How to Be Less Picky and Hard to Please

Rather than striving for perfection, accept life as it is.

Jon Hawkins
Apr 20 · 7 min read
Photo by Joshua Rawson-Harris on Unsplash

We’re all picky at some point in our lives. As children, for example, we experience “neophobia” — a fear of trying new foods. Evolutionary speaking, this pickiness keeps us safe and protects us from eating dangerous foods.

Fussiness can manifest itself in many areas of life. From the big decisions: like picking our relationships, or choosing a job. To pointless and inconsequential things: like pinpointing faults on the things we buy, or sending our food back at a restaurant.

In some respects, being picky is a good thing. It helps us strive for our best, rather than settling for less. When something’s not right, it motivates us to say something and push for the life we want.

On the other hand, being picky could slip into perfectionism. According to psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne, this type of fussiness can negatively impact our mental health and well-being. Rather than enjoying the things they do have, these types of people are left stressed out because their coffee is too hot, or their favorite t-shirt has a hole in it.

Overly picky people create ideals and set incredibly high standards. Not just for themselves, but for the people around them too. No matter how hard we work, we all make mistakes, and with that, picky people struggle to relax; as they’re constantly tormented by the imperfection they see around them.

From constantly turning dates down because of your unrealistic standards to pinpointing any and every mistake your friends make. Pickiness can be all-consuming: it encourages us to fixate on the things that don’t matter and prevents us from living in the here and now.

The Consequences of Pickiness

According to professor Niki Hayatbini (Miami University,) perfection pickiness has been identified as “a risk factor for the development and maintenance of psychopathology.”

In other words, it stunts our mental growth and hinders our ability to work and achieve.

Because of that, this pickiness prevents us from achieving the self-imposed high standards it sets. Perfectionism stands in the way of perfection: for as long as you experience it, you’ll never achieve the life you crave.

Hayatbini’s research indicates that perfectionism stems from a deficiency in cognitive flexibility, which leads to all-or-nothing thinking. You either succeed or fail, something is either perfect or it’s not. There is no in-between.

When picky people fail to meet their ideal standards, they try to regulate their emotions by pushing the task to the back of their minds. This, according to Hayatbini, leads these people to experience an excess of stress and worry. Worse still, The World Health Organization links a number of anxiety disorders to unachievable perfectionism.

“Perfectionism is a self destructive and addictive belief system that fuels this primary [false] thought: If I look perfect, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame, judgment, and blame.” ― Brené Brown

Perfectionism is Increasing

A 2019 paper by Curran & Hill found that younger people are more burdened than ever before. Unhealthy perfectionism has surged, leading to things like eating disorders and thoughts of suicide. It causes a discrepancy between high personal standards and self-criticism, and it’s impossible to align the two.

The outcome? To paraphrase entrepreneur Gustavo Razzetti:

“The pressure to achieve flawlessness drives the fear of failure, but also our desire to be loved and admired.”

The Picky Lifestyle

Research has proven that being picky is more than just an attitude or way of thinking, it’s a way of life. We want to be a certain way, but can’t achieve it, so dedicate our lives to trying to.

As Dr. Paul L. Hewitt (the University of British Columbia) puts it:

“It’s not a way of thinking, but a way of being in the world.”

According to his studies, pickiness is a sign that we have a problem with our sense of self. It’s less about perfecting things (that project, job or relationship,) and more about perfecting our identity.

This manifests itself in many different forms. Hewitt names a few examples:

  • “Self-orientated perfectionists” set standards for themselves and have a strong desire to achieve perfection. For that reason, they judge themselves harshly.
  • “Other-orientated perfectionists” set unrealistic standards for others. They are extremely picky when evaluating the performance of other people.
  • “Socially-prescribed perfectionists,” think that others hold them to unrealistic expectations — and they can’t live up to the external pressure.

The third type of pickiness is the most common. As we obsess and worry about what others think, we strive for perfection to avoid mistakes that might embarrass us, knock our confidence or shake our perception of self.

“Healthy striving is self-focused: “How can I improve?” Perfectionism is other-focused: “What will they think?”― Brené Brown

Avoiding Pickiness

According to Entrepreneur Gustavo Razzetti, to overcome pickiness and perfectionism, we must re-evaluate our self-relationship. Nobody is perfect. The sooner we understand that and allow room for mistakes the better.

Studies suggest that pickiness is correlated with procrastination. As these people fear they will make a mistake; they would prefer to “win by not losing” so choose to not bother with the task at all.

Re-evaluating your sense of self involves realizing that there’s more value in doing something imperfectly, than not at all.

According to Razzetti, the best way to avoid perfectionism is to:

1. Search for Meaning and Avoid Perfectionism

We must reframe our life and find meaning. According to author Iddo Landau most of us misunderstand what “meaning is.” It means having a life that we value and finding value in everything that life has to offer.

Pickiness directly counteracts that; it presents the false narrative that a meaningful life must be perfect. Rather than finding value in the common and mundane, it forces us to waste our time chasing impossible standards.

According to Razzetti, perfectionism and pickiness prevent us from appreciating the value in ordinary things. They also stop us from finding purpose and meaning in the things we enjoy — as we’re constantly striving for more.

Landau argues that to find meaning and avoid perfectionism, we should start appreciating everyday things. After all, imperfection can give rise to beauty, meaning, and deeper value.

2. Your Attempts Are Drafts You Can Edit Later

You don’t have to achieve your idealistic goals on the first try. We’re all a work-in-progress. As time goes on, we will change and adapt as we grow.

For that reason, you should treat your first attempt as a draft that you can work on as you go. It doesn’t need to be perfect, but there is value in getting the process started.

Even if you know you’ll never be able to perfect something, there’s value in getting the job underway. In philosophy, for example, a lot of thinkers formulate arguments they know to be imperfect — because they recognize that there’s value in talking about the topic — and hope that it will spark discussion that could help achieve the desired result.

The hope is that, even if they can’t perfect what they started, someone else can; and the outcome could change the world for the better.

There’s value in an imperfect first draft. It helps set out your intentions and gets the ball rolling for you to continue perfecting your craft. Even if you are unable to, it could still play its part in making the world a better place.

3. Stop Judging and Start Living

Making snap judgments is a fundamental part of human nature. Judging others saves time, helps us to determine who to befriend, and helps us to determine what tasks are worthwhile.

But everything in moderation. Pickiness can cause us to overthink and overjudge. Instead of getting bogged down with small and irrelevant details, we should avoid distractions and small mistakes that might get in the way of the bigger picture.

Stay focused on your main goal and intentions, rather than getting caught up in irrelevant mistakes. Life’s a first draft, and you can just iron those out after.

Final Thoughts

We’ve all been picky at some point in our life. But for some of us, it’s an all-consuming lifestyle that prevents us from living in the here and now.

Rather than holding yourself to impossibly high standards, or judging others: start to appreciate the value that everything has, be that perfect or imperfect.

Perfection is impossible to achieve. You would be better of treating life as a first draft, one that you can go back to and change as you grow and improve. Even if you can’t achieve the results you want to, starting the process could inspire others and change the world for the better.

There’s beauty and value in the imperfect. The sooner you realize that the better. After all, in the words of Shannon L. Alder:

“There is no perfection, only beautiful versions of brokenness.”

I write about Self-Improvement, Life Lessons, Philosophy, Psychology & Business — to help you reach your full potential. To stay in touch, and to receive free and exclusive content, sign up to my mailing list.

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Jon Hawkins

Written by

Asking questions, seeking answers. I write articles that help you better understand the Universe and your place in it. Let’s chat →

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Jon Hawkins

Written by

Asking questions, seeking answers. I write articles that help you better understand the Universe and your place in it. Let’s chat →

Mind Cafe

Mind Cafe

Relaxed, inspiring essays about happiness.

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store