5 Ways to Control Your Inner Perfectionist

Sheila Murphy
March 27, 2023

I love the character of Hermione Granger in the Harry Potter books. She is intelligent, capable, and brave. With all of these assets, Hermione is still battling the need to be perfect, and when she is not, she is overly hard on herself and does not move forward.

For example, in the "Prisoner of Azkaban," Hermione gradually succumbs to all the stress she was putting on herself due to a massive number of classes. She was an anxious, stressed-out, overworked mess. Hermione fell asleep in the common room, yelled at friends, stayed up all night doing homework, and tried so hard to succeed in so many different areas that Hermione ultimately burned out. While, of course, she succeeded, there was a deep and pervasive fear that she would not.

Many perfectionists, like Hermione, believe that this quality protects them and makes them successful. It does not. It keeps them in their comfort zone and limits their growth. Here are five things that perfectionists can do to control their inner perfectionists.

Step 1: Understand Perfectionism

First, you need to understand perfectionism and how it can negatively impact your career. Most perfectionists genuinely believe that their perfectionism is protecting their careers.

However, it would be best to appreciate the upside to letting go of their perfectionism. My client, "Sally," keeps a list next to her computer of the benefits of not being a perfectionist. That list includes taking more risks, being a more decisive leader and manager, and being more effective. This reminds her daily how her perfectionism was holding her back.

You need to understand that this behavior is not helping you and is harming you.

Step 2: Recognize Perfectionism

Second, you must recognize when your perfectionism is showing up in your inner thoughts.

This is not always easy because perfectionism often disguises itself as providing high-quality work. Usually, you can evaluate if your inner voices are acting out of fear, lack of confidence, or need to feel superior (often, this pops up when you consider others' work).

You cannot conquer any negative behavior until you can identify it. One of my clients, who had trouble distinguishing between wanting high-quality work and her inner perfectionists, had allies that helped her.

Step 3: Quash the Perfectionist Voices

Third, if you are a ruminator who has difficulty letting go of negative thoughts, you need to develop a methodology for breaking up these thoughts. Some ways that people successfully do this is by:

  • Leveraging mindfulness
  • Concentrating intensely on something else, whether it is the ridges of your fingers or staring at a project
  • Writing down the negative thoughts and either crossing them out or ripping them up
  • Visualization - Imagine you are somewhere else and doing something out there. Another client pictures herself looking at the waves at the beach to stop her from staying on the hamster wheel. She then can assess the situation more effectively.

Step 4: Reframe

Fourth, you want to change the narrative. To start with, if you are thinking, "I can't succeed on this project unless I interview five more vendors," reframe it to say, "my perfectionist is saying I can't succeed…"

Next, think about what perfectionism costs you and the benefits of letting it go in these circumstances. When doing this, it is best to look at the big picture of the project and not focus on just your aspect of the assignment. 

You also want to put yourself in control. For example:

"My inner perfectionist is telling me not to take on this assignment because I have not done it before, and the leader of that organization is a real stickler for thoughtful work. But I know that by taking this assignment, I will grow my skills and have the opportunity to develop a new sponsor."

Some clients write down the benefits of each specific situation to help them reframe and let go of their inner perfectionists.

Step 5: Focus on Your Inner Leader

Fifth, when you see perfectionism rearing its ugly head, think about how you want others to view you as a leader. Do you want to be seen as a stickler over typos or as an innovative leader who engages their team to develop new innovative leaders? Picture that inner leader and then consciously act like that leader.

Suppose you can conquer that perfectionist that holds you back; then, like Hermione Granger, you can be the cleverest witch (or lawyer) ever.


Want to learn more about how to become the in-house leader you are meant to be?

Check out Sheila's 10 Tips for In-House Counsel Struggling to Advance.

In this guide, Sheila shares her time-tested tips for in-house counsel to release fear, jump-start your career, and propel towards promotion.

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