7 ways to overcome perfectionism and cultivate self-concentration

Man walking on the street in a quiet neighborhood at sunsetWe all know that perfection is an illusion. If perfection is improbable and unrealistic, why do so many people try to achieve it, placing them in a perpetual cycle of frustration and shame?

For many perfectionists, there is a basic fear that they are not "good enough", "will not succeed", or "will not love" unless they strive for perfection. At its core, perfectionism can actually be an act of deterring our true selves. It is often a mechanism to deal with shame and failure. Perfectionism thrives on convincing us that striving for it will make us our "best selves", when it can actually make us play small and move us away from our true selves.

Perfectionism can be like a coach who initially seems to want to succeed but then applauds you, makes you work up to the point of exhaustion, and yells at you as you try to take a break. You may think that without this kind of pressure, you won't be able to achieve your goals – but the opposite is actually true. If you allow yourself to rest, recognize your progress, and engage in positive discussion, you are much less likely to do so and more likely to achieve your goals without sacrificing your health and quality of life along the way.

Perfectionism can be like a coach who initially seems to want to succeed but then applauds you, makes you work up to the point of exhaustion, and yells at you as you try to take a break.

If you are struggling with perfectionism, it is important to keep in mind that it does not go overnight and that it takes time to learn how to overcome perfectionism. Below are seven tips to help you learn how to start letting go of perfection and being kind to yourself.

7 Tips to Overcome Perfectionism

1. Identify the beliefs and rules that guide your perfectionism.

It may be helpful to identify the underlying beliefs and rules that guide your behavior. For example, many perfectionists have a basic belief that they are not "satisfied enough". As a result of this belief, they may comply with certain rules and all-or-nothing thinking such as "I have to be perfect or I will be rejected," or "I have to be perfect or I will fail". Often these beliefs and rules were formed during childhood. Raising awareness of these beliefs and rules as well as how they affect different areas of your life can be the first key in planning those beliefs.

2. Examine your expectations honestly.

Take some time to honestly evaluate your expectations. It is not realistic to expect that you will never fail or make mistakes because you are human and you will inevitably make mistakes as we all do. Consider how you can create more realistic expectations for yourself. When you create realistic expectations, you are able to meet them. You will also create your self-esteem and self-confidence, two tools to help you combat perfectionism.

3. Recognize the cost of refinement.

Periophilia often leads to loss. These losses include: loss of quality time spent with others, loss of enjoyment of the present moment, and loss of connection with one's self. Many perfectionists are struggling to modify their standards for fear of failing. Reflecting on what perfection has cost you in different areas of your life can help you realize that the cost outweighs the benefits. This awareness can help reinforce your motivation to tackle perfectionism and help you remember those times when you are tempted to give your inner critic.

If perfectionism was a natural disease, doctors would certainly prescribe self-concentration as a way of dealing with it.

4. Practical self-concentration.

One of the most useful ways to combat inner criticism and tackle perfectionism is to practice self-concentration regularly. If perfectionism was a natural disease, doctors would certainly prescribe self-concentration as a way of dealing with it.

The perfectionists are often their own worst critics. While they may be compassionate towards others, they may find it difficult to support themselves. When you feel critical about yourself, some questions that can help you increase your self-focus are:

  • What would I say to a friend in this situation and how can I apply it to myself?
  • What would a friend tell me?
  • How can I take care of myself now?
  • What do I need now that I don't get?
  • What are some ways to show others compassion that I can address myself?

Some meditations can also help you increase your concentration.

5. Participate in activities that enhance resilience.

People struggling with perfectionism often over-prepare and actively avoid making mistakes or putting them in situations where they may be bad at something. This fear can hold them back from learning that mistakes do not determine their self-esteem and will likely not force others to reject them. It may be helpful to engage in activities that you fear will be bad. Think of these activities as experiments that can help you to practice marginal expectations and build resilience. This can be a stressful, time-consuming process, but in the end it can be very enjoyable for many perfectionists.

6. Watch out for support from others.

Perfectionism flourishes in silence and isolation. Often the perfectionists are surprised to find many other struggles with similar issues once they start to open up about it. this can lessen the feelings of shame that usually accompany perfection. Start by finding a person in your life that you trust and share with him about some of your struggles. The more you practice being vulnerable with the people you trust, the less isolated you will feel and the more free you will become.

7. Reduce your use of social media.

Social media contributes to frequent social comparison, which can aggravate perfectionism. Try taking a break from technology for half or a full day and see how you feel. When you start using social media after the break, notice how you feel. You get social comparison and you feel "not good enough?" If so, consider taking a break from social media a few times a week.

Keep in mind that it is useful to have realistic expectations for yourself as you work on perfectionism – it is a time-consuming process. If you find yourself stuck during the procedure, it may be helpful to find a therapist who specializes in perfectionism and can help you combat your inner critic.

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