Overcoming Perfectionism

Progress. Not perfection

Perfectionism is a mean boss. If you’ve ever suffered from it, you know that it is NEVER satisfied. Even when you do what it tells you to, it comes back and is STILL unhappy, because it’s moved the goalposts on you. Again.

It never marks progress, only lack of perfection.

I have encountered this gremlin a lot with my clients, but also in myself. Perhaps that’s why I so readily recognise the stinker! I was thinking about it recently in a personal sense, and I hope my connection of dots for myself will help you too.


Have you ever tried to be consistent in doing something? Maybe eating healthily, working out, going to bed at a decent hour?

And have you ever found that trying to do that is accompanied by this nagging fear of NOT doing it one day and ‘falling off the wagon’? I wonder if, like me, you’ve ever found that falling off the wagon once can lead to staying off the wagon… at least until the sense of failure, disappointment and defeat have dulled enough for you to dare to try again?

Why does this happen?

Well, one very good reason is that we forget that we are human, that making mistakes is part of our human ‘job description’ and that life happens!

Sometimes we set ourselves up in such a way that ONLY 100% is good enough. ONLY perfection will count as progress. And yet, when we listen to the voice of perfectionism, we are listening to LIES!! Let me give you an example using food:

The Vegetable Eating Challenge

If my goal is to eat 5 servings of fruit and vegetables every day for 21 days and I manage 18, have I failed? Perfectionism would like me to believe ‘yes’. And if the question was ‘Did I perfectly complete all 21 days?’ then the answer would be ‘no’.

BUT, if my previous diet included 2 daily servings of real fruit/vegetables prior to starting my challenge, have I not achieved something in those 18 days that I otherwise would not?

YES, I HAVE achieved significant progress. Where I normally would have had 42 servings across those 21 days, I have had 90 PLUS whatever I had on days 19-21 when I didn’t hit my target, BUT I probably still had more than I would otherwise have had, because my new habit is to eat more real fruit and veg.

And frankly, even if I ate NO fruit or veg on days 19-21, I STILL ate 48 more servings of wholesome fruit and veg than I would have done without the challenge.

Is that not progress worth celebrating?

Perfectionism BLINDS us to what we HAVE achieved.

It denies our progress and de-motivates us from trying again.

The net result of perfectionism is that we become scared to try, in case we fall short of perfect (which perfectionism reminds us we  have done before).

Perfectionism also prevents us from going all-out, even if we do try. It distracts our focus so that we are fixated on failure, instead of focused on success, and so it becomes something of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

It also guilts us when we do have a ‘human’ moment, and shames us for our lack of perfection, again taking no account of our efforts or our progress.

Fighting Back!

Of course I’m not going to leave you with just the tactics of perfectionism, as I’m sure if you’ve encountered this mindset ‘gremlin’, you are well aware of what it does to you!

So how do we fight back?

We rebel.

TOP Ways To Begin Overcoming Perfectionism TODAY!

  • When it tells us we’re going to fail, we remind it of all the times we failed our way to being good at things in the past (walking, running, writing, driving, eating with a knife and fork…)
  • When it tries to get us to hold back, we remind it that the ONLY way to progress is to push through our comfort zone and go beyond what we can already do, to what we can ‘one day’ do. Our past does not define our future.
  • We don’t accept its invitation to fear going wrong. We’re going to go wrong, we’re human. We may as well go wrong doing something as sitting back and failing by default.
  • BIG TIP- we note our progress. Instead of looking for perfect, we look for ‘better than yesterday’. I cannot tell you how much more motivating and energising that is in propelling us towards our goals than listening to perfectionism’s fearful whines.

EVERY TIME we get back up and try again, even with all our fear, trepidation and gritted teeth, we are DEFYING Perfectionism’s hold on us.

Its grip is weakened every time we start again. Every time we write our own story. A story of progress triumphing over Perfectionism!

What has impacted you about this article? Let me know, I’d love to hear what you are going to work on as a result of reading this!


Dr. Kathrine McAleese


2 thoughts on “Overcoming Perfectionism

  1. I don’t have a problem setting goals, do it continually. Don’t have a problem dusting myself off and getting back up to try again. But you finally hit my vulnerable spot! Since early childhood, I’ve had to be perfect or else it was a failure. “If you fall, no tears, get back up and try again.” I’ve never actually thought about it…..till now. Thinking about this concept explains a lot in my mind and gives me a way to look at those gremlins differently. Especially thinking about this weekend….Our team finished 3rd over all….a huge feather in my cap, yet I spent my drive home thinking about the mistakes I made and how I’m going to go about “fixing” them! My dog is always awesome. I need to remember he got to awesome because we worked hard together. Thank you!

    • Kaydeen- you are SO welcome! I love how something like a little article such as this can spark connections and help us understand (and thus better defeat) a long-standing gremlin. I am so pleased too that you’re going to be better able to honour the hard work and ACHIEVEMENT you two are having together. Well done!!! … and thank you for sharing too, that means a lot to me, I really appreciate you taking time to do that!

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