How to Stop Being a Perfectionist in 4 Simple (But Not Easy!) Steps

woman holding up 4 fingers for how to stop being a perfectionist against mint background

In this follow-on article we look at how to stop being a perfectionist and share 4 simple, practical steps to help you get there.

In this article you’ll find:

Where does perfectionism come from?

Underneath perfectionism is usually the fear that we are not good enough (not lovable enough) as we are.

Perhaps if we perfect ourselves, our behaviour or that project we’re working on, we will be seen, loved and appreciated—and those uncomfortable feelings will go away.

Seen through this lens, perfectionism is simply a solution we developed to help ourselves feel better. An activity to regulate our fear and discomfort. You can learn more about where perfectionism comes from and the signs of perfectionism here.

Two big ironies about perfection…

1) Our imperfections are what make us lovable

For me, the biggest irony is that our imperfections make us lovable. People may admire perfection, but it’s danged hard to love.

If what drives perfectionists is a lack of self-acceptance and a belief we’re not lovable unless we make ourselves better, it’s ironic that even if we managed perfection we would only be admired, not loved for it…

We admire perfection, but we cannot love it. Do you want to be admired or loved? Emma-Louise Elsey

2) Confident people accept their flaws

A second big irony is that confident people accept, and even embrace, their flaws. The very act of allowing ourselves to be (publicly) imperfect is a major component in self-esteem—and feeling better about ourselves.

Perfection is unnecessary and irrelevant because we are OK with ourselves, just as we are…

How to Stop Being a Perfectionist in 4 Steps

The first step

The first and most important step in change is always awareness: we can’t change what we’re not aware of.

But it must be KIND, COMPASSIONATE awareness. We don’t yell at a frightened child—instead we reassure and comfort until the fear has passed. And if you beat yourself up when you notice, you’re not going to want to notice very much are you?

So, when it comes to perfectionism (essentially a fear of not being lovable or good enough as we are), noticing when we are perfecting things is the very first step to moving forwards.

This means learning our own unique signs (bodily, actions, what we say to ourselves). Click here for perfectionism awareness journaling prompts and questions to help you raise your awareness of when you are perfecting.

The second step

The second step may surprise you: simply acknowledge (kindly) that you are perfecting.

Don’t try to stop. Just acknowledge what you’re feeling with compassion.

Witness your pain so that the “afraid” uncomfortable part of you feels validated and supported. Then the afraid (perfecting) part of you will be able to relax. You could try something like:

  • “There, there. I see you sweetheart. I see you’re uncomfortable/scared etc. and I am here for you.”

The third step

The third step may surprise you even more: give yourself permission to perfect. Allow whatever you’re doing to perfect things.

Take a deep breath, pause and say something like:

  • “OK sweetheart. I know you’re feeling uncomfortable/scared etc. Do whatever you need to to feel comfortable.”

The fourth and final step in how to stop being a perfectionist!

Be open to a new, reduced level of perfection.

Perhaps excellence will do here. Or perhaps “good enough” is good enough.

If you’re reading this, you want something to change. And all I’m suggesting is that once you’ve given yourself permission to perfect, you could pause and ask yourself:

  • I’m just wondering: How perfect does this really need to be?

Perhaps, when you look at it, you can stop your perfecting activity. Now that you’ve completed the steps above you might just have got enough breathing space to recognize your perfecting is unnecessary.

Or maybe not. Maybe you will take that pause and deep breath, give yourself permission to perfect, and keep right on doing whatever you were doing…

BUT. Hopefully it will now feel lighter. Perhaps there will be less urgency. Maybe you’ll be doing it less intensely—and more because you truly want to.

Excellence, not Perfection

Striving for excellence motivates you; Striving for perfection is demoralizing. Harriet Braiker Ph.D

Healing perfectionism takes time

This is not a quick fix. We already talked about how perfectionism is similar to an addiction. So we’re not going to change overnight.

But the idea is that, over time, as we develop this 4 step habit and feel seen, supported and validated, our logic eventually kicks in. We learn that we’re not under threat because we didn’t make something perfect. It’s OK.

And as we begin to try reducing our perfecting in Step 4, we bravely test this theory. What does happen when we show up or deliver something that is less than perfect?

I’m betting not a lot. I’m betting you’re probably the only one who notices. And I’m betting that your friends and loved ones will love you more for it too!

By learning to take these 4 steps you won’t be a perfectionist any more—you’ll be a ‘recovering perfectionist’.

Well done!

Summary: How to Stop Being a Perfectionist

Your mission, should you choose to accept it is:

Step 1) Awareness: Notice you’re perfecting. Get really, really good at noticing when you’re perfecting things unnecessarily.

Step 2) Acknowledge and witness your feelings with kindness.

Step 3) Allow yourself to perfect—to do whatever you’re doing—without judgement.

This is essentially The 3 As Process.

And then add:

Step 4) Be open to a new, reduced level of perfection. Pause and ask yourself: How perfect does this really need to be?

IMPORTANT: Please be aware that you may need or want counselling or coaching to help you become aware of—and heal—your perfectionism. I certainly benefited from a counselor who helped me challenge my need for perfection, and encouraged me to ‘let go’ and see what would happen (nothing of course!).

Wrap-upFierce Kindness Logo

As we wrap-up, here’s one of my favourite quotes to inspire you. I put this on the back of my first professionally designed business cards and it’s still there:

It is not perfection we must seek, but freedom of the heart. Buddha

My journey to let go of perfectionism has been a long one. But what made it bearable was being kind to—and not judging myself (steps 2 and 3).

And as I kept doing proving my fears wrong (step 4), I learned by real-life experience that I wasn’t going to die/be rejected/fail financially if everything wasn’t perfect!

How you can stop being a perfectionist involves patience. But more importantly, kindness, self-compassion, determination and courage—and all of these are found in Fierce Kindness.

Change the world. Start with you!

You may also like:

You may also find this original article on how how Fierce Kindness came to be helpful or this one on How to be Kind Always, with the Kindometer.


Image of Woman holding up 4 fingers for how to stop being a perfectionist by Kraken Images


  1. Steven Huskey

    Interesting and important information! I suspect Perfectionism holds more people back than it has ever helped.

    Your statement about confident people accepting their flaws reminded me of an experiment I once read about. Dr. Ellen Langer, a professor of Psychology at Harvard, studied the fear of making mistakes in a situation most of us find scary: public speaking. She separated participants into one of three groups. The first was a “mistakes are bad” group. These students were urged not to make any mistakes during their presentations. The second was a “forgiveness” group. They were told to make a mistake on purpose and were assured that mistakes were perfectly natural. The third group was a “novelty” group. They were instructed to purposefully make a mistake and to incorporate any mistakes into the presentation itself.

    You probably see where this is going. The speakers in the third group, those “open to novelty” judged themselves to be more comfortable and rated their overall performance better than did the speakers in the other two groups. Not only that, but the audience also rated the speakers in that group to be more creative, effective, and intelligent than the speakers in the other two groups.

    I enjoyed your article!

    • Emma-Louise Elsey

      Hi Steven, thank-you for your comment, and I’m glad you found this article on how to stop being a perfectionist helpful! I have read similar research that proves (essentially) that when we stop putting pressure on ourselves, we perform better. Perhaps it is Dr. Langer’s work! I shall look into it 🙂
      Thank-you again for your kind and helpful words.
      Keep up all your good work. Warmly, Emma-Louise


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