Perfectionism is the need to appear perfect or to believe that we can be perfect. It is an unhealthy attitude.
It’s largely based on shame. Brene Brown [research professor, University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work] says it is “not the same thing as striving to be your best.” Rather, it is a shield to try and protect us against shame.
Perfectionism is an ironic thing. Many people believe that perfectionism helps us to become successful. But in truth it leads to self-defeating thoughts and behaviours that actually make it far harder to achieve our goals, according to Good Therapy.
Not only does perfectionism cause negative thoughts and actions, it also causes depression, stress, and anxiety. That’s why we must learn to stop perfectionism. Meditation can help. For instance, we can use meditation for self acceptance.
Now, let let show you my favorite meditation for perfectionism.
Meditation for perfectionism [Script]
As well as this meditation script, I recommend my meditation for letting go.
- Sit comfortable with good posture. Make sure your spine is straight but relaxed. Place your feet shoulder-width apart (if you are sitting on a chair). Gently roll your shoulders back. Relax.
- Begin to breathe into your diaphragm. Simply observe your breath as it moves through your body, into your diaphragm and out. Do not try to breathe perfectly. If you experience thoughts like “I’m doing this wrong”, just observe the thought and let it pass. The aim is to simply observe the moment with a non-judgmental attitude.
- Now remember one time when you did something incorrectly (or not perfectly). Visualize this scenario happening now in your mind’s eye. If thoughts come to mind, again, let them come and go without fighting or resisting them.
- Say to yourself, “I accept my mistakes. I’m just human. I’m okay just the way I am.”
- Now imagine another person saying to you, “I accept you just the way you are.”
- Now imagine another person making the same mistake. Imagine saying to them, “I accept you just the way you are.”
- Return to step three and continue to bring to mind mistakes and to accept them. Do this for twenty minutes.
As a meditation teacher, many people have asked me about using meditation and perfectionism.
Meditation helps us to slow down and to change negative thoughts and can help perfectionists to realise that they don’t always need to be perfect. And that, in turn, can reduce stress and anxiety.
Meditation is the practice of focusing the mind on certain aspects of the present moment. For instance, you can meditate on the breath (called “Anapanasati). You can meditate on a candle (“Trataka”). Or you could meditate on a sound, such as a mantra. Most experts, like Kon Kabat Zinn and Pema Chodron, recommend that beginners meditate on the breath.
When you meditate you stimulate the parsympathetic nervous system and reduce amygdala activity. This helps you to relax and unwind. Plus, you become more mindful of thoughts, and that means that you can change perfectionist thoughts.
As a perfectionist, meditation can be a challenge. You naturally strive for perfection. So, you might try to make your meditation perfect. But there is no such thing as a “perfect meditation”.
Indeed, Gordon Flett [LaMarsh Centre for Child & Youth Research at York University in Toronto] says that perfectionists, “have difficulties with being authentic and genuine due to the need to project an image of being perfect.” This need for perfection can interfere with your meditation practice.
Don’t aim for a perfect meditation. Instead, aim to be mindfully aware. Observe and accept the present moment.
We use different types of meditation for different reasons. And some types of meditation help with perfectionism more than others.
Research published in the journal Psychophysiology looked at the best types of meditation for perfectionism. Specifically, researchers investigated how different types of meditation affect the heart rate of perfectionists.
During the test, participants were given an incredibly difficult task that they were bound to fail at. This caused their heart rates to spike. After the test, participants were given one of four different exercises: rest, progressive muscle relaxation, breathing meditation, and a guided meditation that aimed to make them stop judging themselves.
The research shows that the ideal meditation for perfectionists is one that involves deliberately letting go or judgmental thoughts.
Signs of perfectionism
- Unwillingness to do a task you might not be perfect at
- Ignoring processes and focusing solely on results
- Considering nothing complete until it’s perfect
- Fear of failure
- Agonising over trivial details (like what movie to watch)
- Catastrophic thinking (“If I fail it will be the end”)
- All-or-nothing thinking
- Taking far too much time to do anything
- Thinking everything is worthless unless it’s perfect
- Fixating on errors and imperfections
- Focusing on failure instead of success
- Disliking successful people
- Holding yourself to impossible standards
Different types of perfectionism:
Personal standards perfectionism: A healthy type in which the individual adheres to personal standards. Could potentially cause stress.
Self-critical perfectionism: Being anxious about meeting your own goals. Fearing that you’ll never achieve your ambitions. Could cause avoidance, stress, and self-condemnation.
Social perfectionism: According to York University , social perfectionism is when others expect us to be perfect. Could cause stress and self-harm.
Negative effects of perfectionism
Perfectionism can cause problems in many domains of life. For instance, you might feel very stressed about being the best in your school, or having a perfect relationship. You might refuse to do important tasks because you know you wont do them perfectly. You might be obsessed with having a perfectly clean and tidy home. Or you might obsess over your appearance.
Perfectionism naturally causes high levels of stress and in some cases anxiety and even depression. That’s why it is important to know how to control perfectionism.
Other treatment options
Anxiety Canada states that one of the best ways to overcome perfectionism is by challenging your thoughts. For instance, you can use CBT [Cognitive Behavioural Therapy].
You can also use mantras. For instance, you can recite thoughts like, “Nobody is perfect”, “I did my best”, and “Mistakes are a natural part of life”.
According to CNN, perfectionism is on the rise. And that’s no surprise. The constant pressure that we are put under makes it difficult to accept our errors. But we need to change that perspective. We need to accept ourselves as beautiful, imperfect human beings. And meditation can help.
With meditation, perfectionists can stop the constant need to be perfect. Meditation can help us to let go and relax. Because in truth we are all imperfect. And we should be okay with that.
Giving Is Caring
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison