here are some techniques that will help you let go of your need to make everything perfect and learn to just enjoy the ride.

  1. Let your artistic side out

Art of any kind is not only messy, it comes from the soul. Perfectionists, with their burning desire to control everything, keep a very tight leash on their soul. But in order to be happy and live a truly vibrant life, you have to allow yourself to take off your masks and be naked, authentic. Using your artistic side is a very good way to allow your true nature to come out.

Don’t look for the artistic activity that feels comfortable. Instead, look for something that excites you but intimidates you at the same time. The combination of excitement and slight fear is a perfect sign of something that will help you grow by pushing you out of your comfort zone just the right amount. As a general life truth: If in doubt, always choose the option that is exciting yet slightly terrifying.

Your assignment

Go out and find an artistic activity that freaks you out but makes you feel kind of excited as well. Use your intuition and try to not let the fear of others’ judgment hold you back. Then do it at least twice a week for at least a month, focusing on feeling it rather than getting the technique down.

  1. Embrace failure

As a perfectionist, I bet you already feel your pants on fire. Before you close this page, hear me out.

Failure is the bread and butter of growth. In your clean and controlled expectations, failure doesn’t have a place. But guess what? Like I said earlier, life is messy. One of the most important parts of enjoying life is learning to enjoy the failures along the way because of what they represent – growth lessons.

You can’t make your dreams come true without failing. Failure is an essential building block of success. If you want to be successful and live a fantastic life, you’re going to have to not only accept failure, but embrace it and actively look for it.

Let me give you an example. I am a relatively young life coach. Yet, for the past 10 years I’ve actively sought out my fears, doubts, and inner demons. I consciously put myself in situations where I might make a fool out of myself, get angry, or get frustrated. By doing this, I acquired the life experience that many don’t get until much later in life. By doing this intentionally and always looking for the growth lessons, I was also able to extract priceless wisdom from those failures very early on. Was it tough? Hell yeah. Was it worth it? Oh yes. Would I do it again? Most definitely.

Your assignment

Designate one day as your “brave day”. On this day, seek to fail. Engage in personal conversations, be silly, don’t clean the house, and order pizza for dinner. Put yourself in tough situations and don’t do the things that you normally do for control comfort (like compulsive cleaning). You will learn some valuable lessons, not the least of which will be the fact that failing ain’t so bad after all. Repeat periodically until rolling with the punches feels like second nature.

  1. Make gratitude a part of your life

You are blessed. Look around yourself. You have a place to live, and an amazing life. You might have expectations of what it should be like or different goals and disappointments. But that is just your perception of your life. Your perception is flexible. You can change it at any moment by choosing what to focus on. Instead on focusing on the fact that your daughter just threw a temper tantrum, you can focus on the fact that you have a daughter, that she’s beautiful, smart, and outspoken. You can marvel at her wonderfully strong personality. You can remember the days when she was as long as your arm, and think ahead to the days when she’ll be stealing your shoes.

Gratitude is about realizing that you have a choice. No matter what happens to you, you have a choice as to how you interpret it. Instead of being annoyed that your husband didn’t organize the dishes efficiently in the dishwasher, you can instead be grateful that you have a husband who did work you would have otherwise had to do. Every situation has a silver lining. Every. Single. One.

Gratitude is also about loving life as it is. It’s about realizing that you don’t have to change the people around you or to control everything. You can appreciate what happens to you just as it happens, and everyone around you just as they are. You can welcome every moment as a gift from life, rather than trying to shape it to fit the mold of your expectations.

Your assignment

Every day for a week, start and end your day with gratitude. Before you get out of bed and before you drift off into sleep, take a few moments to think of all the things that you’re grateful for. Don’t just list them out, actually take the time to go deep into the feeling of gratitude. Feel grateful with every fiber of your being.

In addition to this, schedule at least one day a month as a “gratitude day”. During this day, no matter what happens to you, find the reason why you’re grateful for it. On this day, don’t say anything negative to yourself or other people. On this day, be kind – especially to yourself. Don’t beat yourself up or blame yourself for anything. Practice being grateful not only for everything and everyone around you, but especially for yourself.

Before you go…

If you follow these three tips intensively over the course of at least one month, I guarantee you will see results. You will enjoy life more and little things will bother you a lot less. You will be more open, accepting, and loving towards yourself and others, and will see positive results in your life from allowing yourself to connect with your intuition and soul.

But before you start working on these exercises, I want to hear from you. Do you struggle with perfectionism? How has it affected you? What would your life be like without it?


Laura G. Jones helps creative grasshoppers find clarity around their purpose, get organized and focused, and fearlessly claim their potential. Click here to download her free training video on 3 key habits that can help you use your failure to fuel success. When not journaling, blogging, or making natural deodorants with her husband she can be found taking long walks in the forest and cudding with her two kitties, a good (non-fiction) book, and a warm cup of herbal tea.


31 Responses to 3 Steps to Stop Being a Perfectionist

  1. Yeah, I highly recommend the gratitude exercise mentioned. Research has shown that writing down 3 things that you’re grateful for, for 21 days can actually rewire the brain to scan the world for the positive instead of the negative. This can have a great impact on your overall life quality and even help you stay healthy and live longer(!) as the benefits of gratitude include stronger immune system, better sleep, increased energy and way more.
    Great stuff Laura, thanks for sharing :)

  2. Jerad Grace says:

    Great article, didn’t really consider myself a perfectionist until this article got me to realize I over think projects and I have trouble finishing them due to trying to get it done without making any mistakes. Thanks for the insight!

  3. Thank you! I like to think of perfectionism as a continuum… we all fall somewhere on the scale, but the degree to which it impacts our life is what matters. I struggle with that myself quite a bit – the key is just to close your eyes and jump!

  4. Thank you, Patrik! Absolutely, I’ve done that exercise myself and it works very well. It has even better results when you put your heart into it and take a few minutes to really feel the gratitude for those three things.

  5. JudyStoneGoldman says:

    I really like the idea of “one brave day” – nice way to think about it! You are thinking about perfectionism in an interesting way, a very broad way, in relating it to “messy life” rather than just projects or accomplishments. And of course gratitude heals so much of what ails us! Great suggestions.

  6. Judy, you make a very interesting point. I suppose I do look at it a bit more broadly. Intuitively, I think I put perfectionism in the same bucket with the need to control everything that we encounter so much in the type-A behavior our society encourages. So perhaps this article is written with the general aim of relinquishing control and learning to enjoy life as it comes in all areas of our life. Thank you for contributing!

  7. Kellie says:

    I am a perfectionist so I enjoyed reading these tips. I want to try some art – I have always been afraid to try!

  8. Josh - says:

    I like the idea of doing something that scares you. Often those are the things we need to run TOWARDS and not away from to achieve growth. Without “perfectionism” i’d probablly live more “in the moment” instead of trying to get the things I want done right, gratitude that im doing it at all!

  9. Louise says:

    Oh, this is going to be hard!! But you know, I already do have days where I don’t iron, hoover, clean, cook etc. all in the same day. Learnt a long time ago perfect is what you make it, but I do like the gratitude list – that I think I will borrow. Thank you :)

  10. I am not a perfectionist thankfully – I gave that up long ago. They are fabulous tips though and things I do already. Great post!

  11. Lisa Salisbury says:

    Love this, great share. I let the perfectionist in me go as well. I have dealt with many of the roller coasters that life can bring and have realized that things happen, they are nit always good! But I still believe that we can create life in the way we want it to be, even through the struggles. Even when it seems like life does not go your way, new doors can be opened. Learning to walk through them can be the trickiest things!!

  12. Kellie – give it a try! It might be scary at first, but after a while I think you’ll find it liberating. Follow your intuition!

  13. Josh – I completely agree, we need to run towards the things that scare us. Fear is one of the best indicators of where we need to go. And yes – once you put perfectionism aside you start seeing more blessings in your life!

  14. Always glad to help :) thank you!

  15. Thank you, Louise!

  16. Lisa, I completely agree! It’s really tough to get over the fact that you didn’t get what you wanted and grasp the opportunity right in front of you. We tend to value what we lose more than what we could gain.

  17. Jen Duchene says:

    Wonderful post with a wealth of useful action steps – some of my favorite ways to shake up the dying perfectionist….. I always find courage and connection in creativity and gratitude and love how life rushes to meet us when we are open.

  18. Aaron Morton says:

    When you are young, you are typically given a colouring book where you are instructed to colour within the lines. However continue to do that and you are living within the boundaries of what picture you are given.

    By going outside the lines you can discover what else you can create.

    Yet in order to do that you have to forgo the perfection that is present when staying within the lines.

    Great article Laura.

    Aaron Morton
    The Confidence Lounge

  19. Thank you, Jen! I love that phrase, how life rushes to meet us when we are open! True on so many levels. Thank you for sharing that!

  20. I’ve always thought coloring between the lines was boring 😉 Sometimes I wonder how we grow from fearless children who are open to everything to anxiety-filled adults who freak out when life starts coloring outside the lines. Thank you for sharing!

  21. Kim says:

    By definition, I think I am a perfectionist. I think the good thing here is I know I have a problem and I want to fix it which leads me to this post. Thanks I’ll try to not afraid of making mistakes.

  22. I'd rather not say my name says:

    When I was younger perfectionism wasn’t really a problem for me but I think as I grow older it’s becoming worse. I’m so much of a perfectionist that I’m constantly resetting my phone and computer because I feel that they’re imperfect. After everytime I take a bath I feel like wiping EVERYTHING clean so my whole room is perfect and I won’t even let people help because I’m afraid they won’t do it perfectly. I keep redoing my work and deleting the drafts because I think they’re inperfect and then I end up forgetting my ideas. And the worst thing is that its getting worse over the years and I’m barely 16. I have my whole life ahead of me and I’m afraid I’m going to waste it because of my stupid perfectionist worries. I seriously need help :(

  23. Amber says:

    I am a perfectionist. I beat myself up whenever I fail and I am fearful of being hurt and experiencing the worst. I’ve damaged relationships because of it. I want to change and I’m trying. I just wish I avoided a lot of mishaps

  24. Sawyer says:

    hi Laura. I just came across this article and it’s helped me tremendously.. more than you know. im really grateful to have read this. I just had a question I wanted to ask you guys regarding my perfectionism. I wonder if i could ask?

  25. Of course, Sawyer! Go right ahead :)

  26. Sawyer says:

    Okay so the thing is I have this thing where I have to read EVERY SINGLE word on anything I read. Whether it’s a book, blogs or newspaper ( the worst. because there’s so many words there. depressing too). I just feel messed up when i skip a sentence or an article and even after reading everything I still feel messed up because I know how I wasted all that time by doing that and how Im just consuming plenty of irrelevant information but I honestly just cannot seem to let it go.

  27. Hmm, that’s so interesting! I have never personally struggled with that but I think a good way to start would be to try to practice reading one less word, article, or sentence and taking it from there. The key is being able to stop when you realize what you’re doing, and to have the strength to stick up for your priorities. For that it’s important to establish those priorities ahead of time and to commit to them 100%. At that point, even if you realized it in the middle of the newspaper and didn’t stop until two sentences to the end – that’s still a win! It’s always about baby steps. But you might also want to speak with a professional who specializes in OCD or perfectionism. They know a lot more about this than I do :)

  28. Sawyer says:

    What you’re suggesting sounds very doable and I will definitely give it a try. baby steps :)
    This is the first time I’ve talked to anyone about this so I really appreciate it that you took the time to listen. thanks Laura :) hugs..

  29. It’s absolutely my pleasure. I’m sorry I couldn’t be of more help. I don’t see it as something to be ashamed of at all! We all struggle with so many things, but if we don’t see what others are struggling with then we feel alone. Being transparent and honest and asking for help are huge steps forward! Kudos to you for taking the initiative.

  30. Renee says:

    I have an Amazing boyfriend whom I am very thankful for and lucky to have, our relationship is so great. But I somehow after a few months in I keep looking for imperfections in him and the relationship, always questioning something. I find myself always thinking there might be someone better. That being said, I know that I will always think that no matter who my partner is… I feel trap in this cycle of perfectionism, not only in my love life but also in myself and work life.

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