Why You Need to Stop Chasing Perfection and Just Be Happy
“Good is the enemy of great” is a phrase made famous by Jim Collins that refers to settling for less after achieving some success instead of striving for more. Many misinterpret this to mean perfection is necessary, but this is not the case. This idea of being perfect is what French philosopher Voltaire was addressing when he made the statement, “perfect is the enemy of good,” which means that pursuing perfection can prevent one from doing the good they are capable of now. That is is why it is so vital to stop chasing perfection and be happy being you.
Today, we live in a culture where perfection is glamorized, and anything less is looked down upon. This has caused many people to go to extreme lengths seeking the perfect body, spouse, career, and so on, making them constantly dissatisfied with themselves. Understandably, the pursuit of perfection can be a driving force for many people, pushing them to strive for the best in all aspects of their lives. However, this phenomenon, known as “perfectionism,” can also be a significant roadblock to achieving goals and leading a fulfilling life. It can lead to disappointment, frustration, and, at worst, the belief that nothing is ever good enough.
What perfectionism is and what it isn’t
To grasp the cause of perfectionism and how to handle it, it’s essential to distinguish between being a high-achiever and being a perfectionist. Both desire success, but high-achievers are driven by a desire to do their best, while perfectionists are driven by fear and held back by the fear of failure. High-achievers aim for excellence and maximize their potential with present control, while perfectionists focus on flawlessness and avoid criticism, resulting in inaction.
Perfection is often an illusion, focusing on the destination while ignoring the progress and seemingly little successes made in the journey. It can have a negative impact on mental and physical health, bringing about feelings of inadequacy, anxiety, and depression. It can also lead to procrastination, as people may avoid starting a task or project altogether because they are afraid they will not be able to do it perfectly. Furthermore, perfectionism can significantly impact your relationships because when you set unrealistic standards for those around you, they can be annoyed, and it can even drive them away.
Now, the goal is not to discredit the pursuit of perfection but instead adopt the perspective of Eliud Kipchoge (pronounced EL-ee-OOD kip-CHOH-gə), the world record holder in marathons, who says to “have an unwavering dedication to being good enough.” Being realistic with yourself and consistently doing your best is critical. Remember, greatness is built on a foundation of good.
Consider the words of Vince Lombardi, one of the greatest American football coaches of all time, who said, “Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence.” Embrace this mindset and strive for excellence, as perfection is unattainable. Don’t waste time chasing something that can’t be reached. Instead, focus on achieving excellence.
What causes perfectionism?
Is perfection really the goal we should strive for? Psychologists say no. While some drive for excellence can be helpful, excessive perfectionism has been linked to mental health issues like depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and even an increased risk of death. So, let’s reconsider what we mean by “perfect.”
The perfectionism trait is not something we are born with. It is usually caused by certain external and environmental factors that we might not even be aware of, including:
- Trauma or abuse
- High expectations from parents, teachers, or other role models
- Growing up with overly critical or perfectionistic parents
- A desire to please others and seek external validation
- A need for control
- Fear of failure
- A desire to avoid criticism or shame
- Low self-esteem or a negative self-image
- The pressure of cultural or societal expectations
It can also be a combination of these factors and may vary from person to person.
Pitfalls of striving for perfection
According to Dr. Brené Brown in The Power of Vulnerability, “Perfectionism leads to shame.” She explains that perfectionism is not a healthy drive for excellence but rather a belief that “by being perfect in work, life, appearance, and actions, one can avoid shame, blame, judgment, and criticism.”
Being a perfectionist is a double-edged sword, as it’s hard to be perfect or even reach a personal best. Moreover, perfectionism often leads to decreased achievements and increased stress compared to high-achievers.
Unhealthy perfectionism is defined by excessive control-seeking behavior. Perfectionists can become overly critical and obsessed with making everything perfect, which can result in attempts to control situations or people, damaging personal relationships.
Perfectionism also leads to higher stress levels, which can trigger anxiety and cause adverse outcomes such as low self-esteem, eating disorders, sleep issues, and psychological distress.
Why perfectionism is driven by ego
Perfectionism stems from a false sense of pride and a way to save face. It’s a manifestation of egotism, which disappears when we shift our focus from ourselves to serving others.
When our minds are preoccupied with ourselves, we miss the chances to improve our lives and those around us. Fixating on perceived shortcomings is self-centered, and dissatisfaction will persist until you break away from this perfectionist mindset.
Avoiding the ‘effortless perfection’ trap.
Striving for perfection in all aspects of life has become a pervasive cultural norm driven by media, social networks, and popular culture, often presenting an image of effortless perfection. This can create unrealistic expectations and standards for individuals, leading to feelings of inadequacy, stress, and burnout. They struggle to meet these expectations without acknowledging the hard work and effort required for genuine success.
How do you recognize if you are a perfectionist?
In case you’re wondering if you classify as a perfectionist or not, maybe you’ve noticed some of the related traits earlier mentioned in yourself, but you’re not sure if that makes you one, you might want to ask yourself the following questions:
- Am I afraid of making mistakes to the point of refusing to take action?
- Do I constantly criticize myself?
- Do I find it difficult to accept compliments?
- Do I always procrastinate?
- Am I excessively focused on details?
- Do I find it difficult to acknowledge my mistakes?
- Do I hold back from delegating tasks because I feel I can do them better?
If your answer to these questions is yes, then you should know that you most likely fall into the category of a perfectionist. If you want to take a more extensive test, you can find one he
5 simple steps to stop chasing perfection
Perfectionism is not something that can be changed overnight, but with patience, understanding, and the right tools, it is possible to overcome perfectionism and lead a happier and more fulfilling life. The following are five ways to achieve this freedom from the trap of perfectionism:
Develop the right mindset and beliefs
Perfectionism starts in your mind. Your beliefs about the ideal life shape how you live. If you only focus on the end result of your goals and aim to control every aspect of the journey, frustration and disappointment may arise. This is because perfection is not attainable and striving for it consistently is unrealistic.
Our mindset and beliefs play a major role in shaping perfectionism. Suppose an individual has a perfectionistic mindset and believes that everything must be perfect to succeed. In that case, this belief can drive them to strive for perfection in all areas of life, leading to anxiety, stress, and frustration when things don’t go as planned. On the other hand, having a growth mindset and a belief in the power of effort and improvement can foster a healthier approach to pursuing excellence rather than perfection.
So, you must let go of your need for control, find meaning in whatever you do, and always keep the big picture in mind. You don’t have to get everything right at all times. Give yourself the space to figure out things along the way, and you will be able to take necessary actions no matter how imperfect they may seem.
Set realistic goals
It is okay to dream big, but some people make the mistake of setting unrealistic goals and setting the bar too high. This leads them to want perfection, which can not be reached constantly. It ultimately results in frustration and can make them fail to take action.
So, ensure the goals you set are realistic and achievable. Make sure they are ones that will stretch but not break you.
Set deadlines for your tasks and prioritize the most important things so that you can focus and avoid getting bogged down by unnecessary details. And as you take steps towards achieving your dreams, let your focus be on the progress you’re making in reaching them. Do the best possible you can do each time, and everything will add up to help you become your best.
Accept yourself and have self-compassion
You might seek perfection to your detriment when you’re too hard on yourself. You need to learn to love and accept yourself as you are while you’re aiming to become a better person. Without this, you will find that you’re constantly beating yourself up and not allowing yourself to grow as you should.
“Have the courage to be imperfect.” — Alfred Adler
Treat yourself with the same kindness, caring, and concern that you would show to a good friend, and allow yourself to make mistakes.
Adam Osbourne, who introduced the first portable personal computer, said, “The most valuable thing you can make is a mistake. You can’t learn anything from being perfect.” Understand that mistakes and failures are not reflections of your worth as a person but rather opportunities to learn, grow and try again. Make the most of these opportunities, and don’t allow the hold of perfectionism to stop you from learning and growing.
Seek professional help and support.
Due to the challenges associated with perfectionism, such as anxiety, depression, and so on, it’s essential to surround yourself with supportive people who will encourage and inspire you rather than feed into your perfectionism. This can be friends, family members, or a therapist who can help you work through your perfectionism and develop healthier coping mechanisms.
Also, some instances of perfectionism might tend more toward mental disorders such as OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), making it extra difficult for the affected individuals to handle it all by themselves. In such cases, the help of a professional therapist would be required to make use of techniques such as CBT(cognitive-behavior therapy) to help overcome perfectionism.
Gratitude is a vital mindset that brings numerous positive outcomes in all aspects of life. It’s crucial to understand that only some have the opportunity or capability to do what you can, and some may not have even half the blessings you possess. This realization should make you thankful for what you have.
Focusing on gratitude allows you to embrace the present and appreciate what you have instead of constantly striving for an unattainable “perfect” future. Embracing gratitude helps you be content and satisfied with your current situation.
Be happy doing the good you’re capable of doing.
In my previous episode 168 on “Overcoming the Culture of Exceptionalism,” I covered the false idea of mediocrity. I pointed out that “because we all have finite time and resources, few of us ever become genuinely excellent at more than one pursuit, if at anything at all,” and that this is okay.
We all have our inherent strengths and weaknesses, and that’s just the nature of life. Comparing ourselves to others and measuring our abilities by society’s standards will only lead to frustration and constant dissatisfaction with our lives.
You must pay attention to yourself, understand your capabilities, and put in the best effort at each given time.
As I’ve once said, “Mediocrity, as a result of all our best efforts, is okay. But intentionally striving to pursue being mediocre as an end goal is a poor state of being.”
Don’t aim for less than you can be and do. Strive for the best you can attain, and as Norman Vincent Peale “Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
Finally, remember that perfection is an unattainable goal that will only take you farther away from the intentional life that you long for.
Where to Go From Here
I hope you found this short guide on perfectionism useful. If you’re looking for more ideas on getting motivated and staying that way, check out the Passion Struck podcast.
This article is based on an episode of Passion Struck with John R. Miles, one of the 50 most inspirational podcasts of 2022.
Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Podcast Addict, Pocket Casts, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, or your favorite podcast platform.
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