7 Ways To Dial Down Perfectionism (E29)

perfectionism 21

How To Dial Down Perfectionism

Hello and welcome to episode 29 of the Men’s Self-Help Podcast. I’m your host, Dr. John Moore. I’m a licensed Mental Health Counselor in Chicago, Illinois and I’ve been involved with counseling and coaching for over 15 years. You know, as I say that, it’s hard to believe how fast the time has gone by. Just wow.

At any rate, aside from the work I do as a therapist, I also teach college courses in psychology and business.

So, here is the thing. I started this podcast awhile back because I wanted to reach three specific groups of men:

The first are guys who are all about health and wellness and naturally gravitate towards anything related to self-improvement.

That’s one.

The second group are men who may have some experience with therapy. Here, I am talking about folks who have sought guidance for anxiety or depression or maybe couples therapy.

So, that’s two.

And then there’s this third group. These are men who are just never going to come see a person like me, a therapist, for issues going on in their life. It’s just not happening – but – they might just be interested enough in a topic to tap on an app and listen to a podcast that focuses on something they can relate to.

So, if you fall into any of these groups, let me just say I’m thrilled you are here. Oh, and before I forget – I recognize that women also listen to this -which makes sense.

In many cases, they just want a different viewpoint on the male mind and are hoping to gain some insight into the man in their life, such as a boyfriend or husband. Regardless of the reason, if you are a woman tuning in today, here’s a big welcome!

Now quick disclaimer. This podcast isn’t designed to act as a substitute for therapy or mental health counseling.

If you have been following this show for a while, which is being sponsored by Better Help, you probably know that I like to provide concrete tools for working through various life challenges. Here, I am talking about action items. In my private practice with clients, this sometimes means homework, but you get my drift.

Over the years, I have found that men – in the general sense – are wired to be fixers. We like have options and solutions for addressing the problems we face.

Speaking of problems, this brings us to today’s topic: Perfectionism.

Is this something you can relate to? I have a feeling for some of you listening, you absolutely can. At its best, perfectionism helps keep us on our toes and churn out something of quality, like some type of report or presentation.

But – at its worst, perfectionism gets stuck in this place called analysis paralysis, which can translate into inaction and self-doubt. And it gets worse. For some men, the need to be perfect in everything they do can be such that it precludes them from new opportunities, thereby cheating them from experiencing new things or experiencing growth.

Does any of what I’ve just shared resonate with you? If the answer is yes, get ready – because we’re going to talk about it. As part of our exploration, we’ll also discuss 7 ways to dial down the need to be perfect with the goal of generating greater happiness.

So, we’ll talk about that.

We’ll also discuss a listener email from a guy who struggles with body image issues and wants to create change but isn’t sure where to begin.

Are you a man who isn’t happy with your physique? Do you want to do something about are feeling stuck? If the questions resonate, keep listening. We’re going to be covering a lot today.

I’m very glad you’re here.

Block B: Perfectionism

We’re talking about perfectionism today and how, when left unchecked, it can be erode your self-esteem and prevent you from reaching important life goals.

You know, as I was putting together today’s show, I couldn’t help but think about my own struggles with perfectionism. Things have gotten better – don’t get me wrong – but it’s not like I’ve completely nipped this issue in the bud.

Right now, you are experiencing me as a podcast host and counselor. But long before I entered the field of mental health, I worked in the corporate sector.

This was a lifetime ago but back in the day, I was employed at several big firms in various industries and companies like IBM. What kind of work: Think marketing, management, sales – stuff like that.

At any rate, I’m sharing this with you because back then, my need to be perfect was off the chart.

I’ll never forget the time when I was working at a tech outfit and my boss asked me to create a presentation for senior leadership. If memory serves me, it was related to some new product launch.

My job was to put together some slides, jot down some talking points and then – the following week – make the presentation at a meeting.

Piece of cake, right? Well, it wasn’t – thanks to my need to be perfect.

The weekend before the presentation, working at home, I found myself unable to get past the first slide. You see, I would write out a paragraph then revisit it – over and over. Scrutinizing every word, I would ask myself:

Does this make sense? Am I getting too detailed? Does it sound like I know what I’m talking about?

In what should have taken only a few hours to complete ended up robbing me of the entire weekend. No matter how much I tried, I just wasn’t happy with it. I can still remember feeling so frustrated because I couldn’t pull myself away from the computer. Nope, I had to get everything done just right.  perfectly.

Never mind I wanted to hang out with my friends or that I really wanted to get to the gym. Nope – it was all about getting this thing done perfectly.

A big part of what was going on back then was my own struggles with Imposter Syndrome. Ever hear of that?

Well, it’s a $10.00 term used to describe the dynamic where a person feels like a fake and worries the imposter cops will come barging in and haul you away. To learn more about this issue, go back to episode six.

But I digress.

In the end, I did end up finishing the slides. Everything at the presentation worked out fine. It’s not like these executives were hanging on to my every word. In truth, I was just some low-level employee sharing a quick update.

But the point is that in pursuit of perfectionism, I ended ruining what should have been a really nice weekend. And folks, let me tell you, this is just one example. I could go on forever and a day with many, many more. But I think you get my drift.

So, what do you think? Can you relate to what I’m talking about? If the answer is yes, you may be wondering why on earth this need you have to be perfect exists in the first place?

What’s up with that?

To help us get at the answers, I turned to the expertise of Elizabeth Scott. She’s a wellness writer and coach at the website Very Well. Scott offers a number of different causal reasons for perfectionism. I’ve linked to this resource in Show Notes if you’d like to check out.

So, I’m going to share a few of them – and then add my two cents in as part of the dynamic. Ready?

1. All or Nothing Thinking

This is a big one for many perfectionists – especially for those who are high achievers. All or nothing thinking means that whatever you are engaging in MUST be perfect. There is no middle ground and there is no – “close to perfect”.

Sound familiar? Well, I won’t take up a lot of time on this one except to say that All or Nothing Thinking can often be traced back to childhood environments where parents were rigid and where heavy shaming occurred when a mistake was made.

2. Highly Critical

OK these are folks who look for errors, rather than focusing on the positive. For perfectionists who fall under this category, they seem to go out of their way to focus on the negative, particularly in themselves.

While there can be a number of reasons for this, a big one relates to low self-esteem, usually because someone during their formative years was highly critical of them.

3. Unrealistic Standards

Well, this one is huge. In a nutshell, perfectionists often set themselves up for disappointment by creating unrealistic standards for themselves – and oh by the way, others too.

I have a client right now who is studying for the NY Bar Exam. He regularly beats himself up for not scoring perfect on each and every practice test. Now keep in mind, he literally just started studying a few weeks ago.

But you see, that is part of perfectionism – setting up lofty, often ridiculous unrealistic standards for ourselves that are often impossible to meet.

So, what’s going on here? Why would a person create such a high bar for themselves? There are a number of reasons for this of course – it’s never just one thing. But a biggie, at least in my experience, can be traced to something called “the game of comparisons”.

In pursuit of excellence, these types of folks – perhaps just like you – unfairly compare themselves to others – and thinks, “well, if they did it, I should be able to do it too.” Never mind that the person they are comparing themselves too may have had years of experience with the issue or had spent lots of time increasing a particular skill. Nope – that gets discounted. In many ways, having unrealistic standards relates to that first one I mentioned – all or nothing thinking – sometimes called black or white thinking.

4. Fear of Failure

Oh yeah, this one is major. A lot of people who struggle with perfectionism do so because they fear failure. In other words, they worry that unless they pull off a given task perfectly, like with military precision, they won’t be a success. And tied to this one are worries about letting others down or fears about being judged.

You know, as I think about it – People Pleasing Comes to mind. That’s where a person is almost addicted to saying yes, even though doing so comes at great cost to their emotional and psychological health. To learn more about this, go back to episode 10 where I cover the topic in detail.

OK, so these are just some of the reasons people engage in perfectionism. Maybe you can relate to some or all of these? Man, I know I sure can.

But here’s the thing – while knowing the why behind something can be useful, it doesn’t in and of itself create change. Here at the Men’s Self-Help Podcast, we’re all about solutions.

In a moment, I’m going to go over some concrete things that you can do to help dial down your perfectionism. But before we get to that, I’d like to tell you about a very special offer from Better Help.

Stick around …

BLOCK C: Better Help Offer to Listeners

This section of the podcast discusses a special offer for listeners to the Men’s Self-Help Podcast – a ten percent discount off your first month of sessions. Just use this special link that goes to www.betterhelp.com/guycounseling

Block D: How To Dial Down Perfectionism

In the previous segment, we talked about some of the causal reasons behind perfectionism and how early childhood experiences can sometimes inform this need to be meticulous.

So, the question now becomes – what can you do about it? One of the things we try to do at the Men’s Self-Help Podcast is to focus on options for change.

To help on this front, I’m going to share with you 7 specific things you can do to dial down your own struggles with perfectionism.

Now here is the thing – there isn’t a cookie-cutter approach to dealing with this issue. While some of these suggestions may be helpful to you, others – might not. In my experience, most folks find that choosing 2 or 3 action items works best instead of trying everything at once.

And if you noticed, I prefaced these suggestions by stating they were 7 ways to dial down your perfectionism – not 7 ways to get rid of it. That’s because when a person has a deep need to be perfect, the process of change takes time.

Like I tell my clients – we aren’t computers. We aren’t installed with behavior chips that can be turned on or off at random.

You know, as I’m sharing this with you, I’m reminded of the character Data, from the television series: Star Trek: The Next Generation.

If you are familiar with the show, you may recall that Data was an android who from time to time, would experiment with this thing called an emotion chip.

While the idea seemed intrigued him, things didn’t always go so well for him. That’s because when he tried to feel too much too soon, he became overwhelmed – and I think on one episode, short circuited.

Perhaps not the best analogy, but I think you get my point.

So, instead of trying to “rid” yourself of perfectionism, a far better approach is to try and gradually change your thinking, which over time can soften – that’s right soften – undesired behaviors.

Make sense?

OK, let’s dive right in and explore the list of seven:

1. Challenge your inner critic

Earlier, I talked about some of the causes behind perfectionism, which in many cases can be traced to having a critical parent or other caretaker.

But what I didn’t talk about was how – when we grow up in such environments – we can develop our own inner critic.

In episode 25, I explored the issue of toxic shame and the concept of parental introjects. At its core, introjects are messages you get during your formative years that feed into your own self-concept. In many cases, they are negative and destructive.

If you want to learn more about this this topic, I’ve put a link in show notes, which is essentially the Guy Counseling website. [Link to episode 25 on toxic shame]

At any rate, I’m sharing this with you because it’s important to pay close attention to what your inner critic is messaging you throughout the day. A good way to accomplish this is by keeping a notebook handy and jotting down your self-statements.

Here’s an example: You are responding to an email and can’t stop obsessing over every word because you fear making a mistake.

So, the self-statement that pops into your head might be something like: “I need to get this right because I don’t want people to think I’m an idiot.”

Sound familiar? Well, it is important to challenge this kind of negativity so it doesn’t run wild.

And the best way to do this is to engage in a little Socratic questioning.

Here is an example: Is it really true if I make a mistake, others will think that I’m stupid? Another question you could ask is: What is the worst possible thing that could happen if a typo does appear? Will my fellow coworkers shun me? Will I get fired? Will the world fall apart?

I think you get my drift. By questioning your inner critic, you disrupt his ability to continue more of the same. Again, I highly recommend keeping some type of journal.

2. Get real about expectations.

So, what does this really mean? In short, getting real about expectations – and goals for that matter – means acknowledging that you aren’t Superman. It means taking inventory about your strengths AND limitations and recognizing you can’t do it all.

Just this past winter, I had to remind myself of this. I was teaching a ton of different classes, working with a high client load, and then trying to fit in everything else – you know, work, family, relationships and exercise.

As time went on, I found myself increasingly irritable and depressed, to the point that I struggled to get myself out side of my home.

Then one day, my spouse made a comment to me and said, “John, why are you doing this to yourself?”

All it took was that question to make me realize the hard truth.

I had fallen into old patterns of setting unsustainable goals and engaging in behaviors that were beyond my capabilities.

As a result, I immediately started revisiting what I was doing. Did I really need to teach all those classes? Did I really need to schedule back-to-back clients? Was it really necessary to grade that stack of papers right now?

The answer was no – big time. As part of my own plan for change, I created an affirmation to help push back against this urge to do more. I say it three times a day now.

I’ll share it with you:

I accept my humanity and am choosing to say no.

I accept my humanity and am choosing to say no.

I accept my humanity and am choosing to say no.

So, what do you think? Can you come up with an affirmation counter your critical voice?

3. Make mindful self-care a priority.

This one may sound cliché but sometimes cliché fits the moment. The primary reason mindful self-care helps to reduce perfectionism is because it pulls you out of the future and into the here and now. Ha-ha, and I realize that for perfectionists, this is easier said than done.

So, what do I mean by mindful self-care? Well, here I’m talking about things like lifting weights and focusing on the actual burn of the muscle as you do something like a bicep curl.

Mindful self-care can also mean making the conscious choice to create time for meditation, by scheduling it into your daily routine, and being OK with NOT being fully present.

You know, one of the main reasons my male clients struggle with meditation is because they think they’ve got to have laser like focus throughout.

Whenever I hear this, I often respond by letting them know that it’s OK to let your mind wander, because it turns out, that’s what minds do.

You see, if we go into the meditative process with the expectation that it’s gotta be perfect, we set ourselves up for failure. And then – we quit. Make sense?

All of this is to say that imperfect experiences can be valuable teachers on the path to acceptance. Does that make sense?

Finally, I will toss in the idea of setting aside one night a week – just one – for your own personal, at home “Spa night”. A spa night is nothing more than an hour that you schedule to focus on self-care.

I’ve put a link to an article I wrote in show notes over on the Guy Counseling blog that gives you some ideas.

In closing out this tip, Spa nights can help you to dial down perfectionism by mindfully tuning your attention inward. It’s about investing in yourself so that you can recharge and be the best version of you.

4. Tell yourself time off is not wasted.

Do you ever feel like down time is wasted time? Is there a part of you who feels the need to be productive at every waking moment? When you do have open time, particularly in blocks, do you start to feel down?

If any of that resonates, it might be time to change things up.

What would it be like if you used some of your down time, if even just half an hour, to be non-productive? Here, I am talking about listening to an audiobook, a podcast, or your favorite music?

What would it be like to journal, doodle, sketch, paint or draw? The idea is to do – or not do – anything that isn’t related to some random deliverable you are working on.

You know, once a year, I try to get to Puerto Rico. I just like the beaches there and find the island to be warm and inviting. I’m sharing this with you because I’m always shocked when I’m on the beach and see people glued to their phones – and in some cases laptops – as they sit in the sun.

Whenever I see this, I think to myself, “Don’t these folks know how to be on vacation? Does every single moment have to be productive – even here?”

At any rate, there’s an old saying – I think it comes from the world of Buddhism that goes something like this: There’s something in the nothing.

5. Ditch the whole multitasking thing

OK, so this is something I know a lot of perfectionists engage in. Do you? In an ideal world, all of us would be able to successfully multi-task and do so with laser like focus.

But here is the thing – multi-tasking is kind of a myth. Don’t take my word for it. There’s a great piece on the NPR website featuring Clifford Nass, a professor of Psychology at Stanford University who talks about it. I’ve put a link in Show Notes – which is at the Guy Counseling website – for you to check out. [Link to NPR multi-tasking article].

The long and short of it is that as a species, we aren’t all that great at the whole multi-tasking thing. And in my own experience, trying to hold dual focus on different tasks is a surefire way to increase stress and anxiety.

When possible, try focusing on one thing at a time. Be OK with not forcing yourself to respond to email while also attending a meeting. I had a client try this for a month – yep, one month – and he found the experience to be transformative.

Now look, it took him some time to adjust. He was used to juggling three different things at one time. But once he got his groove on, he found that his life became less complicated.

In this way, he dialed down his need to be perfect by coming to a place of accepting that – low and behold – he wasn’t superman – he wasn’t some ambidextrous robot, hooked up to some battery charger.

Just food for thought guys.

6. Trust in yourself

A major way to dial down perfectionism in your life is to trust in yourself. By this I mean affirming that you are a responsible man and have the capacity to keep being responsible.

Look, I realize there are times when a crisis pops up and requires your immediate attention. But in many cases, these so called crisis are entirely made up in our minds.

Know what I mean?

So, for example, if you have blocked off time to draft a report, trust that you will follow through when the time comes. It’s OK to use a self-affirmation, like:

I trust in myself to stick by my schedule.

I trust in myself to stick by my schedule.

I trust in myself to stick by my schedule. I

Notice I said that three times. The idea here is to counter the negative voice with reasonable, calming language. What if you tried this?

7. List out the consequences

The final tip for dialing down the need to be perfect is to examine the consequences. I won’t take a lot of time with this suggestion because it’s fairly self-explanatory.

But I will say that for perfectionists, there’s usually a lot of denial going on. That’s why it’s important to get real about things.

Now look, I’m not going to say that creating this list is curative. It’s not. But, I can tell you that having this list nearby can act as a visual reminder to help generate change.

That’s what several of my clients are doing right now. They’ve jotted down five or so ways they have harmed themselves through perfectionistic behaviors and have it posted on their computers.

To date, each of these men have reported positive changes, like giving themselves permission to step away for 30 minutes and eat lunch – as opposed to working through at a desk.

Just try this one out. See what it does for you. In the end, you might be surprised.

OK, so there you have it folks. Seven concrete ways to dial down your perfectionism. Just to reinforce, here’s a quick recap:

1. Challenge your inner critic

2. Get real about expectations.

3. Make mindful self-care a priority.

4. Tell yourself time off is not wasted.

5. Ditch multi-tasking.

6. Trust in yourself.

7. List out the consequences.

As we close this block out, I’d like you to think about which of these suggestions might work best for you?

What if you tried incorporating 2 or 3 of them into your life, right now?


This week’s listener email comes to us from a man living in the Southwest. I’ll read to you what he shared and then the bulk of what I wrote back.

Ready? Here it goes:

Hi, Dr. John,

I’m 37 years old and live in Arizona. The reason I’m writing is because I have fallen badly out of shape. Some of it has to do with the pandemic but some of it is because of laziness.

I want to get back to the gym and start my routine again, but I feel weird because of the weight gain – you know, like people will notice.

I feel like I should drop a few pounds first, before walking through the door. Otherwise, everyone is going to notice how big I’ve gotten. If I lose the weight first, will I feel more motivated to exercise? Am I just playing a stupid mind-game with myself?

Thanks so much for the podcasts – I’m a long-time subscriber.


OK, so that was this young man’s email to me. Before I share what I wrote back, I just want to say that his dilemma is one that a lot of people I know – including clients – struggle with.

There is a chicken or the egg element at play here. Can you spot it? On the one hand, he has some motivation to workout. On the other hand, he feels his current weight is a barrier to making the gym happen.

Maybe you can relate to this?

So, here is my response – and I’ll be adlibbing a bit as part of the dynamic.

Hi, Trevor,

First, thanks for hitting that subscribe button and listening to the podcast. It means a great deal to me that follow the show. Second, let me just say that you are so not alone with this issue.

Over the years, I have had numerous clients share with me some variation of what you have – meaning they want to go to the gym – or start going back again – but have body image issues that act as a roadblock.

I’ve even seen this with guys who are new to working out but feel super intimidated by some of the bodybuilders they run into. As a result, they quit a few days into it because they fear being judged.

So, you definitely aren’t alone here.

That said, let’s look at this situation for a moment. You could do some form of exercise at home, but I suspect you already knew this and that for whatever reason, there is a part of you that realizes you are more likely to get a workout in at your gym – as opposed to your living room. I could be wrong but it’s just a hunch.

Assuming I am right, let’s look at a path forward. One approach is to consider the “As If” technique. I talked about this in episode 26 (and I’ve put a link in show notes for those listening to this) [link to episode 26]

Using this technique, I wonder what it would be like if you were to imagine yourself already exercising? What would it be like to pretend that you’ve been doing cardio and weightlifting all along?

I’m mentioning this because the “As If” technique is an excellent way to generate the motivation you need to make change happen. Now look, I’m not saying you should go back to your gym and hit cardio and weights with the same intensity as you did before COVID. But I am saying that whatever frequency you had in place before could occur now, using this approach.

Let me address the issue of losing weight and then feeling motivation. In my experience, it’s the other way around. In other words, you take small steps, see some changes, and then the momentum builds from there. Waiting for it to magically happen isn’t going to get you where you want – does that make sense?

And here’s the thing – and I promise you this – you aren’t alone with putting on weight during the pandemic. At my gym, pretty much everyone has found themselves carrying extra weight. This includes me.

According to a web article published by the American Psychological Association, 61% percent of Americans have reported undesired weight changes during the pandemic. For those listening, I’ve linked to this in Show Notes. [link to APA article].

So, when you go back to the gym, keep this in mind. There is a better than 60% change you will see folks who are dealing with the same struggles you are. Sometimes, universalizing an experience can make the journey easier. At least that’s what I’ve found.

Trevor, I really hope you will try what I have mentioned here. Just pretend that you’ve been visiting the gym all along. Whenever you start to feel self-conscious about your current physique, perhaps as you walk through the gym door, say to yourself:

I’m making progress with my fitness goals with each new day.

I’m making progress with my fitness goals with each new day.

I’m making progress with my fitness goals with each new day.

I think you will find that with consistency, the changes you seek will happen. Just try it once. See what happens.

So, there’s my response. I wonder how many of you listening to this are having similar issues?

Imagine yourself trying this approach. What do you have to lose?

BLOCK F – Closeout

Wow, we covered quite a bit of territory in today’s podcast, don’t you think? We explored the some of the causal reasons behind perfectionism. Then, we walked through 7 ways to concrete ways to dial perfectionism down. And if that wasn’t enough, we even explored a listener’s email on body image issues and exercise.

Thanks so much for listening today. If you haven’t done so already, I’d love it if you hit the follow button for this show. Apparently, the more people who subscribe to the show helps others find the podcast.

You know, there’s lots of ways to reach me. You can stop by my website at Guycounseling.com. You can visit also visit one of my social media pages. I’m on Facebook at Guy Counseling. I’m also on Twitter and Instagram with the same handle.

And hey, if you want to send me an email – please do. Whatever you send will remain confidential. I won’t share it with anyone or on the podcast, unless you give me permission. I promise. My address is john@guycounseling.com Almost always, I am able to get back to people within a few days. If there is a delay, its only because I’m involved with the other work outside of the show, which is mainly counseling and teaching.

I’d like to take a moment to say thank you to the many people who have been leaving reviews on Apple podcasts. I continue to be blown away when I read these. Here’s one from a listener named Midwest Frank:

This is a great podcast. As a guy, it’s nice to see us so that is specifically for a man. I especially enjoy some of the Techniques John talks about for managing anxiety.

You see, it is comments like this one that get me charged up to make more shows. And here’s the thing, because this is a one-man podcast, I sometimes struggle to create them consistently. I’m trying to do better with that – and these kinds of reviews help keep me on track.

So, if the spirit moves you, feel free to share your thoughts on Apple Podcasts, or whatever medium you may be listening.

And so, there you have it, another podcast. This show is entirely written, created, and produced by me. As you can probably tell, I don’t have a professional audio engineer or someone putting it all together. Let whatever imperfections you hear be a reminder that we are all imperfect – and that’s OK.

Thank you so much for being here. Be mindful of your critical voice. Recognize your humanity and that you can’t do it all. Remember to trust in yourself.

Take very good care. I’m Dr. John – and this has been another episode of the Men’s Self-Help Podcast.

About John D. Moore 391 Articles
Dr. John Moore is a licensed counselor and Editor-in-Chief of Guy Counseling. A journalist and blogger, he writes about a variety of topics related to wellness. His interests include technology, outdoor activities, science, and men's health. Check out his show --> The Men's Self Help Podcast