It seems like such a noble goal… to be perfect. After all, who doesn’t want to do their best? The catch is, there’s a big difference between pushing yourself in order to excel – and striving for that unattainable flaw-free existence.
In other words, being the best you can be still doesn’t mean you’ll be 100% perfect 100% of the time. In fact, expecting (and striving for) perfection is really only setting you up for failure. Here are four ways in which the relentless pursuit of perfection actually undermines your chances of success.
While the phrase “go with the flow” is often mistaken for some pseudo-Taoist gimmick, the ability to roll with the punches in life is one of the key factors in determining success and happiness. Perfectionism however, discourages adaptability by fostering rigidity and routines. When we pursue a goal with perfection in mind – whether it’s a flawless body, an immaculate home or a reputation for meeting 100% of expectations, we start to sweat the small stuff. That’s when the trouble starts.
If you’re so hell-bent on being perfect that the slightest slip up sends you reeling, you’ll be thrown completely off-course, rather than just pausing to re-evaluate and strategize in the face of adversity. You’ve got to be able to adapt to life when it happens. It’s not a matter of being “perfect,” but, rather, how we deal with our imperfections – that counts.
When the focus is all on flawless execution, we’re less apt to try new things and experiment – the risk of not being perfect is too great. This aversion to taking chances means that perfectionists rarely explore new options. Ironically, this means they actually limit their chances of discovering what they truly like, or may be good at! Likewise, the fear of failure means that the perfectionist’s creativity and innovation are stifled, making them less likely to achieve something truly great.
Why? Because big achievements usually require the willingness to mess up a few times, first. Perfectionists also have a harder time learning new things, because they’re so focused on their performance during the process. The catch is that life is simply a series of adjustments, and if you are willing to take chances – and fail, on occasion – you know what areas need tweaking.
When we maintain a belief in ourselves and our goals, we’re more likely to achieve them. The power of positive thinking has been proven. The trouble with perfectionism, then, is that it emphasizes the negative. Perfectionists fear making mistakes so much that their fear becomes their focal point. Instead of reaching for a positive outcome, they get caught up in avoiding what they want to steer clear of – making a mistake or giving a bad impression. As a result, they’re more likely to generate negative results. Even when they meet their goals, they are likely to judge the results way too harshly.
Perfectionism, by definition, ties our self-worth to the outcome of whatever task is at hand. Life then, becomes an endless report card with the perfectionist constantly keeping score. We weren’t put on this earth to be graded, and even if we were, no one could get an A-plus every time in every area!
Finally, our fear of making mistakes looms overhead constantly. We find ourselves always on the defensive – motivated by how we’re perceived, and how many little boxes we can tick off our checklists. It becomes difficult to assess ourselves realistically. The result? Perfectionists tend to conceal their mistakes, rather than facing them. This is self-defeating, because confronting our mistakes is the key to real progress.
In short, it’s only when we stop trying to be perfect that we can be truly human, allowing ourselves the full range of experiences that life has to offer. Vulnerability is hard (particularly for the perfectionist), but by avoiding it at all costs in a quest to be flawless, you’re practically guaranteeing you won’t be the best that you can be! In other words, failing is how you grow.
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