4 Strategies to Overcome Perfectionist Paralysis

We live in a society that praises people who try to be perfect. Every day, we are carefully told to make everything, from our personal appearances to our work, shine like a mirror, as if perfection were the best way to measure success.

Who wouldn’t want to be perfect, after all? It seems like a good quality, a strength, and the ideal that everyone should try to reach.

But here’s the truth: this constant drive for perfection can lead to something less obvious but more harmful.

Imagine a new business owner who is always tweaking their business plan and waiting for the “perfect” time to start their business, but it never comes. Or think about a parent who constantly researches the best ways to raise their child but can’t actually enjoy being a parent because they’re afraid of making a mistake. This is what we call the paralysing grip of perfectionist paralysis.

In this piece, we’ll talk about ways to stop being paralysed by perfectionism, which can slow you down in your personal and professional life.

What Is Perfectionist Paralysis?

Perfectionist paralysis is the paralysing fear that keeps you from starting or finishing jobs because you feel like you have to get everything just right.[1] The ‘paralysis’ sets in when the fear of making a mistake or not meeting an impossible standard stops you in your tracks. It’s like standing at the edge of a pool and wanting to jump in, but the water never seems quite right.

This paralysis is often caused by the deep-rooted emotional and psychological parts of perfectionism. You may have grown up in a place where mistakes were harshly judged or where the love and support of important people in your life depended on how well you did. Over time, these things can make a person think that being perfect is the only safe choice and the only way to stay away from criticism or rejection.

If you know the signs and symptoms of perfectionist paralysis, you’ll be able to tell when it’s affecting your behaviour:

  • Do you put off starting a job because you want to wait for the “perfect” time?
  • Do you often feel bad about how you’re doing, even when other people like what you’ve done?
  • Are you stuck in a never-ending cycle of planning and study, with no way to move forward?

These are just a few ways that perfectionism can stop you from doing things.

The Costs of Perfectionist Paralysis

Costs are high when you get stuck in perfectionism paralysis. It’s like a sand trap on a golf course: it looks harmless, even appealing, but once you’re in it, you’re stuck and can’t move forward.

The first pitfall — Procrastination and missed opportunities.

You keep putting things off because you want to make sure everything is perfect. You are waiting for the “perfect” time or the “perfect” way to do something. In fact, perfectionism is a typical reason why people put things off. You miss out on chances that could have helped you be successful or grow.

Next, a serious blow to your productivity.

You’re so busy nitpicking and making endless changes that you’re not getting much done. Worse still, trying too hard to be great all the time can lead to burnout. You’re running around like a rat in a wheel, but you’re not really getting anywhere.

Your mental health and overall well-being will suffer.

A new study in the Psychological Bulletin[2] suggests that perfectionism could be a big reason why mental health problems are getting worse.

The study shows that young people’s mental health seems to be getting worse because they have high standards for themselves and are hard on themselves. It’s like they’re signing up for a race they can never win by setting academic and job goals that are too high, trying to look like people in magazines who don’t exist, and setting materialistic goals.

They seem to believe that perfection is not only desired, but also necessary. This is a modern myth that they seem to believe wholeheartedly.

But this is like bringing around a heavy backpack full of rocks of self-criticism and fear of failing all the time. This weight can cause worry, stress, and depression over time.

And let’s not forget that it also takes away the joy of doing things for their own sake, trying new things, and learning from your mistakes. Do you agree that it’s a high price to pay?

How to Overcome Perfectionist Paralysis

Here are 4 ways to break free from critical paralysis:

1. Kick the All-or-Nothing Mindset to the Curb

This way of thinking makes people think that anything less than perfect is wrong, which makes it hard to think of anything else.

To stop this, you need to start noticing when you’re thinking in terms of all-or-nothing. You might expect too much of yourself or others, or you might see things as either black or white with no grey area in between.

Ask yourself, “Is it really true that anything less than perfect is a failure?”

Start seeing perfectionism as something that gets in the way of success, not as a way to measure it. The goal isn’t to get rid of these feelings completely, but to be aware of them when they come up and choose not to let them control your actions.

2. See Failures as Stepping Stones

Instead of focusing on being great, try to make progress. This doesn’t mean you won’t ever try to be the best, but it does mean you know that mistakes and failures are often the best ways to grow and learn.

Don’t be hard on yourself when you make a mistake. Instead, ask yourself, “What can I learn from this?” “What could I do better next time?” This way of looking at mistakes as chances to learn can be very freeing and help you keep moving forward.

Also, enjoy every step forward, no matter how small. Every step forward is something to be proud of.

3. Embrace the 80/20 Rule

This rule, which is also called the Pareto Principle, says that 80% of your results come from 20% of your efforts.

If you have a tendency to be a perfectionist, this means you need to know when you’ve hit that 80% mark where more work might not make a big difference. Trying to get the last 20% of ‘perfection’ often takes a lot of time and effort for very little gain.

It’s about getting used to “good enough,” which will help you be more effective, efficient, and happy with your work.

4. Distinguish Between “Must Haves” and “Good to Haves”:

To stop being stuck in perfectionism, start by making goals that are reasonable. Some jobs need a lot of focus and work, while others might not. It’s important to learn to tell the difference between the two.

Think, “What are the most important things I need to do? What tasks would be nice but not as important to do?”

Putting together a list of “Must-haves,” “Should-haves,” and “Good-to-haves” will help you make better choices. Find out more about this method here: How to Use the Superstructure Method to Make Decisions Easier

By putting your jobs in this order, you’ll be able to spend more time on what really matters and less time trying to be perfect when it’s not important.

Read What Is Perfectionism and How to Handle It for Good to learn more about how to stop being so hard on yourself.

Final Thoughts

Perfectionism is a trait that many people think is a good thing, but it can get in the way. It can stop us from making progress, hurt our mental health, and take the fun out of our job and lives. This is called “perfectionist paralysis.”

We’ve talked about four key ways to get out of this rut: giving up the “all-or-nothing” mentality, seeing mistakes as stepping stones, following the 80/20 rule, and separating the “must haves” from the “good to haves.” These aren’t magic solutions, but with practise, they can help you change your viewpoint and start making progress. The goal is to be better than you were yesterday, not to be perfect.

If you find that your perfectionism is deeply rooted and you can’t get rid of it, don’t be afraid to get help from a professional. Sometimes it helps to have a guide on the way to a better way of thinking. A mental health worker can give you the tools and strategies you need to get through this path and help you get past the problems that come up when you try to be perfect.

Learn how to overcome the paralyzing grip of perfectionism and regain control of your personal and professional life. Find out how to break free.

Learn how to overcome the paralyzing grip of perfectionism and regain control of your personal and professional life. Find out how to break free.

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