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Is Perfectionism in Your DNA? How to Ease Up

According to the Center for Clinical Interventions, perfectionism involves “putting pressure on ourselves to meet high standards” which in turn can influence the way we think about others and ourselves.

There’s a difference between striving for quality or excellence in the work we do or in our relationships with others, and in setting unrealistic expectations and demands for nothing less than the perfect or ideal.

So are you a perfectionist? Take this quiz to see if perfectionism is in your DNA.

  • Do I have a “black or white” mentality, paying scant attention to the shades of gray between?
  • Do I have difficulty completing a project because my own high standards haven’t been met?
  • Do I find it tough to maintain a sense of humor while struggling to do a task I’m not very good at?
  • Do I get preoccupied with details, rules or schedules that others don’t seem to care much about?
  • Am I reluctant to delegate tasks or participate in a group project unless others do things my way?

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, read on.

As you probably know, being a perfectionist is a more perplexing matter than simply striving for the best. The way you deal with tasks is neither ideal nor pragmatic. Despite investing considerable time and effort in whatever you do, you’re frequently upset with yourself and your work. This is no way to live. You deserve better.

It’s time to create a future for yourself that doesn’t drive you crazy and doesn’t hold you back from being all you can be. Here are three ways to do so:

Aim for Excellence, not Perfection

Perfection demands that no matter what you do, it should have no flaws, no mistakes, no second-best, nothing less than a perfect “10.” Tough mandate! Perfect makes sense only with a simple task, like getting a perfect score on a multiple-choice test. But being a perfect spouse, having perfect kids, developing a perfect career, living a perfect life — sorry, it just doesn’t fly.

So aim for excellence — not perfection — in whatever is really important to you. Aim for an excellent mark on your test. Give an outstanding speech. Whip up a delicious meal. Grow a first-rate relationship. Establish a satisfying career. And entomb your desire for perfection.

With matters that aren’t particularly important to you (i.e., tidying up, writing an e-mail), it’s okay to forget even excellence. Just do it in a run-of-the-mill manner. That way you’ll have time and energy to devote to the important things in your life.

Make Your To-Do List Short and Practical

As a perfectionist, it’s likely that your to-do list is too long, too detailed, too intricate. Have a massive to-do list and you’ll guarantee that you’ll be disappointed with yourself, despite accomplishing a great deal.

To prevent this from happening, make your list short and practical. Guard against including every possible task you’d like to do. Concentrate instead on your highest priorities. Resist the impulse to fill up every hour. That way you’ll give yourself unscheduled time to cope with the unexpected, or simply to relax without any agenda. Remember you’re a human being, not a human doing.

Quit “Should-ing” Yourself

“I should have done this; I should have done that.” My, how you torture yourself! The word “should” connotes the “right” way to do something. And who decides what the right way is? It’s an authority — could be your parents, your religion, your super-ego, your peer group, your mentor.

If you’re a perfectionist, you’ve probably adopted a whole bunch of harsh and burdensome “shoulds.” Eventually, you may come to believe that you have no choice in much of what you do. Instead of spurring you on to higher achievement, “shoulds” drain your energy. Hence, minimize the use of the word. Try substituting the word “could” and notice what happens. While “should” implies you must do it the “right” way at the “right” time, “could” is empowering, carrying the mature message that you have the right, capacity, and obligation to choose what to do and when to do it. After reflecting on potential options, you can then commit to what you think is best, without guilt and doubt being your constant companions.

Perfectionists: Ease up on yourself. Enjoy life. Give yourself credit for all you do!

Is Perfectionism in Your DNA? How to Ease Up

Linda Sapadin, Ph.D

Dr. Linda Sapadin, psychologist, success coach and author is proud to announce the publication of her new book, Overcoming Your Procrastination: College Student Edition – Advice for 6 Personality Styles available on Amazon. Now more than ever with remote learning, this book is a must-have. If you’re a perfectionist, dreamer, worrier, crisis-maker, defier or please, grab your copy. No longer a student? Get my book How to Beat Procrastination in the Digital Age – 6 Change Programs for 6 Personality Styles. Visit to subscribe to my free e-newsletter. Contact her at

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APA Reference
Sapadin, L. (2018). Is Perfectionism in Your DNA? How to Ease Up. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 2, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Jul 2018 (Originally: 7 Nov 2012)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Jul 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.