Here’s how to reduce perfectionistic tendencies, according to Martin Antony, Ph.D., co-author of When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough: Strategies for Coping with Perfectionism, who describes these strategies in his book.

  • Challenge your thoughts. “Rather than assuming one’s beliefs are true, we encourage people to question their beliefs,” he said. Does a work project have to be done perfectly, even if it is past deadline? Does the house always have to be spotless or can you let it go a bit, especially if you have been sick?
  • Step back. Antony asks those who are perfectionists to ask themselves: “How might someone else look at this situation?” or “Would I hold the same high standards for someone else as for myself?”
  • Imagine less-than-perfect situations and outcomes. He suggests people ask themselves what would happen if a situation were less than perfect. Back to that out-of-place pillow. He suggests asking “So what?” As people walk through their reactions, and expose themselves to more and more imperfect situations, they become desensitized, he finds. Eventually, they can lower their standards.

“Treatment usually takes 10 or 15 sessions,” Antony said. Some people see improvement much more quickly; others take longer.

Reducing Perfectionism: Self-Help

Getting help from a mental health professional in addition to following the self-help strategies may be the best approach, Antony said, citing research from Flinders University in Australia that compared self-help strategies such as those suggested by Antony with guided self-help, with the same strategies guided by a mental health professional.

Both approaches — self-help alone and guided self-help — were found to be effective in reducing perfectionism in the group of 49 people, equally divided between the two approaches. But the guided group had more improvement in reducing their perfectionist-associated depression and obsessive-compulsive symptoms, according to a report published in 2007 in Behavior Research and Therapy.