Break Out of the Prison of Perfectionism

Do you strive for flawlessness in your art while setting excessively high standards for yourself?

Do you desire for your writing, art, business idea or performance to be perfect before you put it out to the world?

Do your critical self-evaluations and fears about what others will think stop you dead in your creative tracks and stuck in a no man’s land between your creative potential and discouragement?

It’s time to break out of prison.


Suzanne was desperate as she called my office. It had been many years since she had entered her prison of perfectionism and was desperate to see if I could help her break out.

An amazing French Horn player, Suzanne knew how to play all the correct notes and, although technically on the mark, was continually held back by her desire to perform perfectly while avoiding making a mistake.

In tears, she shared that she had tried almost everything in an attempt to break free, but nothing seemed to work.

With an important audition coming up, she found herself sitting in her emotional prison cell, afraid to perform with passion, convinced that her abilities were not enough and that she would never accomplish her dreams of becoming a professional musician.

Her drive towards perfectionism led to emotional paralysis, resulting in poor performing and a continued sense of shame. She had come to replace passion and freedom with a prison of perfectionism.

I agreed that it was time for Suzanne and I to plan her ‘prison break’.

4 Steps to Breaking Out of the Prison of Perfectionism

PRISON BREAK STEP 1 – Replace Your Unrealistic Expectations

The artist who aims at perfection in everything achieves it in nothing.” – Eugene Delacroix

By setting excessively high performance standards, passion gets replaced with a focus on the mechanical or technical. Although it is critical to develop skills and practice technique, when its time to go for it, let go and perform with passion.

Have you ever heard a Speaker who is so polished that their lack of authentic passion puts you to sleep? Wake up those around you by giving yourself permission to go for it.

The big lie is “Performing (or creating) means doing things perfectly, without any flaws.”

Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it. “ ~Salvador Dali

PRISON BREAK STEP 2 – Stop Your Critical and Judgmental Beatings

The perfectionist is overly critical with their self-evaluations and concerns regarding what other people think.

By listening to the critical voices in our head we risk our unique voice being silenced.

English writer G.K. Chesterton said, “If something is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.”

Perfectionism never comes and its pursuit never ends! Allow yourself to do poorly, to create “bad” work, to stop being self-critical. Tell that inner voice to be quiet – it’s time to have some fun creating and performing.

PRISON BREAK STEP 3 – You Are Not What You Create

When we over identify with our work, we run the risk of believing that our worth and value is based on how well we create, on how others perceive our work.

Perfectionism can lead to a cycle of shame (“I’m not good enough” … “Who do I think I am?”) that leads to playing it safe and putting off letting the world see our work (“It’s better to wait until it’s perfect than face possible rejection.”)

When things are going well, a perfectionist feels like they are valuable and important, yet, if it does not go perfectly, then their sense of self and esteem goes down the drain.

Breaking out of prison includes believing that as much as I want my work to be accepted, I am still of value no matter what the response is.

I’m not what I ought (or was created) to be, but I’m not what I used to be,
and by God’s grace, I’m not what I’m going to be
.” ~Josh McDowell

PRISON BREAK STEP 4 – Focus on the Process, NOT the Outcome

As we focus on a perfect outcome, our level of fear and anxiety rises, which then interferes with our creative process. Perfectionism takes us on a journey from risk-taking and creative exploration to feeling imprisoned with self-doubt.

Perfectionists become obsessed with the final outcome of their creative efforts and step out of the present into the future filled with anxiety.

If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done (or shipped!)

~Ecclesiastes 11:4

A key to breaking out of our self-imposed prison is focusing on being present and mindful with realistic process goals. Breath slowly and fully before you attempt to break free. Stay present in the moment with your art and creativity, and do not look too far ahead in anxious anticipation.

Chain break

Aim for success, not perfection. Never give up your right to be wrong, because then you will lose the ability to learn new things and move forward with your life. Remember that fear always lurks behind perfectionism. Confronting your fears and allowing yourself the right to be human can, paradoxically, make you a far happier and more productive person.” ~ Dr. David M. Burns

To sum up our Prison Break Plan:

1) Start with realistic expectations
2) Move creatively forward without critical and judgmental thinking
3) Finish your work with out over identifying with it
4) Move on to your next project, returning to a focus on the process

Enjoy your freedom!

Question: As you plan your own ‘prison break’ out of perfectionism, which step is most crucial for you to begin with? Would you like to add any other steps to the Plan? Click the Comments Box above and let me know what you think!

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.