“Perfectionism” is a behavioral problem, where a person overstresses themselves with a desire to be “perfect.” While striving for perfection in some form can be healthy, “perfectionism” typically is not, because those that are perfectionists often struggle with stress, anxiety, and depression as a result of feeling imperfect, and because – in situations where “perfect” does not exist” – perfectionists may overwork themselves trying to reach an unobtainable goal.
Perfectionism is also at an all time high. Over the past 25 years – likely due to the rise of social media, marketing, increased competition in school, work, and the economy – adults who identify with perfectionism have increased. These outside standards of “perfection” that we see on a near daily basis can fuel perfectionism, and leave you constantly unhappy when these impossible goals remain out of reach.
The challenge of using social comparisons as a standard for perfection is that they are generally not a reality. Social media, television, and movies show an edited version of reality, while comparing yourself to others does not take into account their different skills, backgrounds, and experiences. Our reality, on the other hand, is inherently imperfect.
Combating Perfectionism with Realistic Goals
Perfectionism prevents you from accepting anything that falls short of your definition of perfect, and most perfectionists will not attempt anything they expect to turn out less than perfect. It is a stressful cognitive distortion, especially when you define a goal of being perfect that does not exist.
The alternative is to choose goals that will make you the best version of yourself, rather than a perfect ideal. These goals have certain characteristics in that they are:
- Based in Reality – Shifting your thinking to a realistic point of view requires you to acknowledge that your best is all you can do, and that this is enough. You will also need to consider what is realistic for you based on where you are currently.
- Reachable – Perfection is a fantasy. Instead, define explicit goals that you can reasonably reach. You may want to break these goals down as well. For instance, if you are just starting out in a skill, you will not yet be as good as your idols. Instead, choose smaller goals you can meet as you build your skills.
- Adaptable – As part of your new realistic thinking, recognize that goals will sometimes need to change. Maybe your interests change, your opportunities change, or you face unexpected setbacks. Goals are adaptable, so this is not a failure, but a positive change to help you be your best self.
- Encompass Your Passions – When defining your goals, take time to consider where your skills and passions lie rather than what the rest of society considers as perfect. This not only increases your chance of meeting those goals, but it will keep you intrinsic motivation beyond a need for perfectionism.
Because these goals are specifically designed to be reachable, and are based on what you enjoy, you will have a much better chance of reaching them. You are also more likely to embrace the journey of getting there which lets you further separate yourself from a stressful focus on the result and find happiness in the process.