What is Perfectionism? (& 8 Signs You May Be a Perfectionist)

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Published Date|
January 3, 2023

What is Perfectionism? (& 8 Signs You May Be a Perfectionist)

From a young age, we’re taught to strive for perfection.

From aiming for that 100 percent score on your spelling tests in elementary school to striving for a flawless performance review at your first job, you’ve likely seen perfection as the ultimate goal.


In reality, trying to be perfect can be more harmful than helpful – and can prevent you from achieving your goals.


I have been helping ambitious, high-achieving individuals learn how to recognize and overcome perfectionism for over six years. Hopefully, this article can help you feel more confident in taking that first step in your journey toward leaving perfectionism behind!


After reading this article, you’ll know the downside to perfectionism, the signs you may be a perfectionist, and how to overcome perfectionism.


What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is a cycle in which you overanalyze and nitpick to the point where you can barely get started in the first place, let alone consider something finished.

Rather than having high standards, you may have standards that are impossible to achieve.


You may also feel ashamed or disappointed when you can’t meet these standards.

Contrary to popular belief, perfectionism isn’t really about getting things right.

Perfectionism is rewriting the same sentence over and over again instead of coming up with a rough draft that you can always edit, revise, and improve upon as you go.

It’s deciding not to sign up for dance lessons because you fear embarrassing yourself as a beginner, even though starting is the only way to get better.

8 Signs You May Be a Perfectionist

  1. You worry about embarrassing yourself or looking incompetent to other people
  2. You view having a steep learning curve or any type of struggle as a sign of weakness
  3. You worry that people will think less of you if you show any vulnerability or make any mistakes
  4. You feel like a failure if somebody outperforms you or is more skilled at something than you are
  5. You feel like no task is ever complete or good enough – nothing short of outstanding will suffice
  6. You experience all-or-nothing thinking – something is either perfect or a failure, with no in between
  7. You believe that you need to be as close to perfect as possible to be liked or respected by other people
  8. You frequently experience analysis paralysis – you painstakingly go over every decision to make the best one and avoid any feelings of regret

3 Disadvantages of Perfectionism

1. Perfectionism hinders your process and your progress toward your goals

Perfectionism can discourage you from getting started on a task because you think you’re not yet ready or good enough. Once you get started, your endless quest to get things just right can cause you to take ages to complete a task.

In work and life, collaboration and teamwork are vital aspects of what makes us successful – we learn our best from one another and do our best work when we feel supported.

But perfectionism can dissuade you from ever asking for help, leading you to keep your problems to yourself instead of admitting them to others – even when others could help you find the solution.

2. Perfectionism can keep you from actually improving or excelling

When you focus on doing your best, your best will improve over time with sustained effort and practice.

Unfortunately, perfectionism encourages a fixed mindset in which you don’t give yourself space to grow and develop.

Forbidding yourself from making a single mistake robs you of valuable learning opportunities and creates so much pressure that you become too stressed to focus, let alone bring your A game.

You end up making unnecessary revisions to something already good to go and can end up weakening the result instead of improving it.

3. Perfectionism can negatively impact your self-esteem

Perfectionism involves tying our sense of self-worth to specific performance metrics and levels of achievement.

It can lead you to put a lot of pressure on yourself to do everything right and be very critical of yourself if you feel you’re coming up short.

Setting goals that are impossible to achieve sets you up to fail – and even though these goals will never be achievable, your self-esteem can take a hit when you continue to miss them.

How Can You Overcome Perfectionism?

You now know why perfectionism can be harmful – but it can also be a hard habit to break.

You're not alone if you find a sense of security and control in perfectionism.

But finding ways to overcome perfectionism will make you feel more successful, confident, and capable in the long run.

5 Ways to Overcome Perfectionism

  1. Adopt a Growth Mindset
  2. Learn How to Slow Down
  3. Learn the Rule of Good Enough
  4. Separate Your Self-Image from Your Performance
  5. Increase Your Self-Awareness About Perfectionism


1. Adopt a Growth Mindset


Adopting a growth mindset means viewing your mistakes as learning opportunities instead of failures. This means permitting yourself to initially not be great at something!


Starting a low-stakes hobby, such as drawing or painting, can be a great way to practice doing something for the fun of it without expecting yourself to be perfect right away.


2. Learn How to Slow Down


Change your mindset around slowing down, pacing yourself, or lowering the bar.


Rather than viewing rest as “lazy” or “undisciplined,” you can view it as strategic.


Slowing down enables you to conserve your energy, improves your attention to detail, and allows you to improve your focus!


3. Learn the Rule of Good Enough

Determine what “good enough” means for a particular task.

What is the bare minimum that you will be satisfied with? Be as specific as you can!

Remember, “good enough” doesn’t mean slacking off or doing things half-heartedly. It is your minimum threshold for quality work.

4. Separate Your Self-Image from Your Performance


Work on separating your self-image from your performance.


Just because something is hard, or you stumble from time to time, it doesn’t mean that you’re of less value or that it isn’t worth pursuing.


Success is an outcome, not an identity!


5. Increase Your Self-Awareness About Perfectionism

Increase your self-awareness around your perfectionism. Check in with yourself when you catch yourself procrastinating or dragging out a task. 

Ask yourself, “Is my goal still getting this done, or has it shifted into getting it perfect?” 

If the answer is the latter, go back to tip #3 and determine the minimum required to put this project or task to bed. 

Next Steps for Recovering from Perfectionism

After reading this article, you now understand what perfectionism is, eight signs of being a perfectionist, and five ways to overcome perfectionism.


As a member of KMA’s team of passionate therapists, I have helped many clients overcome perfectionism and boldly set forth to achieve the level of progress they want to see in their lives - on their own terms!

You can check out my blog for additional articles on overcoming the personal and professional hurdles that can often get in the way of living the life you want.


Book your introductory appointment today or connect with our team to learn more.


If you’re not yet ready to book an appointment, read these articles to learn more:


Sign up for the KMA Therapy Newsletter to stay up to date on the latest mental health and wellness news.

About the Author

Elizabeth is a Registered Psychotherapist with the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario, and a Canadian Certified Counsellor through the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association. She holds an M.Ed. in counselling from Acadia University and a BA in Psychology from Concordia University.

Currently, some of her specialties include issues such as depression, anxiety, stress, relationships, challenging life transitions, grief and loss, low self-esteem, trauma, and chronic pain and injury.

Book an appointment to begin working with Elizabeth!

Author |
Elizabeth Beiderman
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