Perfectionists are, by definition, painfully hard on themselves. Perfectionism is a state of chronic dissatisfaction that takes a hefty toll -- and the sad fact is that few perfectionists realize what's going on. They see themselves as having 'high standards' and are blind to just how unhappy their 'standards' are making them -- and everyone around them. They can't understand how they can work so diligently and passionately -- and yet rarely feel truly pleased or proud with anything they do. Instead, very few things ever seem 'good enough'...and fewer feel 'good enough' for very long. If this sounds eerily familiar, do yourself a favor: investigate the signs and symptoms of perfectionism. If you discover you're prone to perfectionist tendencies, you can start to address it by learning proven techniques to overcome perfectionism.

One of fundamental approach is to relax your expectations -- to accept that it's impossible for everything to be perfect. Give yourself the time, space and opportunities to learn how to allow 'good enough' to really be good enough.

Here's the catch: it's not easy. Most perfectionists have developed deeply ingrained beliefs, thought patterns, expectations and behaviors. They've had a lifetime of practice being judgmental, controlling and demanding of themselves. They are often anxious and prone to persistent negative thoughts -- and chronic dissatisfaction. These perfectionism patterns are very deep and quite resilient to change...but change is possible.

Here's how:

1. Take stock.

Begin by recognizing how your perfectionism shows up. What do you do *perfectly* that really doesn't need to be? Do you fuss over emails or Facebook posts unnecessarily? Do you stress out and tidy up when someone is dropping by -- including the plumber or your cleaning person?

Keep track of your inner dialogue for a day or two -- How do you talk to yourself? Do you call yourself names when you make 'mistakes'? Notice when you are evaluating or judging things or people. Maybe grammatical errors on public signs irritate you. Perhaps you're adept at finding flaws with restaurant meals.

Note: we're not looking for a perfect, comprehensive list -- just some clues for some specific behaviors and thought patterns to target for change. Pick a few examples and keep them in mind as we proceed.

2. Adjust your expectations.

You are just now recognizing your perfectionistic tendencies. That's huge. Now be patient with yourself as to learn to think and act differently. You've got a lot of un-learning to do. You're going to be replacing unhelpful thought and behavior patterns -- and alas that is unlikely to happen overnight. Realize that the shift for perfectionists from 'perfect' to 'good enough' requires a lot of practice and long-term dedication.

3. Start small.

Refer to your list from step 1 and pick things that are truly trivial. Practice doing unimportant things imperfectly. Send an email to a pal without correcting the typos. Leave some weeds in the garden on purpose. Take note of your reaction. It may astonish you to see how much a misspelled word or few dandelions can irk you. This is an awareness opportunity: If you're getting stressed over trivial things not being 'perfect', imagine the impact on you when important things are found lacking.

Keep practicing -- do trivial things imperfectly until they feel more comfortable. You're aiming for 'good enough' to actually feel 'good enough'.

4. Practice alternative ways of being.

Perfectionists show their perfectionism in different ways. However it shows up in you, you have a clue as to how to address it.

For example, if you're a neatnik, make something messy or untidy. Leave some laundry on the floor. It's okay. Even when your home is less than 100% in order, it's still pretty darned organized. It may feel uncomfortable but it's quite acceptable (and probably still neater than 99% of the homes out there).

If you're a control freak, then go grocery shopping without a list. Wing it. Whatever you purchase will be 'good enough' -- honest. Realize that even if you miss buying some items you need, you won't starve.

If you're a pessimistic person, force yourself to reframe things more positively. Should you notice yourself thinking, for example, "My home is too small/pink/noisy/whatever", ask yourself what you DO like about it. "Well, I like that I do have a home, a roof over my head, that art on the wall, the light in this room, etc." When you notice negative thoughts cluttering your mind, look for something/anything you can be positive about. "I hate my thighs" is much less helpful or healthy than "I'm in better shape than many people my age. It's unrealistic to expect to have Gwyneth Paltrow's gams. Okay, sure I don't look like a Hollywood star but I also don't want to put up with their diet restrictions or onerous fitness regimes. Plus I don't have their teams of people (and photoshoppers and surgeons) so I should expect to look like them. Heck I'm happy to just HAVE legs -- my life would be very different without them. My thighs are plenty 'good enough'."

4. Listen to your gut.

When you feel uncomfortable or stressed about something -- when something isn't going perfectly, stop. Note your discomfort. That's just your perfectionism. Once you've recognized the source of your ill feelings, you can take steps to feel better. For example: ask yourself, "Alright, in this moment what is going well -- or well enough?" "In the grand scheme of things, how important is this thing, really?" Odds are, whatever it is, it's not a matter of life, death or survival.

5. Aim for baby steps.

Overcoming perfectionism requires a long-term change in thinking and behaving for perfectionists. Look for every opportunity to let something be 'good enough' instead of perfect. Praise yourself every time. Reward yourself for noticing any perfectionistic or judgmental thought -- and reward yourself more when you replace those critical assessments with kinder, gentler, more empathetic notions.

5. Practice daily appreciation.

This won't come naturally so you'll need to actually decide to be more appreciative and to actively develop the habit of expressing daily gratitude. Make a daily practice of writing down at least ten things for which you are grateful. Avoid repeating items from one day to the next -- each day you must identify at least ten NEW things for which you're grateful.

6. Apply the 80:20 rule.

It's a well established phenomenon that "for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes". In his helpful book The Four Hour Work Week, Tim Ferriss applies the 80:20 rule to maximizing the impact of one's efforts. For example "what are the 20% of customers/products/distributors that are producing 80% of the profit? Then we do the less common; we apply 80/20 to the negative: what are the 20% of activities and people that consume 80% of your time?"

Perfectionists can apply this principle to shift from '100% perfect' to 'good enough'. When you find yourself spending way too much time and effort on something that's pretty much done, stop. It's 'good enough'. Begin by aiming for, say, 95% rather than 100% perfect. When that feels comfortable -- it may even feel like 'relief' -- shift to 90%.

6. Allow others to be 'good enough' rather than perfect.

Often, perfectionists expect the people around them to be perfect, too -- their spouses, children, family members, colleagues, friends, even passersby. Start to apply steps 1 - 5 to your interactions with others. As you shift to 'good enough' for your own efforts, extend the same courtesy to other people. If you don't expect perfection from others, you'll be less stressed or disappointed with them. The more you can accept their efforts as 'good enough' even when they're not perfect (or how you would have done something), the happier they'll be. You, too.


Be very kind and gentle with yourself as you embark on shifting from 'perfect' to good enough. It might not be easy but this transition is well worth it. You'll feel less stressed, less disappointed, happier, healthier and are apt to strengthen the relationships around you.

Activity: Commit to apply these steps, beginning today. Reread steps 1 - 3 and do them. Take a few minutes today to list ways in which your perfectionism manifests. This week, identify some small ways to begin to shift from 'perfect' to 'good enough'. Proceed through the steps at your own pace.

(c) Liisa Kyle, Ph.D.


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Author's Bio: 

Liisa Kyle, Ph.D. is the go-to coach for smart, creative people who want to overcome challenges, get organized, get things done and get more out of life (

Liisa Kyle is also an internationally published writer/editor/photographer as well as author of books including "Overcoming Perfectionism: Solutions for Perfectionists" ((Available here:

If you are a creative person with too many ideas and too much to do, check out her other helpful articles here: