Perfectionism: How to identify it, overcome it and finally make progress

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Are you a perfectionist?

If you are shaking your head and saying no to yourself, I’m willing to bet you that there are times in your life when you are a perfectionist, but you just don’t know it…yet.

That’s my aim with this episode – to help you identify your perfectionistic tendencies, and overcome them. Or at least to become more self aware of perfectionism in your own life and work.

Perfectionism manifests itself in so many different ways, some are obvious and some not so obvious, and not only is it important to recognise it in yourself, but in others too.

Perfectionism can be destructive and become a major barrier between you, your work, your relationships and the impact you want to make on the world.

Let’s discuss it and see if we can learn something.

Covered in this episode:

  • Identifying perfectionism
  • Overcoming perfectionist
  • Dealing with negative self-talk
  • Becoming your own best friend
  • Changing your mindset and approach to work


“It has to be this way, or not at all!”
“If we can’t do it like this, then we have to stop!”
“I know what I want it to look like, and this ain’t it!”
Someone else said it perfectly “To be, or not to be…”

Now, having high standards is one thing, but making a statement like this sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it?

Imagine if your boss said this to you. Maybe you’ve said it to other people? It sounds crazy doesn’t it?

It might be a fair statement if you are a brain surgeon or a nuclear scientist – but even these people have to accept that things will never be perfect.

I appreciate that you want your work to be great, but producing great work shouldn’t be at the risk of producing nothing if it can’t be the way you want it to be.

This is what a perfectionist mindset looks like.

If I can’t do it this way, then we can’t do it all.

Everything from publishing a blog article, to making business decisions, to launching a new product or service, to organising a weekend holiday with the kids.

If it doesn’t look like the vision I have in my head, then we can’t do it at all.

We get stuck because we can’t accept good enough. We find it a struggle to lower our ideals and exceptions to a level that will still produce good work…so we do nothing.

And nothing achieves…nothing. No decision, no learning, no growth…no sales!

Does that sound like you?

If you’re shaking your head and saying “that’s not me” I bet you anything that there are times in your life when you are being a perfectionist.

Throughout your whole life you are going to have to get used to the vision in your head being better than what you see in reality. Those who are successful are able to get comfortable with that and accept the journey to realising that vision…and they know that they will never be comfortable, because as reality changes, so does their vision.

Those who deal well with their perfectionism are able to accept that they world they live and work in, just isn’t ready to create what their vision looks like to them.

…and they get on with it anyway.

Perhaps Theodore Roosevelt said it best – “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”

In other words, do the best you can, within the constraints that you have, and accept that this is the best you can do – don’t try and make up some perfect world (if we just had this or that they we could it this way or that way…)

People often complain about constraints, but honestly, nothing would actually get done if there wasn’t any constraints – time, equipment, budget, skills, ability.

Your life ain’t perfect. My life ain’t perfect. The world ain’t perfect. The work you do ain’t perfect…and it never will be, and it certainly will never be if you think that it will.

Unfortunately, for most of us, perfectionism is not as obvious as we need it to be. Many people don’t even realise that they are being perfectionists – they don’t realise what they are doing, and thus aren’t able to deal with it.

We need to know what perfectionism looks like in our lives and develop a self awareness for that, and then know how to deal with it.

So, in the spirit of this message…let’s attempt that right now, shall we?

Do you feel stuck?
Can’t publish, can’t get in front of the camera, can’t open up that audio software?

Are you constantly distracted with social media, emails and other less important activities?
Do you find yourself procrastinating a lot of the time?
Perhaps even frustrated with your procrastination, and you don’t even know why you are doing it.
Procrastination is often times a result of trying to avoid the negative feelings associated with perfectionism.

Things to do and tasks in your Trello board or Basecamp keep getting postponed.
You keep moving the dates and never seem to get around to do the important work.

Do you get angry and frustrated when things don’t go your way?

Do you find yourself constantly pissed off and angry with your team?
They just can’t seem to catch your vision?
They just don’t get enough done, or on time, to the exact quality you expect
Not their fault…probably yours

Are you continually worried about what other people think about you and your work?
You’re not comfortable with yourself…leads to

Do you start off projects full of excitement and think you can do anything put in front of you?
Then you find yourself taking on too much work and although you are excited about it first, you realise closer to the end of a project that it’s all a bit too much and you start to get stressed?

You find it hard to delegate and you can’t let people get on with their work resulting in micro management.
This leads to you burning out because you only have so much energy and you try to put equal energy into everything you do, but that’s not sustainable – you have to choose.

Do projects and tasks just seem to take forever to complete?
Dates keep creeping back.
Nothing seems to get done.

Do you find yourself comparing yourself to others in your industry and feeling negative about it?
Do you feel that “if they have done it already, then I can’t do it?”

Are you the type of person that waits until the last minute of a deadline to get work done?
You procrastinate until you simply have no choice but to produce the work?

You take feedback as a personal attack.
Because you lack confidence in your work.

Do you sacrifice your health for your work?
It will never all be done, ever. No matter how many hours you put in.
In fact the more hours you put in, the less likely you are to achieve what you want.
And potentially sacrifice your most important relationships as a result.
Life is far more important than ticking boxes.

These are obvious symptoms, and perhaps what’s no so obvious is the self talk and self criticism – you start to feel bad about yourself, which brings a lack of self confidence and self belief to the surface. You start to shy away from people, stop interacting and believe that you aren’t good enough.

Strangely enough, perfectionism stems from a lack of confidence in yourself. Perfectionism might seem like a lot of confidence to others from the outside, but it’s actually evidence of a lack of self-belief. It also stems from a need to be liked, and respected and loved and approved – which is something we all want. It’s all about having a healthy balance. It can also stem from a fear of failure or disapproval.

As a result of all of this, you set high standards, which are ultimately unachievable.

So the outcome is a need to control everything, and to get it perfect so that you don’t experience those negative feelings.

Back to what I mentioned at the start, self-awareness is the beginning of dealing with this – recognising it in yourself when it’s happening, and recognising it in others, which can be great training for you.

I’ve talked about this before on the show, and if you feel that perfectionism is a destructive part of your character, or you feel you have something you can improve here, there are ways to deal with it and work on it, to chip away at it.

Overcoming Perfectionism

So, they ironic thing about perfectionism, is that the more you strive for perfect, the less likely it is that you will get there.

What can we do to overcome perfectionism in our lives?

Increasing your confidence

If there are particular areas you behave in a perfectionistic way, then perhaps it’s time to get educated and learn how to do the thing well so you feel like you know what you are doing. Remember, perfectionism stems from a place where you lack confidence for some reason.

Have good people around you that can see your value, and tell you your value too
We all need someone that can say to us “you are great at this thing”. If you typically work on your own, or work on your own a lot, you need to make time for good relationships. Get out of your own head space – we can all get caught up in ourself, and it’s rarely a good thing.

Work on being your own best friend

We would never treat other people the way we treat ourselves, and we’d never talk to someone the way we talk to ourselves – why do we do it to ourselves? It’s time to stop treating your self badly and become your own best friend. Your own champion and advocate. Let’s start being aware of the negative self talk and how we beat ourselves up and start treating ourselves like we would other people.

Developing a strong sense of self. This is not going to be easy, or immediate, but perhaps it’s time for you to dive into philosophy and start developing a strong sense of self. Start to understand who you are and develop a stronger character and image of yourself.

Breaking up projects into smaller projects

Simple and practical. Make progress your objective. Set far more achievable goals. Stop being unrealistic, stop pushing yourself so much. And not just yourself, but other people too. Understand and believe that progress is the process to better work, perhaps to creating even better work than you had imagined.

You need to do the work, to do better work, to continue to do better work. It’s a learning progress, and if you never produce anything you will never learn. Even if you fail first, you will learn more than you would if you never produce anything. You have to drop the ‘all or nothing’ mindset. Accepting that nothing will ever be perfect. Brian Fanzo would say that “perfectionism is a fairy tale”.

What’s the worst that could happen? What’s the best that could happen? You’re not in a life or death situation…you will survive, and even thrive as you do your work.

Practice Gratitude

Not as fluffy as you might first think. I write down a list of all the good things that happen each day. Days are objective – it’s our perspective that makes them good or bad.

The Five Minute journal – This is a gratitude journal which will help you feel better about what you have, and start to train yourself to accept that what you have is already special, worthwhile and as discussed – one of the symptoms of perfectionism is a lack of ability to celebrate small wins, and a constant feeling of dissatisfaction.

Celebrate progress

Not the same as celebrating success. Each day, recap everything you did. Just acknowledge that you made progress today – whether it all went to plan or not.
Making mistakes doesn’t make you a bad person. Do not punish yourself for making a mistake. It’s human nature to make mistakes – you are allowed to. Stop making your ideals the expectation for your work, and your expectations for others too. You can have ideals, but don’t make them the expectation. This creates an unrealistic image for success.


Are you a perfectionist?
Are the times in your life and in your business when you are a perfectionist?
If so, what can you do about it?
What ideas could you take away from this short audio to help you make progress?

What is perfect anyway?

Is perfect today perfect tomorrow? No, because you will grow, as will others.
Perfectionism is a myth, and we need to recognise it and deal with it.
Perfect is in the eye of the beholder – it’s subjective!
What you think is perfect isn’t perfect to others, and vice versa

It’s a complicated subject…and this is a start.

But…is it possible to accept the way things are and get on with it anyway?
Can you see that progress is much more important than perfection?

I’m not perfect – and I have the same challenges with this as you do. But here I am, talking about this anyway – part of the reason for me doing this was to help me work what perfectionism actually is and how it manifests itself, and what I can do to overcome it. I haven’t covered everything, but I’ve started the process, and I know that this is a big part of it for making progress. Learning is progress. Teaching is progress. Producing work is progress.

Seneca – “Beginnings are our power but fortune judges the outcome.”

IN other words, we can’t judge something that hasn’t been created…so it’s time to get to work!

I’d love to hear back from you on this topic, and you can email me or tweet me @chrismarr101.

My door is always open.

Until next time, DFTBA!

About Nicola Crawford

Marketing PA at the Content Marketing Academy.
In business, I believe in people first.
Mum to two crazy kids, Alaina and Morgan.
Green belt in Shotokan Karate.
Always learning, always growing.