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  • Writer's pictureMark Thomson

Why there are no happy perfectionists

Constant improvement is a great attitude to have. But we will never be perfect and that’s fine, because perfection is an impossible destination to reach.

As human beings we are and always will be imperfect. That doesn’t stop some of us creating a lifetime of disappointment by trying for perfection.

But if you wait for perfect, you’ll never get anything done. Far better to settle for excellence or good enough, depending on the situation and time constraints. As psychologist and author Dr Harriet Braiker said: “Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralising.”

Ironically when we are vulnerable and show ourselves as we are, faults and all, people often warm to us far more. It gives them permission to be themselves as well.

The American Psychological Association defines perfectionism as “the tendency to demand of others or of oneself an extremely high or even flawless level of performance, in excess of what is required by the situation. It is associated with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health problems.”

Often perfectionists have a fixed mindset and are self-critical and quick to give up.

As Hypnotherapist Tim Box said: “There’s a reason why you’ve never heard the story of the happy perfectionist. There isn’t one.”

How to recognise a perfectionist

  • Perfectionists obsess over mistakes, even when it’s unlikely anyone else even noticed.

  • Their self-confidence depends on being perfect but they don’t feel anywhere close to being perfect.

  • They think in black and white — things are either good or bad, perfect or failure.

  • They have unrealistic expectations for themselves and beat themselves up when they don’t meet them.

  • They put up a front that everything is perfect, even when it’s not, because the thought of someone seeing their imperfection is unbearable.

  • They spend excessive time on projects because they’re always perfecting one last thing.

  • They spend a lot of time searching for external approval.

One reason many of us, including me, struggle with perfectionism is because we learnt that we were never good enough, no matter how hard we tried. And the erroneous belief that “I’m not good enough,” can blight every part of life.

So would you rather be perfect or would you rather be happy?

Perhaps it’s time to accept that you won’t excel at everything but can enjoy what you do. I love writing for instance but I am under no illusions that I’m going to win any prizes for it. But that doesn’t stop me enjoying it.

And crossing the finish line imperfectly is better than never starting or giving up. When you give up the need to win or impress others you can begin to be truly at peace with yourself.

Some questions for you

Who are you trying to impress?

When I do xyz wrong, at least I’ll have started…? Remember no one gets it right first time.

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