How to Control Perfectionism

The desire to excel is usually a good thing, but there’s a difference between trying your best and demanding perfection of yourself. Perfectionists can be high achievers, but their efforts can also cause low self-esteem, misspent time, and strained relationships. The key is to find ways to give an effort you can be proud of without demanding the impossible of yourself. Instead of striving for “perfect,” strive for “good enough.”

Method 1

Replacing Perfectionist Thoughts and Words Download Article

  1. Image titled Control Perfectionism Step 1
    Remove “should” from your vocabulary. Perfectionists think and talk about what they “should” be doing instead of what they are doing, or what they “should” do or never do. These types of absolutes set you up for inevitable failure.[1]

    • Instead of saying “I should be working on next week’s presentation instead of sitting out here in the garden,” allow yourself some time to relax and schedule in some work time for later.
    • Rather than telling yourself “I should get every question right on this test,” try “I’ll do my best and look carefully to avoid silly mistakes.”
  2. 2
    Stop using black-and-white language. Perfectionists set up scenarios in which the only possible results are either “perfection” or “failure,” with no middle ground. This makes it impossible to achieve a goal with a few inevitable flaws, and makes you feel like a “loser” even when you accomplish a task to someone else’s satisfaction.[2]

    • Add words like “acceptable” and “good enough” to your vocabulary, and use them when evaluating tasks and your results.
  3. 3
    Don’t view everything in catastrophic terms. Perfectionists tend to create the worst case scenario in regards to failure. They’ll say things like “If I don’t get this just right, everyone will hate me” or “Everyone will see that I’m not cut out for this job.” When you feel this way, try to balance things out with some best-case scenarios.[3]

    • For instance, say to yourself “If I mess up this part, we’ll all have a laugh and move on,” based on what you’ve observed when others have done the same thing.
    • Part of catastrophic thought is “probability overestimation” — that is, overplaying your odds of failure or of negative consequences from failure. Try to look at the situation from a detached perspective and consider the true “odds.”
  4. 4
    List your accomplishments every day, week, month, and year. Every evening, write down at least one thing you accomplished that day, no matter how mundane: “I emptied out my junk drawer in the dining room.” Do the same on a weekly, monthly, and perhaps even annual basis. In the process, you’ll realize just how much you get done — and that you are therefore the opposite of a “failure.”[4]

    • Don’t assess how “perfect” of a job you did — just focus on what you got done. After all, by June 30th, does it matter how well you mowed the lawn on June 1st?
Method 2

Being Imperfect on Purpose Download Article

  1. 1
    Make intentional mistakes in minor everyday matters. This can actually be a bit of fun, but the true purpose is to show you how little other people tend to care whether or not you do everything perfectly. For the most part, they won’t even notice your imperfections, and if they do, they usually won’t mind. Try, for instance:[5]

    • wearing a shirt with a stain on it on purpose.
    • inviting someone over without tidying up the house.
    • shorting yourself on bus fare so you have to ask someone for a dime.
    • making a few intentional grammar mistakes in an email.
    • pretending to lose your train of thought while speaking in front of a group.
  2. Image titled Control Perfectionism Step 6
    Do imperfect work and see if anyone notices. In this case, instead of purposefully doing something imperfectly, simply leave some “imperfections” in place that you typically would find and eliminate. Does your boss even notice that your report is a bit less detailed than normal? Does your teacher seem aware that you didn’t re-write your math formulas to make your work look neater?[6]

    • And, even if people do notice, are they bothered by it at all? As long as you’re fulfilling the essential requirements of the task, the answer will almost always be “no.”
  3. Image titled Control Perfectionism Step 7
    Leave others’ work unfinished instead of taking it on. Perfectionists often feel the need to take on others’ work to make sure it is “done right” as well, even if they’re already overworked with their own tasks. Resist this urge, and observe what happens — it will probably be one of the following:[7]

    • The other person will complete the task to an acceptable level.
    • The other person will do an unacceptable job and will face the consequences.
    • The job won’t get done and no one will seem to care all that much.
  4. Image titled Control Perfectionism Step 8
    Identify your worst case scenario and ask “so what?” You may imagine that making a mistake will lead to your worst case scenario and find that you would still be okay if that happened. This can help to ease your concern and relax you. Try looking at the situation and taking the possible outcomes to their natural conclusion by continually asking “so what?”

    • For example, you might worry about being late to work and think, “If I am late, I will get into trouble.” Ask yourself, “so what?” “I might get a written warning or even get fired.” “So what?” “I might have to look for a new job?” “So what?” “If I can’t find a new job, I could end up having to move back in with my parents or borrow money from a friend to get by.” Although this scenario would be unpleasant, you would still be okay if this happened.
Method 3

Giving Your Perfectionism an Honest Assessment Download Article

  1. Image titled Control Perfectionism Step 9
    List what you’re giving up in your quest for perfection. Striving to be perfect in all things takes up a lot of time — time that could be used for many other things. So, take a few minutes to write down what you’re missing out on because you spend so much time trying to be perfect.[8]

    • Are you giving up time with your family or friends?
    • Have you stopped doing (or never started doing) a hobby you really like?
    • Have you lost one or more promising romantic relationships?
    • Are you missing out on adequate sleep, exercise, meal times, or “me time”?
    • Use the list you create to consider your priorities and determine whether trying to be perfect is worth what you’re losing.
  2. Image titled Control Perfectionism Step 10
    Do a reality check about how much something really matters. Ask yourself “Will this matter in 5 years? 5 months? 5 weeks?” If the answer is “no” to all 3, then you’re almost certainly wasting your time trying to complete the task spotlessly.[9]

    • If the short-term answer is “yes,” ask yourself “Will it matter in 5 months/weeks whether this was done perfectly?”
    • Be honest with yourself — how good of a job do you need to do for it to truly matter in the long term?
  3. 3
    Compare your work and others’ fairly and equally. Perfectionists often suffer from one (and sometimes both) of the following problems when dealing with other people: they demand far more of themselves than they do others, or they can’t trust others to do a “perfect” enough job and must do it themselves.[10]

    • If you expect the impossible from yourself but not others, envision someone else doing the same task you’re doing. Would they have to be either “perfect” or a “failure,” or could they do a “good enough” job? If so, why can’t you?
    • If you feel like you have to do everything yourself, take some time observing other people accomplishing tasks and how their peers/superiors/etc. respond to them. If everyone else seems to think the job has been adequately done, remind yourself to accept the “will of the majority.”
  4. 4
    Get outside help if your perfectionism has spiraled out of control. Perfectionism, at its most extreme, can be a symptom of OCD or other medical or mental health issues. If you experience one or more of the following, it might be time to talk to your doctor or a licensed mental health professional:

    • Things must be “perfect” because, if they aren’t, very bad things will happen.
    • Things left “not perfect” cause you serious anxiety.
    • The repetitive nature of your perfectionism is causing a serious disruption to your daily life.
    • If you ever feel like harming yourself as a “deserved” self-punishment for your “failures,” seek help right away.[11]
Method 4

Working Toward a Reasonable Goal Download Article

  1. 1
    Forgive yourself for your shortcomings. Nobody is perfect, and everybody has strengths and weaknesses. That’s not to say you should not try to grow. You can always learn something new or try to improve, but there are times when you’ll have to go with what you already know and do what you can based on that.[12]

    • Don’t waste time worrying about what you can’t (yet) do.
  2. 2
    Define your goal for the current task. Focus on what is really needed. Is the real purpose to be perfect or produce a perfect result, or is it to get something done? What really matters?[13]

    • Perfectionism can often cause the opposite of a timely result because the uncertainty that comes with it leads to procrastination.
    • Knowing what you want to achieve not only helps you go in the right direction, it also helps you know when you are finished.
    • Make sure to break up your goals into manageable tasks to avoid becoming overwhelmed by them. For example, if your goal is to lose weight, then focus on losing 5 pounds at a time or exercising regularly rather than on your overall weight loss goal.
  3. 3
    Strive for the results that are best for you. Do not let your productivity be dictated by fear of others’ judgment. Accept a broader form of excellence, rather than narrowly defined perfection. Perfectionism can be self-destructive when the perfectionist is too concerned with how others may perceive an imperfection.[14]

    • Study to learn, rather than to get a perfect score. Eat and exercise for health and fitness, not for simple weight targets.
  4. 4
    Get started instead of waiting for certainty. Even if you’re not sure yet what you’re doing, give it a try. You may be better at it than you think, or your task may be easier than you imagined it. Even if your first attempt doesn’t get you anywhere, perhaps you’ll know what or who to ask to get going. Or, you may just discover what not to do. Most of the time, you’ll find that you imagined the barriers as larger than they really are.[15]
  5. 5
    Set a time limit for the task. Some things, such as housekeeping, are never really finished. No matter how well you clean the floor today, it’ll get just as muddy tomorrow. Instead of spending hours scrubbing, set a timer for a reasonable amount of time, and clean for just that long. The place will still get cleaner and you’ll work faster and without obsessing over details.[16]

    • Make this sort of upkeep work a regular, brief part of the routine and things will stay at an acceptable, pretty good level.
    • On a longer or more detailed project, a deadline, even a self-imposed one, can get you started and keep you moving instead of worrying over details. Break things up into smaller parts or intermediate goals if they’re too big.
  6. 6
    Do things “your” way instead of the “right” way. Recognize that for many activities, especially anything with an element of creativity, there is no one “right” way, no one “right” answer. If you’re evaluated at all, it is subjectively. You cannot possibly please everybody who reads your writing or gazes at your painting, for instance. While keeping an audience in mind can help give your work direction, you should also allow for a large element of personal expression and style.[17]
  7. 7
    Reflect on your failures. Consider what you can learn from your shortcomings, and how that will help you do a better job next time. You cannot learn without making some mistakes.[18]

    • Recognize the beauty and benefits in imperfection. Dissonant harmonies in music can create tension and drama. Leaves left on the ground insulate plants’ roots and decompose to nourish the soil.

Help Managing Perfectionist Thoughts

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Expert Q&A

  • Question
    Is it okay if my parents always want me to be perfect?

    Liana Georgoulis, PsyD

    Licensed Psychologist
    Expert Answer
    There’s a difference between your parents having high standards for you, and having hyper-critical, unrealistic standards. You may want to try sitting down and talking to your parents. Tell them you feel like they’re being too hard on you. This is the best way to get them to understand. If they just want you to do well though, that’s a good thing!
  • Question
    How do you get rid of a perfectionist mindset?

    Tracy Carver, PhD

    Licensed Psychologist
    Expert Answer
    It’s actually really hard to do this, partially because some of this is natural. It’s normal for your brain to fire off and look for imperfections, so you can’t turn it off entirely. With that said, practicing mindfulness every day is a great way to unlock more self-compassion and calm in the way you think.
  • Question
    Can perfectionism ruin relationships?

    Tracy Carver, PhD

    Licensed Psychologist
    Expert Answer
    In some cases, it can. First, identify how severe the problem is—is your partner thinking about leaving you because of this, or is it a little more mild? Then, decide how important it is to you that thinks really be perfect.
  • Question
    How do you let go of control if you’re a perfectionist?

    Tracy Carver, PhD

    Licensed Psychologist
    Expert Answer
    That can be really hard for perfectionists to do. Start with small, pragmatic things, like letting your partner cook dinner twice a week or letting go of the car being clean a certain way. That’s going to cause you some anxiety, but with the help of a therapist, you should be able to tolerate it.
Ask a Question


  • If you’re great at something, help others who wish to learn. Practice being patient and not expecting them to do everything perfectly or just like you.

  • Never compare yourself to others. We all have our own pace, set of experiences, and different outcomes. You are an individual, and will never be exactly like someone else. This is what builds your character.

  • Be flexible. Dealing gracefully with unexpected developments may be more important than sticking strictly to a predefined system or plan.

  • Schedule yourself free time, if that is what it takes to get some. Then, relax and take the time off.

  • Always look on the positive side of your mistakes. That way, you’ll realize that it’s OK to make mistakes.


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About This Article

Liana Georgoulis, PsyD
Co-authored by:
Licensed Psychologist
This article was co-authored by Liana Georgoulis, PsyD. Dr. Liana Georgoulis is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist with over 10 years of experience, and is now the Clinical Director at Coast Psychological Services in Los Angeles, California. She received her Doctor of Psychology from Pepperdine University in 2009. Her practice provides cognitive behavioral therapy and other evidence-based therapies for adolescents, adults, and couples. This article has been viewed 432,040 times.
4 votes – 100%
Co-authors: 46
Updated: December 1, 2020
Views: 432,040
Thanks to all authors for creating a page that has been read 432,040 times.

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