Better than Perfect

7 Strategies to Crush Your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love


By Elizabeth Lombardo

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From Shaquille O’Neal’s “head coach for happiness,” a proven, powerful method for shaking the chains of perfectionism to live a happier, healthier life

Perfectionists exist in every walk of life. While outwardly they appear to be very accomplished, they are often unhappy and unfulfilled. Perfectionists strive toward unattainable goals, and their behaviors can wreak havoc on both their physical health and their psychological well-being.

Timely and transformative, Better than Perfect by Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo offers step-by-step instructions for perfectionists to find balance and freedom. The book defines perfectionism in easy-to-understand terms, offers simple assessment tools, and shares case studies of Lombardo’s patients to highlight the condition. Also included are practical exercises and suggestions for behavioral changes, including seven ways to overcome perfectionism that range from choosing passion over perfection to remembering you’re more than what you do.
With the ultimate goal of helping readers achieve happiness and prosperity without the stress of making sure things are perfect; Better than Perfect is a fundamental guide for all perfectionists seeking new, fulfilled, and empowered lives.



IVE BEEN A perfectionist for most of my life.

In all honesty, I’ve been rewarded quite nicely because of it.

At the same time, though, it’s caused a lot of unnecessary tears, tension, and trials for me and for the people around me.

It was 7:27 in the morning. I’d already been up a few hours trying to tackle my lengthy to-do list before flying to New York around noon. I still had to pack, wondering what shoes I should bring; respond to a journalist about how to excel during change in the workplace; empty the dishwasher; get my daughters’ breakfasts ready; and test my eight-year-old on her spelling words.

My stress level was definitely up there, but I was trying to keep it together.

“Unpleasant,” I said, reciting a word from the spelling list.

As I glanced over my daughter’s shoulder, she wrote the word down on a sheet of paper. UNPLEASENT. Two E’s rather than two A’s. Hmmm.

When she misspelled unpleasant, I started to get unpleasant. Part of it was that I’d always had trouble with spelling. (I love spell-check!) But the bigger problem was that I was a perfectionist, and my being a perfectionist at that moment could have made both my daughter and me very unhappy.

“Your test is today, Sweetheart,” I said in what I hoped was a motivating tone. In reality, I was really anxious, thinking she’d miss that word on the test.

Now, as I sit here recounting this incident, I’m embarrassed that my daughter’s messing up one letter would upset me so much. Unfortunately, it did.

I’ve always tried to hide my perfectionist tendencies from my children, hoping to not pass them on to my girls. But who was I kidding here? The tension in our kitchen was palpable.

Then my daughter saved the day. “Mom, I think we all need to take a deep breath,” she said.

This was the proverbial wisdom out of the mouth of a child. But for me it was much more than that: it was an important wake-up call.

On some level, perfectionism is rewarded in our society. We may be the person who consistently stays at work until midnight—to complete a project in particular, or to excel at our job in general. Maybe we’re striving to have the body of a supermodel or a superhero. Or we might go above and beyond “normal” expectations to ensure our children get into Harvard. As you might guess, many champion athletes, prominent scientists, and celebrities demonstrate perfectionist traits. Serena Williams, a number-one-ranked female tennis player and the only female player to win over $50 million in prize money, describes herself this way: “I’m a perfectionist. I’m pretty much insatiable.”

Of course, not all of us are extreme perfectionists like Serena Williams. And yet, many of us have one or more perfectionistic thought patterns or behaviors that negatively impact our lives on a daily basis—from our relationships to our work.

Do any of these tendencies sound familiar?

         You see your life in black-and-white terms. “I did not get the promotion; I am a failure.” Or, “I ate one cookie and ruined my diet; might as well eat the entire bag.”

         You often act out of fear rather than passion. Fear would say: “This project is so stressful. I could get fired if I mess it up.” Whereas passion would say: “I enjoy using my strengths and collaborating with others to make this project incredible.”

         You’ve made up tons of rules for yourself (and others) that you don’t even know you’re following. “I should be more successful.” “I should be in better shape.” “She should call me more.” “He should do the dishes since I cooked dinner.”

         You give up before you’ve even tried to do something, like compete for a promotion or take on a challenging assignment. You think, “I failed in the past, so why risk trying again?” Or, “If it’s never really going to happen, then why bother?”

         You frequently use distorted thinking when you make decisions. You think you can read the minds of those around you. “She thinks I’m lazy.” “He doesn’t love me.” Or you predict the future will be unbearable, essentially making a mountain out of a molehill. “My career will be ruined if I mess up this speech!”

Sounds pretty unpleasant, however you spell it! But there’s more . . .

         Chances are you experience high levels of stress, rarely feel satisfied, and live with a barrage of negative self-talk cycling around your head. You consistently think, “If only I achieve X, then I’ll be happy.” Happiness is seen as the endgame, the result of achieving a goal. Your self-confidence is conditional, based on how “successful” you view yourself at that moment, or on how others react to you.

         Maybe your health is not where you want it to be. You may be overweight, struggling to stay on a weight-loss program, or underweight and starving yourself—or even average weight but obsessing about food. Or, you experience insomnia from all the endless chatter in your head, its volume increasing the moment your head hits the pillow. Or you experience medically unexplained aches or pains that drain your energy and enjoyment of life.

         Your relationships may not be as happy or fulfilling as you’d like them to be. You may prioritize other people and tasks above your own fun, your own needs for relaxing or recharging—sometimes even above the needs of your family. And don’t kid yourself. They notice and resent it.

         When it comes to work, you put in excessive hours and are rarely fully satisfied with your results. Alternatively, there may be times when you procrastinate starting or finishing a project, for fear you won’t be able to complete the task perfectly. You may have difficulty making decisions, repeatedly second-guessing yourself. You feel there is “never enough time,” or that you are doomed to fall short of someone’s expectations—or your own.

Do any of these unhappy descriptions sound like you? I thought so. That’s why I wrote Better Than Perfect. Because you’re likely tired—no, exhausted—by the incessant drive to control the future, and by the unsatisfying feeling that, no matter how hard you try, you will always come up short—always less than you could or should be. I know these feelings, because I’ve been there.

“I’m a perfectionist. I can’t help it, I get really upset with myself if I fail in the least.”



From their standpoint, perfectionists often don’t see anything wrong with how they are, and they frequently rationalize their standards, thinking, “Of course I want to strive for the best! Why would I settle for being mediocre?”

In fact, many are petrified by the idea of giving up their perfectionism, as it’s become their way of living and (sometimes) succeeding. And they may even see forgoing these perfectionist patterns as failure. I understand that fear of letting go—it’s something I’ve struggled with myself.

But, while the goal of perfectionism is to feel good about yourself, it actually has the opposite effect. Why? Because there’s always that awful inner critic constantly judging you, saying, “You’re just not good enough.” (Or worse.)

In my private practice, I work with a lot of perfectionists. Most of them don’t come in saying, “I need help with my perfectionism.” Usually they seek my help to deal with the often dire consequences of their perfectionism: depression, stress, insomnia, strained relationships, health problems, work concerns.

“Perfectionism becomes a badge of honor with you playing the part of the suffering hero.”


My purpose here is not to pathologize what you are doing or tell you that you need to change. I am not asking you to give up who you are or become someone you are not. I promise not to give you clichéd advice such as:

         “Stop being so hard on yourself.”

         “Those details are not important.”

         “It doesn’t have to be perfect.”

         “Just stop worrying about it.”

While these suggestions may make rational sense, most perfectionists don’t actually believe in them. We also don’t know how to apply them, or don’t really want to. I know I didn’t!


Let me ask you a few questions:

         What would your life be like if you had more contentment and less stress?

         What would it mean if you accomplished more with less time and energy?

         How would it feel if you had peace of mind rather than all that self-imposed anxiety and pressure?

         How would being happier change how you interact with your family, friends, coworkers, and others?

Consider me your happiness coach. In the world we live in, being happy can be hard work. And I’m here to help you. I want you to be truly happy. Not just “looks good on paper so she should be happy.” No, I want you to feel true joy and peace in your heart. I want you to start living a life of purpose and passion.

To that end I’ve created the Better Than Perfect program. The goal here is not necessarily “less perfectionism,” but rather a more balanced and comprehensive sense of satisfaction and success. It will put you in control—not your perfectionism.

Whether you have a few perfectionist tendencies or are an extreme perfectionist, you can benefit from implementing the Better Than Perfect program. It’s time to crush the critic inside your head that keeps holding you back. These guidelines will help you live a happier, healthier, more successful and fulfilled life. They have worked miracles—large and small—in my life and in the lives of hundreds of my clients. They can work for you, too.

The result? A life you love.

Let me show you. Before applying the Better Than Perfect strategies, my concept of being “satisfied” meant settling—settling for a life that was less than perfect. Now I realize that satisfaction is an incredible state of feeling contented and gratified with the gifts—the people and experiences—that life offers me.

Thanks to having implemented this program, I’ve found my stress level is dramatically lower and my happiness level is much higher. Basically, I worry less and I laugh more.

I am more relaxed and better able to enjoy my children, husband, and friends. I no longer feel pressured to work all the time (yes, that used to be me incessantly checking my cell phone); I also no longer worry about what still needs to be done. My relationship with my husband has become much closer, and my daughters have told me I’m much more fun to be around. (Sure, that sentiment may change when they become teenagers, so I’ll savor it for as long as I can!) The added benefit is that I am modeling the way I want my children to act and be—rather than the stressed out, nothing-is-good-enough parent I was before.

My sleep is much more restorative. I wake up in the morning excited about my day, ready to take on whatever comes.

Following the Better Than Perfect guidelines has also helped me be more successful. By “success” I mean something far more than my old definition of achieving certain milestones. I’m talking about feeling grateful for what is happening in my life, prioritizing my relationships, health, and happiness in addition to striving to excel at work—whereas previously excelling at work was my top priority. In my work life I used to operate out of fear; today I’m far more focused on passionately building my business. That’s a really big change for me, and the results have been explosive.

To the surprise of my “old” self, living a Better Than Perfect life has also allowed me to fulfill greater achievement. For example, I used to be horribly anxious and fearful about speaking in public—terrified of messing up. Now it’s not uncommon for me to speak in front of several million people, say on The Today Show, without stressing that I might screw up. Huge, right?

Throughout this book I’ll be sharing the ways in which my perfectionism caused both benefits and blunders in my relationships, my business, my health, and throughout my life. You will also hear from a variety of others talking about their experiences. While the specifics you’ll encounter may look different from what’s going on in your life, I think you will see many similarities, too.


Here’s what you can expect to gain from applying the strategies of a Better Than Perfect life:

         Less worry

         Less stress

         More happiness

         Greater confidence, independent of results

         A healthier body

         Better sleep

         Happier, more fulfilling relationships

         Greater productivity with less effort

         Greater prosperity

         A life fueled by passion instead of by fear

         A strong sense of contentment

         More control over your life

You can expect to feel more successful in almost every corner of your life. Believe me, this is not just an empty promise. It’s a pattern that I have helped create, both in my life and in my many clients’ lives.

The truth is, you don’t need your perfectionistic patterns in order for you to experience the success you’ve already enjoyed. You can achieve success and enjoy life, too! But that doesn’t mean you need to change everything. Some parts of perfectionism that may be working for you likely include:

         Your passion to make positive change

         Your desire to truly feel good about yourself

         Your determination to make a difference

         Your commitment to having a positive influence on others

         Your inspiration to improve your life, the lives of others, and even the world

At the same time as you embrace your effective traits, are you equally ready to let go of the stuff that isn’t working well, such as beating yourself up, working endless hours, procrastinating, and being driven by an overwhelming fear of failure?

If so, this book is for you. I want you to make this book yours. Argue with the things that don’t work for you. Flag the parts you want to read again. Note your thoughts and observations. Start the process of transforming your life by answering the questions you’ll find in every chapter. I invite you to thoroughly engage with this book. Getting your thoughts out of your head and onto paper will give you more insight into how perfectionist patterns may be affecting your life—and how you can make changes that work for you.

If you’re ready to start making positive changes in your life, I’m here to help you. Let’s get started!


Do You Strive to Be Perfect?


What Is Perfectionism?

WHEN I TELL people I’m writing a book about perfectionism, I usually get one of three responses:

         “I need that!”

         “My wife/boss/sister/father needs that!”

         “I’m not a perfectionist.”

The first group, which is predictably small, is self-selected and honest. The second group is much larger—everyone seems to know someone else who suffers from perfectionism. But the third group is by far the largest. Few of us, it seems, want to see ourselves as perfectionists. But all this changes when I explain what I mean when I talk about perfectionism. At that point, people in the last group inevitably say, “Wait, that’s me!”

No matter what your first reaction is, you can still benefit from reading this book. Because even if you don’t view yourself as a perfectionist, you may have some behaviors or tendencies associated with perfectionism. And it’s likely that these traits have proved to be counterproductive or even damaging to your quality of life—your well-being, your sense of self, and the relationships you value most.

As a recovering perfectionist, I’m here to tell you that “perfectionism” doesn’t mean perfect. Far from it. Perfectionism is defined as “a tendency to set standards that are unreasonably high and to measure an individual’s worth in terms of ability to meet these standards.” In reality, perfectionism is deeper than that, at least the way I define perfectionism. Let’s look a little more closely at the features that perfectionists often exhibit. See if you can see yourself in any or all of these characteristics.

Perfectionists have extremely high standards that are nearly impossible to achieve on a consistent basis, and they experience serious distress when those standards aren’t met. This extreme mind-set often carries over into unrealistic expectations of others.

Perfectionists view many aspects of life in all-or-nothing terms, such as “If I don’t get 100 percent correct on the test I’m a failure.” Perfectionists often view their own performance—as well as other people and experiences—as being one extreme or the other, either “all good” or “all bad.” Unfortunately, this all-or-nothing worldview leaves little room for a sense of success, and lots of room for perceived failure.

One of the bigger ironies of this mind-set is that, despite the name, perfectionists don’t think they’re perfect at all. In fact, because “perfection” is the only acceptable level of success—and the reality is that no one is “perfect”—deep down, perfectionists tend to view themselves as failures. And so they focus on how not to feel like a failure.

At the core of perfectionism is a sense of conditional self-worth. Perfectionists equate their value with the achievement of specific, often unattainable goals. In their minds, they are only as good as their last accomplishment.

Perfectionists beat themselves up in their endless drive to be better. If you could stick a microphone inside their brains you’d hear their inner critics saying things like “I should have tried harder” or “I am such a loser.” Perfectionists criticize themselves this way because they feel the need to be better—more successful, more prosperous, more “perfect.” Ironically, though, this negative self-talk often has the opposite effect. It causes more stress and brings about less success.

Perfectionists also tend to be reliant on other people’s praise


  • "Dr. Lombardo's strategies will help you get out of your own way to create the life you want-one that's filled with happiness and success. I highly recommend Better than Perfect!"
    --Marci Shimoff, New York Times bestselling author of Happy for No Reason, Love For No Reason, and Chicken Soup for the Woman's Soul
  • "At The Oprah Winfrey Show, I met many transformational speakers and authors, and I can say with assurance that Dr. Lombardo's path to change is a phenomenal one. Let her show you how to get out of your own way, and get the most out of life!"
    --Candi Carter, CEO of New Chapter Entertainment and former Senior Producer of The Oprah Winfrey Show

  • "With the goal of helping people "before they need the couch," clinical psychologist ­Lombardo explains how to combat perfectionism and stop striving for unattainable goals. She instructs using the acronym ­PERFECT: Postmortem your past; Evaluate your expectations; Reinforce new roads; Fail forward; Eliminate extremes; Create, don't compare; and Transcend. In each category she provides insights, case studies, and worksheets to help readers draw up and practice realistic expectations in order to achieve fulfilled and empowered lives. Verdict: A solid starting point for those who suffer from perfectionist tendencies."
    --Library Journal

On Sale
Sep 2, 2014
Page Count
256 pages
Seal Press

Elizabeth Lombardo

About the Author

Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo is a highly sought-after speaker and media consultant who has been honored by giving a prestigious TEDx talk. She is frequently interviewed by today’s top media outlets, including Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, Money magazine, Health, USA Today, MSNBC, CNN, and National Public Radio. She has made multiple appearances on the Today Show, has a monthly column in Better Homes & Gardens, and is a contributor to the Huffington Post.

Lombardo is also the author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two children.

Learn more about this author