From our earliest history, people have held the idea of constantly improving in high regard. We want to be our best selves. Many people are working to become kinder, more accepting, and more understanding. They also work on more personal goals, such as a better job, healthier body, a better home, and more money.
But many perfectionists also approach their continuous search for improvement with the understanding that “When I have achieved this goal, I will be happy.” They are looking toward the future and condemning all successes on the way to achieving their goals as just another step in the process instead of a victory that should fill them with confidence and joy.
Why Perfection is Bad for Happiness
The idea of perfection is often based on being “more” and “better.” This means that it is impossible to actually attain perfection. There will always be something else you can strive for. While this is not inherently bad in itself – setting new goals as we reach our original goals gives us purpose – if you are constantly striving without taking time to enjoy happiness over reaching your goals, you are putting your happiness in danger.
Those who are focused only on perfectionism and do not stop to enjoy the small successes or the parts of life separate from their goals face:
- Self Imposed Burdens – Perfectionists are not working for external goals, but ones they set for themselves. This makes these goals deeply personal, causing you to stake your self worth on them. Yet at the same time, the goals are also entirely made up.
- Setbacks are Personal – If your purpose in life is only to be the best, every setback is an immense threat to your potential happiness. Understanding your goals as simply one part of a much more complex life lets you brush off mistakes and try again.
- Continuous Stress – When you are always striving to be better, you will never have a moment where you have reached a point where you are satisfied. There is no rest and no break from the stress. Instead, you feel the pressure to continuously work.
These effects require significant energy and leave you in a constant state of failing to meet your goals. The result is almost always burnout, anxiety, and depression, all of which can leave you further away from perfection.
The key to breaking out of striving for perfection is to consider what you really want out of life. If you want to be the best version of yourself, what does that mean to you? It may mean a leadership job in your field. Maybe it is a certain amount of money that keeps your family comfortable. It could be a dream car. Measurable goals are attainable. Perfection is not.
By setting yourself realistic measurable goals, you are working towards a specific goal. Reaching it provides an opportunity to celebrate your success and reflect on how meeting a goal contributes to your happiness.
If you are struggling with perfectionism or the depression or anxiety it can so often cause, therapy can help you translate your striving for perfection into purposes that focus on your happiness. Contact Long Island Psychology to discuss your challenges.