Perfectionists aren’t known for being happy, relaxed people. Why not? Well, they tend to focus only on goals – instead of enjoying both the process and end result, and learning from the mistakes they make along the way, as non-perfectionists do. Plagued by low self-esteem, perfectionists try to avoid situations in which they’ll make mistakes, and, in so doing, lose out on valuable opportunities to learn and grow.

If you’re a perfectionist, you probably set yourself unrealistically high goals based on external factors, such as the imagined expectations of others. The goals of the non-perfectionist, on the other hand, are based on his or her personal wants and needs, and are far more easily attainable.

Sadly, as a perfectionist you become trapped in a vicious circle: when you don’t achieve the impossible goals you’ve set yourself, your feelings of self-worth plummet. You convince yourself that you’d have succeeded if you’d only tried a little harder, and so the pattern continues.

The cost of perfectionism on your mind, body and spirit is high, involving conditions such as depression, performance anxiety, suicidal thoughts and loneliness, and even terminal diseases like cancer. It’s also been identified as a central feature in eating disorders.

Ironically, instead of getting everything right, perfectionists are often dogged by procrastination and low productivity – because no-one can give 100% at all times. They can also be tough people to love. Fearing rejection, perfectionists are sensitive and vulnerable, and often react defensively when criticised. When they expect the same high standards from those around them, they can be critical, impatient and demanding. In relationships, perfectionists tend to fall into two categories: those who believe no person is good enough, and spend their lives waiting for the non-existent ‘perfect’ partner, and those with low self-esteem, who drop their standards and settle for unchallenging or inappropriate partners to stem their feelings of inadequacy.


If you can unlearn perfectionist patterns and make lifestyle changes, you’ll be much happier and live a far more fulfilled life, with nothing to prove.

1. First, you need to realise that perfectionism is not remotely desirable. It’s a bad habit that could interfere disastrously with your career, relationships and health, and ultimately prevent you from being happy and fulfilled.

2. Assess the four main areas of your life – self, work/study, relationships and social activities – and decide which areas require lifestyle changes to achieve a balance.

3. Vary your standards for success. Distinguish between important and less important tasks so that, instead of aiming for 100% all the time, 80%, 70% or even 60% will do. For example, producing an impressive gourmet meal for a special guest’s birthday is fine, but if an old friend is coming for supper, a simple pasta and salad – or even ordering a pizza – might suffice.

4. Set goals that are only one step beyond those you’ve already achieved, so that they’re realistic and attainable.

5. Learn to live in the moment. Get into a sandpit with a child and enjoy the present for 10 minutes without worrying about your sand castle collapsing, or about the point or the goal of the exercise.

6. Measure your success according to your sheer enjoyment of the process, not just the end result.

7. Set up the possibility for small, safe failures. By doing something you’re not brilliant at – say, playing volleyball, or baking – you’ll have a healthy, fun experience without the pressure of competition. (And if you happen to think that doing something you’re not good at is a complete waste of time, you should definitely do this exercise!)

8. Talk yourself out of the fears behind your perfectionism. Ask yourself what there is to be afraid of and what the absolute worst thing is that could happen.

9. See the positive aspects of the mistakes you make. To reinforce this, write a list of what you’ve learnt from a recent experience.

10. Learn to delegate – without feeling guilty.