Changing Your Perfectionist Mindset to Overcome Fear of Failure
Updated: Mar 8, 2020
Failure is inevitable.
If you’re anything like me, then you might suffer from the distorted thought pattern of perfectionism. Perfectionism is essentially constantly trying to be perfect at everything. In your mind, if you can’t do it perfectly, it isn’t worth doing at all.
My. Entire. Life. I’ve been a perfectionist. Anyone would tell you exactly that. But it isn’t a compliment or something to strive for, because being a perfectionist manifests this fear of failure. When you’re afraid to fail, you often don’t try at all, or you push yourself beyond your limits mentally, physically, or emotionally.
I think that a lot of people are perfectionists simply because of the way our society is structured. For example, in our education system, everyone is graded on the same scale with 100 points or an A+ being the “perfect” score. So it becomes embedded in our brains from a very young age that we should strive for perfection, which would ultimately lead us to success.
That’s just one small example, but I’m sure you can think of other forces in your life that may have contributed to your perfectionism. One major force for me was the media, which creates a definition of "perfection" for society to idolize by flooding our brains with images of what was to be seen as "ideal" -- for bodies, homes, careers, parenting, etc.; putting a lot of us in an exhausting, impossible pursuit for the perfect "insert word here."
AND some people are just perfectionists by nature (also probably me).
Now if you’ve established that you are likely a perfectionist existing in an imperfect world, here are a few mantras incorporating mindfulness that may help you to overcome some of your distortions:
It is okay if I fail. Repeat this to yourself over and over. Are you starting to believe it? The more you say something, the more you begin to believe it as the truth. Maybe you don’t necessarily believe it is okay if you fail, but it is. It is a fact that you will fail, so accepting it in advance may give you the confidence to move forward and not hold yourself back from trying new things, or trying something over and over again. If I fail, I can keep trying. This is a big one because a lot of times a perfectionist has it in their minds that if they don’t get it right the first time, then that is the end of it. This is sometimes the case, but more often than not you can try again. And again, and again, if you have to. Each time you make a mistake, you learn from that mistake and apply it to your next attempt. Failure is an opportunity, not an end. Shifting your perspective will keep you going. Failure teaches lessons that success cannot. Adding on to the above, it is time to relearn the word “failure.” Failure is an opportunity, not an end. When someone says the word failure, a connotation exists that something is done or finished, but that isn’t the truth, that is just our perception of the word. The Wright brothers took years to build the first engine powered airplane and numerous failed attempts to get it off the ground. The first attempt only lasted 3.5 seconds, but they later kept the plane off the ground for 12 consecutive seconds. They learned from their various prior attempts, and used those failures to achieve their goal. Just because I failed, doesn’t make me a failure. Sometimes, perfectionist brains view failing at something and being a failure as the same thing. This isn’t the case. I’d like to think the only true failure is not trying again. We ALL fail. It would be impossible to never get anything wrong and in my opinion it would be downright boring. But failing at something, doesn’t make you a failure. You might feel like a failure, but that doesn’t mean you are one. Do not become your emotions.
You feel like you failed, and it’s okay because if you fail, you can keep trying, and failure teaches lessons that success cannot. And that is essentially the pep talk I give myself daily, because fear of failure is and always has been something I struggle with. Being mindful of your self talk allows you to question your distortions and re-frame your thought patterns, leading to a more positive mindset. Although you can’t be positive all the time, and you won’t even always be mindful, practice makes perfect.