Are you wrestling with negative thoughts and judging yourself harshly?

Kangaroos boxing-harsh on self

I had a friend in high school who exclaimed after every test, “I’m sure I failed it!” She would agonize over some perceived mistake – maybe an item she left out, or a misspelling – and mope for days until the results came out. She always got an A+, an A or at worst, an A-.

We can beat ourselves up and judge ourselves harshly when we do not measure up to our expectations. Perfectionists do this regularly. Negative thinking may be implanted early in life and not even be evident to our conscious mind. In cognitive behavioral therapy, “Negative Automatic Thoughts” (NATs) cause emotional problems. By identifying our negative thoughts and arguing with them, we can change our moods and our behavior.

Cognitive therapy was the brain child of a psychoanalyst, Aaron T. Beck. It’s an ancient idea. The Greek philosopher Epictetus was quoted: “Nothing else is the cause of anxiety or loss of tranquility except our own opinion.” We can change that opinion. Here’s an easy way to do it:

Note your negative thoughts. If you get stuck trying to identify them, read Burns’s book, Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy.

  1. Examine the evidence. Pretend you are in court, presenting your case. What evidence supports the NAT? What is against it? Now be the judge and make a ruling. If you come up with “yes, but” thoughts, repeat the process.
  2. Write the thoughts and your arguments in a journal or on the Four Thinking Hats to Explore and Remove Cognitive Distortions mind map you can download from:

It takes conscious effort and persistence to overcome our negative self-judgments. But the results make it worth the effort. Imagine being free from the distress these thoughts cause. Imagine reclaiming the hours or days lost to depression or anxiety over your perceived imperfection.

If you want to know more about this, read my new book, The Personal Power Roadmap: The Ultimate 7 Step System to Effectively Solve Problems, Make Decisions, and Reach Your Goals, available at a low introductory price both as ebook and print book.

How can you get out of the perfectionism trap?

A technique to combat paralyzing perfectionism: Replace "it just isn't done yet" with "broad brush strokes."


Do you put off or avoid doing something because you believe you cannot do it well? Do you fail to finish projects because you think what you’ve done is not good enough? Do you go over your work repetitively seeking minute improvements?

Perfectionism can paralyze us. It can keep us from enjoying activities and finishing projects. And it annoys other people.

Life is not an endless report card, and striving to get an A+ for everything we do sucks all the joy from life.

There is a way out! my new book, The Personal Power Roadmap: The Ultimate 7 Step System to Effectively Solve Problems, Make Decisions, and Reach Your Goals, available at a low introductory price both as ebook and print book, I describe a technique I have found effective. 

Use Broad Brush Strokes

There is nothing wrong with striving for excellence. Perfectionism is the pathological side of the endeavor coin. A way to train yourself out of this is to create a mental image of broad brush strokes. This reminds you that you don’t have to do something perfectly, just get the bulk of it done well. As a reforming perfectionist, I trained myself to say those three words. “Broad brush strokes!” now pops into my mind without effort. I might do more than just broad brush strokes, but I am not doing it with that sense of the need to do it perfectly. So there is less stress and I can accomplish things well but with less effort.

Ask yourself, is the extra effort to make it perfect worth the delay? The strain? The annoyance it causes others? Unless you are a scientist or medical doctor and lives hang in the balance, will it matter to anyone that your project was only 98% excellent?

Make your goal excellence, not perfection, if it is an important project. If it is cleaning the kitchen or dusting or mowing the lawn, go for 85%. Get comfortable with lesser degrees for the smaller projects and save your energy for the bigger ones.

Do you have a technique for getting out of the perfectionism trap? I welcome your ideas.