Are you fed up with yourself and ready to start overcoming your perfectionism?

What if I said I wanted to talk you out of overcoming it?!

Yes, that’s right: I want to propose a different way to see your perfectionism…a way that acknowledges the challenges and ALSO the plusses. It’s called healthy striving and it’s part of a broader philosophy I call “taking a positive approach to perfectionism”.

Here’s what perfectionism often “sounds” like

I’m not ready yet… [to do X]

Wait, I need to do a bit more research into this ..[before I X]

It’s obvious that I HAVE to take a course on [topic] before… [I try X]

I just need to clean it up a bit more…[before I show Y]

No, I don’t have enough experience to… [do X]

These are statements commonly uttered by perfectionists — those folks who have high standards for themselves and/or others– to the point of inaction or serious procrastination.

But, even when your perfectionist tendencies are yelling “No, not yet!” you can move forward with an approach called healthy striving.

Healthy Striving

Healthy striving draws on the determination, focus and good intentions of your perfectionist self. It acknowledges these strengths in you and is an alternative to the unhealthy practices such as procrastination.

As described here, the elements of healthy striving include:

  • “Setting standards that are high but within reach
  • Enjoying the process as well as the outcome
  • Bouncing back quickly from failure or disappointment
  • Keeping normal anxiety and fear of failure within bounds
  • Seeing mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning
  • Reacting positively to helpful criticism”

Healthy striving is often contrasted with perfectionism which is characterized by setting standards that are unachievable, striving for flawlessness etc.

Implementing Healthy Striving

As a certified perfectionist, I can hear you say “fine, fine, I LIKE the concept of healthy striving…but putting it into practice is HARD [impossible??]”.

I get it.

So, here are some tiny, but doable, and concrete steps that you can take when thoughts of procrastination bubble up and you notice yourself hesitating to take the next step on something you are working on.

Step 1. Recognize that perfectionism may be the reason you’re hesitating to take the next step (i.e., it isn’t really that you need more information, or that you need to tweak such-and-such, or get another pair of eyes on it, and so on).

Step 2. Make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of being a perfectionist in this particular case.  How is your perfectionism serving you in this specific instance? What strengths (related to your perfectionism) could possibly aid you here? How is your perfectionism hindering you?

Step 3. Consider what’s really important to you when it comes to the project/initiative you’re working on. What is the bigger picture here? Who is NOT being helped when you are delaying, and in a state of inaction?

Step 4. Determine 1 tiny action step that will truly get you closer to moving forward. Not a fake “moving forward” but something that will tangibly move things forward. Set a timeline (if it’s tiny, your timeline should be super short!) and get yourself some accountability if you need it.

An example of me practicing healthy striving:

Step 1. When I write blog posts (such as this one), I have a desire to review a number of articles, go into the peer-reviewed literature, search up definitions, etc. When I first started blogging as part of my coaching, a blog post would take me more than 4 hours to write. I quickly realized this was not sustainable. I also recognized that perfectionism was getting in my way.

Step 2. Advantages of being so detail-oriented included: I felt good about being “rigorous”, I was able to learn by reading and reviewing various sources, I found it interesting to see what had been published on a particular topic. Disadvantages included: it was taking me ‘forever’ to write an article that was meant to be of value to others, I couldn’t keep up with my other writing (newsletters, LinkedIn posts), I wasn’t making the progress I wanted on other coaching-related tasks, and I was taking very little time off.

Step 3: What is ultimately most important is helping others by sharing what I write. My hope is that something in my writing will trigger an insight, or a shift in perspective, or a chuckle, or anything else that is helpful!

Step 4: Now, when I write, I consciously restrict myself from going “too deep” into research. I curtail my info-gathering stage and normally set myself a time limit for completing a post.

Over to you

What’s your reaction to my invitation to focus on healthy striving vs “overcoming perfectionism”?

I’d love to hear your story about healthy striving–send me an email or leave a comment.

If you are ready to take a more positive approach to your perfectionism and get out of the spiral of procrastination/feeling crummy that you’re not ______ (fill in the blank), contact me to learn how coaching support can help you.


Three types of perfectionism. Which group(s) do you fall into? This is a blog post I wrote previously on the topic of perfectionism.

How to conquer perfectionism before it conquers you. Scroll toward the bottom for the section “Find Meaning, Not Perfection”. This section is very much related to “healthy striving”.



Photo credit (CC BY-ND 2.0, Flickr): Puzzle by hans-juergen

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