Our blog focuses on self-improvement and helping health through better habits. However, that can come with a downside. While it’s great to focus on the future and reaching your goals, aiming for perfection can be unhealthy. Holding yourself to high standards and sticking to a plan can have excellent results for your health. But, when you are too rigid, or your standards are too high, you can pay the price.
While perfectionism is sometimes seen as a virtue, it can be a curse. Striving to do your best is terrific, but obsessing over it can lead to unhealthy behavior. When you become focused on your mistakes, worried about making mistakes and doubt your own abilities to reach your goals, it can take a toll. Stress and anxiety can cause physical and mental illness. That’s called maladaptive perfectionism.
Being able to forgive yourself and move past slipups and missteps is essential for making healthy progress. If you find that you can’t forgive yourself for mistakes and you’re trying to be “perfect” rather than better, you should speak to your doctor. There are treatments for maladaptive perfectionism, like cognitive-behavioral therapy, that help you step back, breathe out and relax your stranglehold on control.
It’s healthy to fail, learn from your failure, and reengage with the activity afterward. Maladaptive perfectionism can lead to you becoming obsessed with mistakes and either giving up to avoid failing again or throwing yourself back into it without making healthy adjustments.
“A top priority becomes avoiding failure at any cost,” said Dr. Jessica Rohlfing Pryor. She studies perfectionism at Northwestern Univ.’s Perfectly Imperfect Lab. “For some, that means they may double or triple their efforts toward the goal. But then others may go to the opposite extreme and avoid the experience or task altogether.”
Dr. Pryor had practical advice on how to break out of unhealthy perfectionism. Her first piece of advice was that you should remind yourself that perfectionism is an illusion. You will never be perfect so let it go. You should also break your goals down into manageable steps. Often, people become obsessed with large concepts and paralyzed with fear about achieving them. You can reach your goals if you make the steps smaller. You should also stop listening to spiteful voices in your head. When you feel down, look at your accomplishments, and reward yourself for your wins. You should accept that perfectionism is genetic to a certain extent and runs in families, so you shouldn’t get down on yourself for feeling this way. And, finally, you should reach out for help and tell a doctor you’re struggling. There is a difference between taking healthy steps and putting too much pressure on yourself.
Life is messy. None of us have perfect diets, sleep schedules, immaculate homes or perfect attendance at the gym. That’s okay! It’s all about taking healthy steps, not winning a competition. Trying to attain all of those goals will lead to burning out. Celebrate your achievements but don’t get caught up in worries about having it all.