3 Hacks to Slay Perfectionism – Before It Slays You

Asian business woman relaxing at her desk with arms behind head

If you’re like many of us, you may secretly cherish your perfectionism, because it means you have high standards, right? You may also feel it is essential to success.

But the research shows some more significant downsides: It won’t make you happy. It doesn’t make you better at your job. Plus, the stress of it can steal years of your life.

And the last thing we need these days is more stress. So here are three simple hacks to help you get the perfectionism demon under control.

  1. Put healthy things on your to-do list.
  2. “One of the things that I have found helpful for me as a perfectionist and as someone who lives for the high that I get in crossing something off my to-do list is to put healthy things on my list. So, if I have a day planner that has eight lines on it for a day, I don’t use all eight lines for work things. At least two or three of those lines need to be for things that feed my soul and feed my energy and energize me, like walk the dog, take a shower. I mean, take a shower. It’s a dumb thing to put on a list, but it’s also awesome.”
  3. Mary Laura Philpott, author of I Miss You When I Blink and the forthcoming Bomb Shelter.
  4. And it’s not just an awesome idea; there’s research that backs up why that works. It’s known as the progress principle, Emilie Aries, author of Bossed Up: A Grown Woman’s Guide to Getting Your Sh*t Together.
  5. “The simple act of giving yourself the sensation of forward-momentum is inherently motivating. So, it’s kind of like getting a punch card for a free car wash after ten car washes with two holes already punched in it. There’s social science that shows, if you give yourself the sensation of a head start, you’re more likely to come back and punch the rest of those cards.
  1. Decide what you get a “B” in so you can Ace what is most meaningful.
  2. If the past year or two or three taught us anything, it’s that we can’t do it all and do it perfectly. So, simplify your ambitions with a little dose of realism from the outset. Or, as Aries puts it: Proactively choose what you want to deprioritize.
  3. “There’s a big difference between proactively saying “I’m aiming for a B in my fitness right now, so I can get an A in finishing my book v. I’m trying to go to the gym four times a week and finish my manuscript,” she says. The second is more likely to lead you to feel like a failure in the end. The first gives you a fighting chance at succeeding at what is most important.
  1. Have a mantra.
  2. “The thing I always love to say is something I learned from my producer and cameraman on a show that I do for Nashville Public Television called “The Word on Words,” where I interview other writers,” says Philpott. “When I mess up and get really stiff and robotic because there’s a camera on me and I’m talking in this weird voice, he will lean out from behind his camera and say, ‘Try it again, more like you.’

Mary Laura Philpott and Emilie Aries spoke at the Texas Conference for Women in 2019. This article is based on their session. Listen to their full session, “The Happy Perfectionist: Managing the Trap.”