8 ways you can break free from perfectionism, according to psychology

In the pursuit of excellence, perfectionism often becomes a silent obstacle. It’s like a relentless inner critic that holds you back from embracing life’s imperfections and learning from them. Breaking free from this mindset isn’t just liberating; it’s necessary for personal growth and well-being.

Psychology suggests that stepping away from perfectionism can lead to a more balanced, fulfilling life. It’s about shifting focus from flawless outcomes to a journey of progress and self-discovery. Acknowledging this need for change is where we begin.

As we navigate life’s transitions, it’s essential to embrace imperfection with patience and flexibility. Allowing yourself time to adjust and seeking support creates a foundation for transformation. Staying positive and setting realistic goals propels you forward, while self-care ensures resilience along the way.

Reflecting on these elements reveals a path to overcome the constraints of perfectionism. By learning to manage our expectations and accepting that setbacks are part of growth, we cultivate a healthier mindset.

With these thoughts in mind, let’s now focus on the core actions you can take to break free from perfectionism. 

1. Embrace imperfection and release rigid standards

Letting go of unrealistically high standards is the first step to breaking free from perfectionism. It’s about understanding that errors are not failings, but opportunities for growth and learning. Perfectionism often traps us in a cycle of constant disappointment—by embracing imperfection, we allow ourselves to experience progress rather than paralysis.

Recognize that perfection is an illusion, an unreachable goal that shifts further away with every attempt to grasp it. Instead, aim for excellence on your terms, which is about doing your best based on your abilities and current circumstances, not an unattainable ideal.

This shift in perspective reduces the pressure we put on ourselves and can lead to increased creativity and productivity. By releasing these rigid standards, we open ourselves up to new possibilities and a more compassionate self-view.

As we learn to be more forgiving of our own imperfections, we naturally start to extend the same grace to others, fostering healthier relationships. This brings us to our next point: the importance of cultivating supportive connections that encourage our journey away from perfectionism.

2. Set realistic goals and celebrate progress

Goals are vital for motivation, but when they’re set in the realm of perfectionism, they can do more harm than good. Instead, set achievable, realistic goals that account for life’s ebbs and flows. These should be milestones you can reach without sacrificing your well-being on the altar of perfection.

As you work towards these goals, remember to celebrate each step of progress, no matter how small. These celebrations reinforce positive behaviors and remind us that success is a series of steps, not just the final leap. It’s the journey of growth that matters most, shaping us into more resilient and adaptable individuals.

Acknowledging every achievement along the way helps break the cycle of perfectionism by showing us that perfection isn’t necessary for success. 

3. Cultivate a growth mindset to learn from setbacks

Embracing a growth mindset is pivotal in overcoming perfectionism. It’s the belief that abilities and intelligence can be developed through dedication and hard work. This perspective transforms setbacks into valuable lessons, not reflections of personal failure.

When you encounter obstacles, view them as opportunities to evolve. Ask yourself what can be learned and how you can improve from the experience. This approach reduces the fear of failure that often accompanies perfectionism and encourages a healthier, more productive response to challenges.

By fostering a growth mindset, you build resilience and adaptability—qualities that are essential for personal development. With each setback viewed as a stepping stone, you’re one step closer to achieving your goals. 

4. Practice self-compassion to silence the inner critic

Self-compassion is the antidote to the harsh judgments of the inner critic that perfectionism amplifies. It involves treating yourself with the same kindness and understanding you would offer a good friend in times of difficulty. Research by Dr. Kristin Neff has shown that self-compassion leads to greater emotional resilience and happiness.

Instead of beating yourself up over mistakes or perceived shortcomings, acknowledge your efforts and give yourself permission to be imperfect. Speak to yourself with encouragement and gentleness, recognizing that being human means being flawed—and that’s perfectly okay.

Nurturing self-compassion helps create a more supportive internal environment, one that’s conducive to growth and free from the constraints of perfectionism. 

5. Detach from outcomes to enjoy the process

Letting go of our attachment to specific outcomes is a liberating step away from perfectionism. It shifts our focus from the end result to the experience of the task itself. This detachment doesn’t mean we stop caring about what we’re doing; rather, it means we place our attention on the effort and engagement over the eventual success or failure.

When we immerse ourselves in the process without fixating on the outcome, we open ourselves up to creativity and innovation. We’re more likely to take risks, try new approaches, and ultimately learn more. This mindset not only reduces the pressure of achieving a perfect result but also can lead to better results because we’re not constrained by fear of failure.

Appreciating the journey for its own sake cultivates a sense of presence and fulfillment, regardless of whether our endeavors meet our initial expectations. 

6. Redefine success on your own terms

The standards of perfectionism are often dictated by external expectations and societal definitions of success. To break free from this, it’s vital to redefine what success means to you personally. It’s a subjective concept, one that should align with your values, passions, and life circumstances.

By establishing your own criteria for what constitutes success, you take back control from the perfectionist mindset that seeks universal acclaim. Your definition might include personal growth, the joy of learning, or the quality of your relationships, rather than just professional achievements or public recognition.

Crafting a personal definition of success empowers you to pursue what truly matters to you and measure progress in a way that is meaningful and fulfilling. 

7. Streamline priorities to align with personal values

The pursuit of perfection often leads to a cluttered life, filled with tasks and goals that may not resonate with our core values. Streamlining priorities requires a conscious effort to identify what is truly important and what can be let go. This simplification process makes room for activities that bring genuine satisfaction and align with our redefined sense of success.

By focusing on what aligns with our values, we naturally reduce the noise of external expectations and the pressure to perform to perfection. It’s about quality over quantity, depth over breadth. This selective approach not only makes our lives more manageable but also more meaningful.

In a life less driven by perfectionism, each task and goal is infused with intentionality. We become more present in our actions, leading to a richer, more authentic experience. 

8. Foster resilience through self-reflection and adaptability

The final stride in breaking free from perfectionism involves developing resilience—the ability to bounce back from setbacks and adapt to change. It’s about having a strong foundation that allows you to handle the ups and downs of life without being derailed by the pursuit of an unattainable perfect state.

Resilience is nurtured through self-reflection, an honest evaluation of your experiences, reactions, and the lessons learned. This introspection can reveal patterns that may contribute to perfectionist tendencies and highlight areas for growth and improvement.

Adaptability complements resilience by providing the flexibility to adjust your approach in the face of changing circumstances. It’s the recognition that there are multiple paths to success, and being fixated on a single, perfect journey is unnecessary.

Together, resilience and adaptability create a dynamic duo that equips you to navigate life’s challenges with grace and determination, free from the constraints of perfectionism. Embracing these traits marks a significant step towards a more balanced, contented life where you are in control of your happiness and achievements.

Embrace your journey beyond perfectionism

Throughout this article, we’ve explored various strategies to help you break free from the chains of perfectionism. From redefining success to cultivating self-compassion, each step is designed to guide you towards a more balanced and fulfilling life. As we conclude, it’s important to remember that the journey itself is where true growth and satisfaction lie.

Perfectionism can be a demanding companion, one that often leads to stress and a sense of never being good enough. But by implementing the practices we’ve discussed, you can start to loosen its grip. Embrace imperfection as an inherent part of life and celebrate every small victory on your path. Each step forward, no matter how slight, is progress.

I encourage you to reflect on your personal values and align your actions with what truly matters to you. This alignment brings a sense of authenticity and purpose that perfectionism can never offer. If you’re looking for tools to help identify your core values, consider downloading my values exercise. It’s designed to provide clarity on what drives you, which can be incredibly empowering as you move forward.

Remember, transitioning away from perfectionism isn’t about a destination; it’s about evolving continuously as a person. Above all, be patient with yourself. Change takes time, and it’s okay if your journey doesn’t unfold as quickly as you’d like. What’s important is that you’re taking steps, however incremental they may be, towards a life where your actions are not dictated by perfectionism but inspired by passion, purpose, and joy.

In closing, choose to live intentionally and mindfully. Let go of the need for perfect outcomes and focus on the richness of experience that comes from simply living life in all its imperfection.

Trust in your ability to grow from every situation and know that by doing so, you are living your best life—a life free from the constraints of perfectionism.

Jeanette Brown

Jeanette Brown

I have been in Education as a teacher, career coach and executive manager over many years. I'm also an experienced coach who is passionate about supporting people in finding real meaning and purpose in their lives, building a resilient, grounded inner self and achieving their desired goals.

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