How to Combat Perfectionism and Cultural Conditioning


Susanna Mittermaier, Founder, Pragmatic Psychology

Do you struggle with feeling like you have to be perfect in your workplace? If so, you’re not alone! Perfectionism is a common source of stress and burnout, but you don’t have to fall victim to it.

The definition of perfectionism is, “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.” All cultures condition people to a set of standards. As members of that culture, we buy those standards and act accordingly. Certain behaviors and ways of acting are acceptable, and certain ones are not. A business is a culture as well, embedded within the larger culture, which similarly imposes standards that you’re supposed to achieve.

Any time we have a standard, it’s a fixed point of view, an ideal of how something should be. You constantly have to be in judgment about whether you are or are not meeting that standard. If you’re a perfectionist, you’re likely trying to uphold your culture’s standards perfectly, whether it’s your business culture or the society at large.

Perfectionism, then, is a bunch of judgments; any time we judge we keep ourselves in a right/wrong duality, and that mindset keeps us from looking and creating beyond those standards.

So our cultural conditioning and perfectionism are stultifying; they keep us from asking what else is possible beyond, both for ourselves and for the culture around us.

What if you gave up being perfect? Here are three tips to help you get started:

Tip #1:  Admit it!

How much of a perfectionist are you? Telling yourself the truth is the first step to making a change. How does perfectionism show up in your life?

  • When you write a report, are you so focused on making sure everything is perfect you have a hard time finishing it?
  • Do you second-guess everything you might say before you speak up in a meeting?
  • Before taking action, are you already judging what you’ll do based on whether other people will approve?

If you can identify how and when perfectionism shows up in your work life, you then have a new choice.

Tip #2: Don’t judge Yourself For Being a Perfectionist

Perfectionism and judgment can be a challenge to get out of because they loop in on themselves. How does this happen?

Let’s say you are writing a difficult email to a colleague and realize you’re trying to get it exactly right. On recognizing it, you start to judge yourself, “Oh, there I go again, being a perfectionist. What’s wrong with me that I can’t seem to stop doing this?” It’s easy to get in this vicious circle! Don’t judge when you find yourself repeating your old pattern, if you do you’re just trying to be perfect about not being a perfectionist!

Tip #3: Be Willing To Be Imperfect

Being willing to be imperfect is a challenge for most perfectionists, especially in a business setting. People sometimes think that imperfection implies weakness, and potentially leads to some type of negative consequences. What are you afraid would happen if you were imperfect?

  • That you might be fired, or at least passed over for promotion?
  • That you’ll be irresponsible?
  • That others will judge you?

One tool is simply to question what you believe will happen. People tend to amplify their fears, making things seem much worse than they likely would be.

It can also help to recognize that there’s a difference between being willing to be imperfect and not caring or being irresponsible. You can still care, be responsible, and do your best, but when you’re willing to be imperfect, it allows you a level of relaxation. It actually means you’ll be more aware of what’s required in your job, but with much less stress.

Here are three questions to play with:

  • How imperfect can I be today?
  • What’s good enough in this situation?
  • What’s actually going to create the most here?

Let’s say you’re going to give a presentation. Think about times when you’ve listened to other people: when someone gives a speech, what entices you more, a person giving a perfect presentation, or someone who shows they’re human? People tend to be more relatable when they’re imperfect, when they make mistakes and acknowledge them.

Instead of a goal to be perfect, start with what’s going to create the most. Before beginning, ask yourself, “What do I know? What can I say here that will contribute and that allows this to be greater than I can imagine?” Your presentation will be more inviting and enticing than if you strive for perfection.

If you struggle with perfectionism and find yourself trying to be perfect in your workplace, admit it and identify how that shows up for you. Avoid heaping more judgment on yourself about it and instead be willing to be imperfect.

Businesses consist of people, and people are not perfect. We’re not computers! The more you can celebrate that in yourself and in others, the more easily others can relate to you. When you use imperfections to your advantage, they become a creative factor that enhances your reach and contribution.

How to Combat Perfectionism and Cultural ConditioningAbout the Author: Susanna Mittermaier is a psychologist and psychotherapist, and the founder of Pragmatic Psychology. She is a worldwide keynote speaker, and author of the #1 International Bestselling book, Pragmatic Psychology: Practical Tools for Being Crazy Happy. Susanna is an internationally accredited Access Consciousness Facilitator, including Right Voice for You, a specialty program of Access Consciousness. She transforms people’s problems and difficulties into possibilities and powerful choices. Follow on Twitter @AccessSusanna.




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