Many of us have standards and expectations for ourselves, whether we’re aware of them or not. Sometimes, these standards can benefit us, like when they push us to take action toward our goals. Other times — especially when they’re unrealistic, our standards can become heavy burdens.
There’s a fine line between pursuing ambitious goals and striving for perfection: one is attainable, and the other is not. In this article, we’ll explore the differences between healthy striving and perfectionism and give you some tips for overcoming perfectionism.
What is perfectionism?
Perfectionism is a pattern of behavior where you aim for flawlessness in everything you do. It’s where you set unrealistically high standards for yourself and don’t allow room for mistakes.
An example of such a standard is telling yourself you should always do meticulous work. Holding onto this rule very tightly can create a lot of pressure to perform at your best. You might work overtime to avoid making mistakes, and if you receive criticism, it can feel like a personal failure.
The danger of perfectionism is that it can create a vicious cycle that leads to disappointment and reduced self-worth.
What is healthy striving?
Healthy striving is when you set high standards and aim for excellence. Unlike perfectionism, healthy striving involves setting realistic goals that challenge rather than exceed your capabilities.
An example of healthy striving is setting a goal to become active by going to the gym three times a week. If you had aimed for perfection in this situation, your goal might be to go to the gym seven days a week, without fail.
With healthy striving, there is much more flexibility, and you see mistakes as inevitable. You do not see them as personal failures but as opportunities for improvement and growth.
The more you strive for perfection, the more you might fall short and feel the weight of shame and disappointment. This cycle can lead to chronic stress and increase your risk of developing mental health problems. Perfectionism can be hard to change on your own and sometimes requires the help of a therapist. However, there are some tips you can follow to promote a healthier mindset:
If you want to change your thoughts, you need to become more aware of them. You can do this by tracking them in a journal. When you find yourself thinking about being perfect, write down your thoughts and the situation that led up to them.
Challenge your thoughts
Consider your thoughts and what you’re expecting from yourself. Ask yourself whether your expectations are realistic and helpful. Are they promoting healthy striving or the pursuit of perfection? Some questions you can ask yourself are:
- Is it realistic to expect this of myself?
- How excessive is this standard?
- How flexible is this standard?
- What are the benefits of imposing this standard?
- What are the costs of imposing this standard?
After answering these questions, decide whether you want to keep your standard, get rid of it, or adjust it. If you’re unsure, try sharing it with a friend or loved one and getting their input.
If you’re prone to perfectionism, you probably have a harsh inner critic. Overcoming perfectionism means working on your inner voice and being kinder to yourself. You can work on being more compassionate daily by doing the following:
- Recite positive affirmations, like, “I deserve to be loved and accepted just as I am.”
- Take a moment to celebrate your progress at the end of each day.
- Surround yourself with people who uplift and support you.