Letting go of Perfectionism I Oxford Open Learning
Perfectionism is not always a good thing.

Letting go of Perfectionism

Perfectionism fuels anxiety. Hewitt and Gordon Flett, well-known thought leaders in the field of psychology, reported that younger people today show a greater tendency toward perfectionism compared to past generations. Andrew Fuller, a leading clinical psychologist, also suggests that teenagers who struggle with perfectionism associate small mistakes with failure. They are often convinced that there is only one right way of doing a task. You might think you are one of them – or maybe not. Either way, it’s useful to know a few other tell-tale signs of being a perfectionist:

  • Black and White Thinking: You  may mistakenly think that if your work is not 100% it is worth nothing. E.g. ‘Being third best in class means that I have underperformed. I should have worked harder to come first or second’.
  • Minimising Achievements: You might discover that you significantly downgrade your own achievements and you focus on your weaknesses instead. This is often linked to continuously comparing yourself to others. E.g. ‘My marks are not too bad, but I am still a long way behind my friend, XY’.
  • Emphasis on Luck: You acknowledge your achievements, but feel they have been mostly down to luck as opposed to your effort and hard work. E.g. ‘Winning the athletics competition is not a big thing at all. I’ve just been lucky’.

So How Can You Let Go of Unhelpful Perfectionist Thinking?

Instead of trying to aim for perfection, why not go for good enough. When you no longer strive for 100%, you tend to feel more relaxed. If you are working on a project, you could decide to focus on a handful of key elements, and do them well. This way, you will no longer scatter your attention over trivial aspects. Do a small number of major things well, and stop worrying about the small unimportant things.

I recently came across a poignant quote from the American philosopher Henry David Thoreau: ‘Our life is frittered away by detail… Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let our affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand… Simplify, simplify!’
Letting go of perfectionism starts with awareness. You need to recognise what triggers perfectionist thinking. Once you do, you will be able to change how you approach your work and enjoy better mental health as a result.

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Henrietta Nagy is a seasoned portfolio worker with over 10 years’ experience in the UK education sector. Henrietta writes educational content, designs academic courses, delivers university lecturers, mentors entrepreneurs, and provides career development coaching. With 9 years of higher education studies internationally (including an MBA), she has worked with CEOs, academics, scholars, managers, women entrepreneurs, academic administrators, and other consultants.

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