Today’s world tells us that we should strive for perfection. We are told from a young age to make plans for our future. Media convinces us that the right loving relationship will come along and fulfill us. Social media shows us friends and influencers living perfect lives. In the end, our expectations of ourselves, of others, and of our relationships will be perfect and anything less is failure.
Getting into the perfection mindset is a trap. Some people are more inclined to perfectionism, likely due to genetics. Your history, too, plays a role in your expectations. But the pressures in social and career contexts today can make it easy to expect everything to go right. These pressures, and lives that feel more on display because of social media, can make any lack of perfectionism feel like a personal shortcoming.
Why Perfectionist Thinking Holds You Back
The reality of life is that it is imperfect. People make mistakes, everyone experiences setbacks, relationships take work, and what you see on the media and others’ social accounts is edited. When you anticipate perfection, it can cause you to take failures hard, upset others, and avoid decisions or opportunities.
Perfectionism is also subjective, and thus impossible. Perfectionists often find fault even when there is none, because their opinion is swayed by their belief that things are imperfect. In other words, a perfectionist can finish the perfect painting, but because their opinion of art is subjective, they’ll believe that there are flaws that must be fixed.
Expectations of a perfect life can leave you forever dissatisfied with the life you do have and the people in it. Many perfectionists find themselves thinking they are not good enough or are unable to connect with people, finding they never stand up to their expectations. They may also struggle at work or at home, trying to reach standards that are impossible or constantly changing.
How to Avoid the Trap of Perfectionism
Breaking the cycle of perfectionist thinking can be difficult. It starts with understanding that expectations are not reality and perfect is not attainable. From there, figure out which areas of your life you have unreasonable expectations for and reflect on them:
- Yourself – Whether at work or in daily life, use self reflection to abandon black and white thinking. You can give yourself credit for what you do well, and take time to find positives in moments you might otherwise consider “failures.”
- Others – Focus on communication. Expecting certain work or behavior from others leads to frustration on everyone’s part. Kindly expressing your expectations and listening rather than jumping to conclusions will help you better understand others and be empathetic with mistakes.
- Relationships – Think about a few specific things that you do want from your relationships and your partners. By naming specifics, you can decide what is important for you instead of seeking out a vague idea of perfection.
Yet even when you can identify unrealistic expectations for your life, replacing them with reality can be a challenge. Speaking with a psychologist is another great way to understand what is causing your expectations and how you can realign them.