12 Ways You Can Go Easier on Yourself


I am a perfectionist without end, and I want to do my best at everything I do. I hit a point a couple of years ago, though, when perfectionism had worn me out. Holding myself to high standards had paid off, in some ways. People were seeking me out to write for them, I moved up the ladder at my day job, and I was pouring knowledge and companionship into people in meaningful ways. (See also: 5 Simple Ways to Fight Burnout)

But I was tired. I was so, so tired. And then I started getting sick — I was sick for almost two months straight. By the end of that, I'd dropped all the balls I'd been juggling. I struggled through feelings of worthlessness and failure, but eventually I was able to rebuild. And one of the keystones of my new foundation was going easier on myself, learning to let off the pressure so I don't drive myself into the ground.

If you're a perfectionist and you don't want to burn out yourself, here are some ideas.

1. Breathe First

Before you do anything that is important to you, take a few seconds to breathe. Even just a few seconds helps me approach my task with calm and focus, rather than with anxiety. I remember why I'm doing it, and that helps me do it with my mind at ease, rather than all stressed out.

2. Single Task

Since it seems that multitasking is a myth anyway (we are actually switching our attention from task to task quickly, rather than doing everything at once), it makes more sense to intentionally focus on one thing at a time. It also helps our brains recharge because we're going easier on them, even when the tasks themselves are stressful and we are pushing to be our best.

3. Take a Tech Break

It feels good to be connected. It makes us feel important, like we're part of things. However, consuming, sorting, absorbing, filtering, and labeling all that information is exhausting. There's just too much. While many of us must interact technologically for work, we don't have to do it all the time. Intentionally set aside some time to ease these expectations and let yourself focus on something else. Who knows, you may even sleep better!

4. Today, Nothing Is Urgent

Give yourself an easy day, where nothing short of a true emergency is urgent. Email doesn't have to be checked. Deadlines don't have to be pursued. Meetings don't have to take place. Giving yourself this space reminds you that you are in control of your life, inspires you to choose what is and is not important, and offers you a chance to rest.

5. Drop the Shoulds

"Should" is a word that drives us to perfection, but it will drive us and drive us to delirium, because nothing is ever enough. Take should out of your vocabulary. Replace it with "could" or "get to," and you will find yourself resting easier, even about the stressful things. You will be able to choose when to push yourself and how to be healthy about it, without compulsively running from here to there.

6. Treat Yourself the Way You Would Treat Others

If you find yourself pushing all the time, stop and ask if that is how you would treat your mother, your favorite sibling, or your best friend. If the answer is no, figure out how you would treat them and proceed to treat yourself that way, too. Let go when you would let them rest, and your life will become much easier.

7. Stop Every 90 Minutes

Even when you're working hard, you're in the zone, the work is important, and you need to get it done, stop working every 90 minutes. Take a short break; take a walk, go outside, stretch a little. This coincides with your body's natural rhythm, and even hard work seems easier when you're not working against yourself.

8. Practice Self-Compassion

While we may strive for perfection, the truth is that we are not perfect and we live in an imperfect world. Instead of beating ourselves up over that, we can begin to accept it as fact and give ourselves compassion when we make mistakes or don't meet our own standards. If you find that you are berating yourself, take a deep breath and consciously offer yourself compassion instead. Something as simple as "I am human. I am not going to be perfect and that's okay," can change your life if you say it enough.

9. Hire a Housekeeper

Most people who have high standards include their home in that, and then beat themselves up when other projects make it hard to clean. Hire some help, even if you feel weak or lazy doing it, and realize that some things don't have to be your job.

10. Take Yourself Out

Give yourself some alone time away from work and home and anyplace else that makes you feel guilty or where you feel like you need to do MORE! and BETTER! all the time. Taking yourself out of the physical space removes many of the triggers of your perfectionism and makes it more likely that you will truly relax and recharge.

11. Decide What Is Important to You

We all have tasks that, for whatever reason, are ours. Work is an obvious one, especially if your job is important to your financial survival. The relationships in our lives — significant others, parents, children, friends, etc. — are also important and are clearly ours to work on and in.

Many of us, though, take on things that are not ours. Take some time to look at where you spend your time and energy, and determine which of those are things that you really need to be doing. You'll probably find that some are important, some are unimportant, and others are important but really fall more into someone else's realm.

12. Let It Go

When you find yourself stressing over trying to do well with a job that isn't yours, let it go. I found it helpful to actually clench my hands and then unclench them (sometimes under a table or behind my back so no one could see!). Releasing these tasks will help you release the need to do them so well, and you will automatically begin going easier on yourself.

Have you burnt out or flamed out from pushing too hard? How do you go easier on yourself?

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