Perfectionism is harmful to mental health.  Try to stand out instead.

Perfectionism is harmful to mental health. Try to stand out instead.

Suspension

Tracy Denise Tiwari, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology and neuroscience and a health technology entrepreneur based in New York City.

I am recovering from perfection.

No wonder there because the cards were stacked against me. I was a virgin more like To hold myself to the high standards of flawlessness of my younger siblings. After that, I was drawn to detail-oriented and highly accomplished professions – I became a classical musician and later a scientist and psychologist. These professions are famous for attracting ideal types.

The standards by which perfectionists believe themselves are unrealistic, overly demanding and often impossible to achieve. And when do perfectionists fail to achieve perfection? We hit ourselves with harsh self-criticism and are less able to recover and learn from mistakes. We are also not likely to celebrate our accomplishments or take pride in improving our best. For the perfectionist, it’s all or nothing – you can be a winner or you can be a worthless fiasco, with nothing in between.

Women may be particularly vulnerable to a slippery perfect slope. From childhood onwards, we work hard to become Little Miss Perfect. We often get paid and praised for our outstanding accomplishments: from grades to good looks, from nice manners to being a killer on the volleyball court – and later in the boardroom. But these achievements quickly turn from being notable to mere status quo. The level of success is constantly being raised.

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The research is unambiguous – there are few positive aspects to perfectionism. A relentless pursuit of perfection can lead to low self-worthAnd the Depression and anxiety disordershigh Stress in the face of failureeven suicide. As a result, perfectionists often end up achieving much less than they aspire to because they hold back, procrastinate and even stop taking on challenges altogether – because it’s better not to have entered the race than to indulge in shame.

Excellence is a healthy alternative

But there is a healthy alternative to perfectionism. it’s called Excellence Work towards excellence rather than perfection. coined term Patrick Goudreau, Professor of Psychology at the University of Ottawa, Excellence involves setting high standards but not beating yourself up when you don’t meet them. Distinguished is open to new experiences, takes unique approaches to problem solving, and is OK to get it wrong – as long as they can learn from their mistakes to strive for stellar achievement.

Interestingly, the superior Often display higher levels of health anxiety than non-ideal people — along with more conscience and higher self-motivation, greater progress in life goals, and more feelings positive well-being. What they don’t show are the burdens of striving for perfection — higher rates of burnout, extreme procrastination, long-term depression, debilitating anxiety, and suicide.

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Excellence takes the best parts of perfection and leaves the toxic parts. It opens us instead of closing us. The Measuring the rate of return Show us how. Most of us assume that hard work pays off. Search This intuition often supports: study more, and your grades go up; Put extra hours into this quarterly report, and your boss will be more impressed. With challenging goals, as the time and energy input increases, the success output also rises proportionately. This is the area of ​​incremental returns – 1 unit of action = 1 unit of improvement. simple mathematics.

But unfortunately, the math is not so simple. It’s not just the amount of effort that matters. Quality as well. Furthermore, the amount of effort can backfire, and when that happens, we reach a point of diminishing returns — putting in more time and effort becomes inefficient and leads to smaller and smaller improvements. Even worse, diminishing returns can escalate into diminishing returns, as putting in more time and effort makes things worse. It’s like adding extra hours of training in the gym, on top of the recommended regimen, only to realize that you’ve overtrained and are so exhausted that you can’t even do the basics anymore. This is where perfection tends to land us—into areas of diminishing and diminishing returns, where making more effort to achieve elusive perfection makes us less productive and less creative.

That’s why, whether it’s writing a story or doing something that might be a bit more boring, like proofreading, idealists turn out unexpectedly. lower quality work what they can actually do. Perfectionists take more time than imperfect people on repetitive or boring tasks, create more inaccuracies, and work less efficient. Perfectionism affects scientists in the same way. Very perfect scientists Create lower quality, less creative papers and fewer published papers.

On the other hand, the franchisor tends to find the sweet spot between what is ideal and what is only acceptable – because it can be excellent without being perfect. They operate in the area of ​​incremental returns often because they aim for high but achievable standards and invest enough – but not excessive – effort to reach their goals. They know when to give her a break. They are not stuck in a vicious circle of perfection and end up More able to achieve their goals and solve problems challenging challenges in innovative ways compared to their ideal peers.

how to be unique

If you’re like me, you’re not born special – but you can practice being one. Start with small steps and try three.

1. Choose an upcoming activity that you tend to be perfect in. It could be personal or work related, or it could be about your appearance. For me, it is hosting. I feel deeply that if I’m not perfect Martha Stewart, this is a failure.

2. Make a list that is ideal for you. For my hosting perfection, perfection is an impeccably clean house, delicious food ready when everyone arrives, all either made by a great caterer or freshly cooked myself. There are no grocery store ready-made side dishes for that perfect person!

3. Look at the list and choose something that allows you to be less than perfect. Maybe it’s just one thing, maybe it’s several. But choose something that you can really let go of. Just don’t sweat. I started the practice of giving up the completely clean house portion and ready-to-eat food when everyone on my list arrived. Then notice what happened: How did it end? how do you feel? How do others feel? When I tried this experiment, I started cooking with my guests instead of them, and it made my gatherings more successful. Everyone, including me, had more fun.

Practice these steps first in one step, then in multiple areas of your life. Soon, you’ll find that shooting for the pretty darn leads you to something that’s still perfect — and without the burdens and fatigue of perfectionism.

We welcome your comments on this column at OnYourMind@washpost.com.

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