Business Briefs: How Perfectionism Saps Our Strength
Perfectionists often fear failure and struggle with anxiety, but leaving perfectionism traits behind can lead to increased contentment.
Horse vet, happy vet, happiness from abandoning perfectionism.
Increased contentment comes from leaving perfectionism behind. | Getty Images

The definition of perfectionism is the “refusal to accept any standard short of perfection.” Because as human beings we are innately imperfect, perfectionism can rob us of joy, accomplishment and peace. According to the Academic Resource Center at Harvard University, perfectionism is often rewarded unwittingly, as youth might have been lauded by parents and teachers for setting extremely high standards for themselves and working relentlessly to achieve them, even at the expense of their wellbeing. Those involved in sports also are often praised for playing through pain, even when the long-term consequences can include chronic injury. This external reinforcement of unrealistic standards of perfection, although often well-intentioned (they want you to do well and achieve great things!), can easily translate into an unhealthy obsession with achievement that carries over to life. Societal and cultural expectations can also play a role in perfectionism.

Perfectionist Struggles

Perfectionists often struggle to moderate their behaviors because they believe that they must continue to be perfect to be successful and accepted by others. In fact, the opposite is often true: People who learn to develop realistic standards for themselves often see improvement in the quality of their work and relationships. Someone with a perfectionist personality is more critical of themselves and others than a high achiever. High achievers take pride in their accomplishments and tend to be supportive of others, while perfectionists often spot every mistake and imperfection. Learning to let go of the need for perfection will free up time and energy. Good enough is truly good enough. 

Perfectionists are often less happy, more anxious and have less well-being than high achievers. Resilience following disappointments is difficult for perfectionists, who tend to ruminate excessively on what they see as failure. They struggle to move on when things don’t work out the way they had hoped. Because of these negative emotions, they miss out on a lot of enjoyment in life. A preoccupation with controlling situations and other people, to try to achieve a flawless result, increases stress and harms interpersonal relationships.

Fear of failure can lead perfectionists to paralysis and procrastination where they fail to do anything at all to progress on a project. It is hard to help such workers, because in contrast to high achievers, who see feedback as valuable information that can help improve their future performance, perfectionists may find even constructive criticism frightening and hurtful, leading them to feel defensive or angry. 

How to Overcome Perfectionism

If you recognize perfectionism traits in yourself, there are ways to leave them behind. Take steps to find a workplace where you feel acceptance and belonging. Utilize positive self-talk, telling yourself the same things that you would tell a good friend in the same situation. When you find yourself comparing your performance to others, remind yourself that you are an individual with unique strengths. Practice mindfulness to help learn to stay in the present moment without excessive time spent worrying about the past or the future. When you notice negative, perfectionist thoughts, challenge them. Consider finding three positive things to say to yourself before allowing yourself to voice anything negative. These techniques, when practiced diligently, can make a marked difference in your need to be perfect and have the world around you conform to your standards. Increased contentment will follow.

Disclaimer from sponsor: This content is subject to change without notice and offered for informational use only. You are urged to consult with your individual business, financial, legal, tax and/or other medical providers with respect to any information presented. Synchrony and any of its affiliates, including CareCredit, (collectively, “Synchrony”) makes no representations or warranties regarding this content and accept no liability for any loss or harm arising from the use of the information provided. All statements and opinions in the article are the sole opinions of the author. Your receipt of this material constitutes your acceptance of these terms and conditions.

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