9 Books on perfectionism and overthinking

It is no secret that perfectionism and overthinking can be detrimental to our mental health. There are many books out there on the topic, but not all of them offer a solution for how to overcome these disorders.

In this article I will list ten books which provide insightful perspectives on perfectionism and overthinking, some of which have been classics in the genre for years while others may be more surprising.

This article opens with the full list with direct links to Amazon. I am part of the Amazon Affiliates program and if you decide to buy a book after clicking on my link, I will get a small commission from the sale (at no additional costs to you).
I would be very grateful because it helps me invest more time and ressources into my curation for this site.

Let’s dive into the most read and recommended books about perfectionism first, then the more surprising ones.

1. Perfecting Ourselves to Death by Richard Winter

In Perfecting Ourselves to Death, Richard Winter examines the seductive nature of perfectionism as it is reflected in today’s media. He looks at how our culture has become obsessed with achieving this unattainable goal and he also explores what originally awakens this drive in us.

There are two reasons why I am starting the list with this book. First, it reminds us of all the dark sides of perfectionism and what it can lead us to (from simple stress to darker outcomes such as depression or eating disorders). This can provide us with the motivation you need to start fight our own perfectionism.

The second reason is that this book does not forget that perfectionism isn’t an issue only because of peoples’ own personal flaws. Instead, the author mentions how our media industry influences people to think in a persistent way about their perfection and how they should always strive for more success and skill than what is necessary.

The book is also very well rated and seems to provide very practical, down to earth strategies.

A quote from the book

In general, perfectionists tend to have difficulties with any new and unpredictable situation. The known, familiar and repeated are comfortable and secure. The perfectionist is able to maintain an appearance of being relaxed and in control, but under that thin veneer there are many frightening emotions that must be controlled at all costs.

2. How To Be An Imperfectionist by Stephen Guise

In this book, the author frames perfectionism in an interesting way: a naturally limiting mindset.

Stephen Guise states coins a new term, Imperfectionism, that can free us to live outside the lines, where possibilities are infinite, mistakes are allowed, and self-judgment is minimal.

The key lesson behind this book is that progress is more important than perfection.

A quote from the book

Procrastination is not caused by laziness but by a combination of fear and overcomplicated objectives, which come from a perfectionistic mindset.

3. The Gifts Of Imperfection by Brené Brown

The Gifts of Imperfection, has sold more than 2 million copies in more than 30 different languages. With original research and plenty of encouragement, she explores the psychology of releasing our definitions of an “imperfect” life and embracing living authentically.

What I like about this book is that it ties imperfection to authenticity: perfectionism is actually hiding our true self. We might even be doing the hiding on purpose without realizing it. Your perfect self is not your true self; The gifts of imperfection might help you realize that and embrace your imperfect self.

A quote from the book

If we want to live and love with our whole hearts, and if we want to engage with the world from a place of worthiness, we have to talk about the things that get in the way—especially shame, fear, and vulnerability.

4. Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

Shauna Niequist invites readers to spend less time perfecting oneself and live a better life by doing what we can in the present, while embracing the messiness in our lives.

I selected this book for the list because it explores another angle: being present. To me, this means that perfectionism is actually a way to escape reality as we are trying to refine ourselves. A kind of forever “work in progress” that’s actually never finished.

Dealing with perfectionism is to try to live in the moment, as messy as it might be. This collection of essays offers a great resource for anyone looking to change their life and take on a different perspective.

A quote from the book

Part of being an adult is taking responsibility for resting your body and your soul. And part of being an adult is learning to meet your own needs, because when it comes down to it, with a few exceptions, no one else is going to do it for you.

5. The Pursuit Of Perfect, Tal Ben-Shahar

In this book, the author shows readers how perfectionism can become a barrier to happiness and success. It’s about learning to love what we have, in all its imperfections.

This one is a classic in the genre and what I like about it is how simple the author frames the problem of perfectionism: “do you want to be perfect or do you want to be happy?” A very simple question to remind you that perfection equals happiness only if you think it does.

Knowing that perfection doesn’t equal happiness helps put things back into perspective so not everything has to be perfect all of the time and what’s important is being happy with who we are.

Tal Ben-Shahar invites us to try to become optimalistsinteads of perfectionists.

A quote from the book

The key difference between the Perfectionist and the Optimalist is that the former essentially rejects reality while the latter accepts it.

6. The Lean Start-Up, by Eric Ries

The lean start-up way is all about continuous innovation and how to build something successful even if you don’t know what the final product will be.

The Lean Start-up is a great book for anyone who knows that they want to start something but doesn’t have all of the answers, which pretty much sums up most people’s reality in this day and age when it comes to entrepreneurship.

I believe this books fits in the list because it’s a great reminder that you cannot start with perfect. It is because you are imperfect (doing mistakes) that you can learn from this imperfection. Perfection (if it even exist), is actually a constant refinement cycle that feeds on your mistakes.

In other words: learning can only happen through imperfection.

A quote from the book

As you consider building your own minimum viable product, let this simple rule suffice: remove any feature, process, or effort that does not contribute directly to the learning you seek.

7. The Practice, by Seth Godin

This new book (2021) from Seth Godin is an absolute gem about creative work. It totally fits in this list, because, quite frankly, is there a field with more perfectionists than the Art and Creative industry?

In this book, Seth Godin argues that there is a clear pattern defining who succeeds and who doesn’t: consistency of practice.

A quote

For the important work, the instructions are always insufficient. For the work we’d like to do, the reward comes from the fact that there is no guarantee, that the path isn’t well lit, that we cannot possibly be sure it’s going to work. It’s about throwing, not catching. Starting, not finishing. Improving, not being perfect.”

8. The War Of Art, by Steven Pressfield

Another classic aimed at whoever is having a hard time “shipping” creative work (or any type of work actually).

I love Steven Pressfield books so much, I would argue you should read them all, but if we stick to perfectionism, then The War of Art is a great pick.

The book will introduce you a term that Steven Pressfield coined: The Resistance. I will not reveal to much about the concept and will let you discover it yourself, but to me it is linked to perfectionism (not entirely, as Resistance also feeds on fears).

A quote from the book

“Resistance has no strength of its own. Every ounce of juice it possesses comes from us. We feed it with power by our fear of it. Master that fear and we conquer Resistance.”

9. The Obstacle Is The Way, by Ryan Holiday

One of my favorite books on overthinking because it offers such an interesting perspective: when there are obstacles in our lives, they represent opportunities for growth by being challenges that push us beyond where we currently are.

I listed this one here because when facing a road block, perfectionists and overthinkers might think that there is a way to “think their way out of” the problem. But the truth is that at some point, you will have to get going and start doing. You will have to act.

A quote from Ryan Holiday

“The obstacle in the path becomes the path. Never forget, within every obstacle is an opportunity to improve our condition.”