How to Meditate When You’re A Perfectionist

Perfectionists can find meditation irritating and difficult to commit to. Here, we share some tips and insights that support perfectionists on their meditation journey.
Insight Timer is the top free meditation app on iOS and Android.
Insight Timer is the top free meditation app on iOS and Android.

If you’re a super diligent and high-achieving perfectionist, you might be quite drawn to meditation. There’s something very appealing about the image of sitting perfectly on a cushion, super calm and collected, just so. But in practice, meditation can quickly get frustrating for a perfectionist. After all, there’s no clear report card at the end, and no way to know if you’re doing it “right.” Meditation is a mixed blessing for those with perfectionist tendencies; they may find it more challenging than anyone else – but if they persist, the benefits can be especially significant.

Are You A Recovering Perfectionist?

It can be a cruel catch-22: you might practice meditation specifically to reduce stress, but discover that your stress is just the thing stopping you from taking a non-judgmental and accepting approach, leaving you stuck in self-criticism. You may:

  • Quit early because you’re not convinced you’re doing things perfectly
  • Beat yourself up because of tiny (imagined) mistakes
  • Feel disappointed or bad about yourself 

If you’ve already tried meditation but found its vagueness and focus on “acceptance” confusing and infuriating, don’t worry, you’re not alone. You can meditate, but you may need to adjust your approach.

Don’t forget that as a perfectionist, you also possess incredible discipline, dedication and energy – and these can be turned to your advantage.

Why Meditation Can Be Difficult For Perfectionists

Striving to be perfect can be a coping mechanism, or a way to control anxiety. When it comes to meditation, perfectionism can show up as irritation with the process.

We may hope that if only we’re 100% mindful, then somehow we’ll be immunized from the pain or unpredictability of life. Yet somehow, by sinking into the present moment, we aren’t rewarded with perfect bliss, but face head on all of life’s messiness and chaos. This can become so uncomfortable that a person quits meditation entirely. 

The trick for perfectionists is to recognize their thoughts as thoughts.

It’s not a law of the universe that things have to be perfect, but rather a story we’ve convinced ourselves of. We have a choice:

  • become enmeshed in this self-talk, OR
  • take a step back from it and see that we actually have a choice in how to react in any moment. 

Meditation teaches us to shift from doing to simply being

Just become aware. 

Notice the compulsion to fix, improve, judge, rate or correct.

Notice what happens when you let that compulsion go, without reacting. Is it really the end of the world if you’re imperfect? 

Acceptance might feel like a tall order initially, but an important first step is to just acknowledge where you are. Your starting practice may be nothing more than learning to say, “this is my perfectionism talking right now. But I don’t necessarily have to listen.”

Meditation Tips For Perfectionists

There are two powerful antidotes to perfectionism: gratitude and compassion. They both gently undo the perfectionist’s tendency to focus on the negative, and to self-criticize.

Try A Structured Approach

If you’re new to meditation, start with something structured, like guided meditation or visualization. Until you’re more experienced, it can be helpful to have a reassuring voice to remind you that everything – yes everything – that happens during meditation is OK. 

You could also set aside 5 minutes a day to write in a journal some things that you’ve appreciated or enjoyed that day, no matter how small. Challenge yourself to find affection even for those things that are a little flawed, incomplete or not as you expected. Can you see that they too have value?

Practicing gratitude is a way of grounding into the many wonderful things that already exist in your life, rather than dwelling on what is missing or inadequate. Sure, things always could be better. But invert this perspective and try to see how things could also be worse, and that they’re actually good enough as they are. Gratitude is like an off-switch for perfectionist anxiety. It tells the body and mind, “this is all OK. You can rest now.”

Stay In The Present

Perfectionism lives in the future. But if you can gently come home to the present moment, and back to your body, you disengage from that anxious rumination. Whatever style of meditation you practice, try incorporating bodily awareness or use present-tense affirmations like:

I am right where I need to be

I am OK

I am safe

Get Comfortable With Discomfort

Notice if you’re trying to escape uncomfortable feelings of doing everything “wrong.” Try this: intentionally do it wrong! Let your mind wander, or indulge for a while in negative self-talk. then come back to the moment and ask yourself, are you fundamentally changed as a person, or did the world end because you were imperfect? Does one mistake really cancel out all the progress you’ve made? 

For perfectionists, the tendency to judge is heightened. But see what happens when you accept that critical voice when it appears. That you are in fact a perfectionist, that you are frustrated, that you are finding things difficult, and that the process is a big mess – accept it all. What does it feel like? And when the critical voice speaks even louder, what happens when you stay right where you are and still calmly say, “yes, and I accept you, too”?

Compassion Is Soft

It’s funny to think how many of us try to force ourselves into self-love. But self-compassion is soft, yielding and surrendering. Perfectionists put up barriers to their own self-acceptance. “I will get around to loving myself… just as soon as I’ve done X, Y and Z.” But compassion is beyond good or bad, right or wrong. It is the gentle courage to see and accept what we are, right now. We are transient, we are imperfect, and we are incomplete. And yet we are still completely worthy of compassion and acceptance, in this very moment. Nothing to grab hold of, nothing to avoid, no goal to reach. Just us, as we are. Right now. Enough.

Try these popular meditations for perfectionism and anxiety associated with it:

  1. The Prison Of Perfectionism Justin Michael Williams 12:50
  2. Soothing Your Need To Be Perfect Fleur Chambers 14:23
  3. Letting Go Of Perfectionism Wellness on the Farm 14:24
  4. Mindfulness Meditation To Overcome Limiting Beliefs Robert Aceves 27:41
  5. Releasing Shame & Societal Pressure Of Perfectionism Rose Elizabeth 18:28
  6. Meditation To Overcome Perfectionism Darius Bashar 16:24
  7. Letting Go Of Perfectionism Aubergreen 12:16

Meditation. Free.