08/12/2013 01:35 pm ET Updated Oct 12, 2013

How to Be Less Than Perfect

Many of my patients who have successful careers are perfectionists. This allows them to excel in their work, be super-careful, and have a meticulous attention to detail. Just the traits one would want who is an accountant, engineer, surgeon, or lawyer, right? Yes, of course, and they do serve the person well, but in private, it can lead to tumultuous inner turmoil. The constant need to make things even better and the obsessing over things can be exhausting and can wreak havoc on one's mood.

Perfectionism isn't about getting it right or being perfect; rather, it's a perpetual quest to find what's wrong with something. For example, one may look at what others consider a beautiful piece of art and he/she will find flaws in it. Ultimately, a perfectionist needs to embrace the concept that there's no such thing as perfect. Things can be just good or just okay.

Early on, a perfectionist may have been given mixed messages from parents: "Good job Johnny... but you can do better." Or, "getting a B is good but an A is better." This simultaneous criticism and praise sends a mixed message to the child and there's a drive to satisfy the parent: to do better, even when things by most standards are fine. Over time a person becomes mired in this thinking, depression and anxiety develop, and relationships can take a hit.

Here's how to be less perfect:

  • Change your narrative. Rather than looking at the negative aspect of something, perceived deficits, and shortcomings, look at what's right, the positive traits, and what you know to be fact. Lower your standards and come up with new and acceptable ones.
  • Re-evaluate your goals. Make them reasonable and be flexible.
  • Kill the dichotomous thinking. Accept the notion that there are more options than just perfect/imperfect. By seeing the countless shades of gray between black/white you'll expand your thinking and this can benefit you as you allow more options.
  • What are things within your control, and what are things beyond it? Embrace the things within it and be fine letting go of other things.
  • Ask yourself: What's the worst thing that can happen should I do a good job rather than a perfect job?
  • Ask yourself: When is enough, enough? Embrace and normalize being okay.
  • Go ahead and get really messy and dirty -- make mistakes, loosen up your thinking, and prove to yourself that you're still fine.

For more tips on how to be happy check out my book BE FEARLESS: Change Your Life in 28 Days.

For more by Jonathan Alpert, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.