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When does trying to do your best become problematic? Whether we are talking about young students in academics or professionals in burgeoning careers, high achieving people often self-identify as perfectionists. There is a blurry line that separates unhealthy perfectionism from striving for excellence. These are the top 5 ways you can spot unhealthy perfectionism in yourself or your loved ones.
1. Black and white thinking.
If you have an all or nothing view on a task, you may be engaging in unhealthy perfectionism. People who strive for excellence but remain healthy in their thoughts, do so by still observing significance in getting close to perfection. They may strive for the top but are able to see a grey area to success. Taking the time to focus on the positive instead of dwelling on the negative can set your brain up for success. If you are dwelling on the negative, you are more likely to get stuck in the emotional center of the brain, or the amygdala, which creates a huge barrier for thinking rationally. If you stay positive your problem-solving skills will be much more effective.
2. Lack of enjoyment.
You may notice that you are no longer enjoying the activity or task. When perfectionism becomes a problem, it is typically accompanied by thoughts that the activity feels like a chore, that it is no longer a passion, or you start to experience apathy towards said topic. This is an indicator that you need to take a step back and reevaluate your perspective before you lose desire or give up. It is not worth giving up a sport or instrument you love just because you are miserable about not getting it right every time.
Many people think of perfectionists as people who are always handing homework in on time or coming into work early, however this is not always the case. If you have immensely high standards that are hard to achieve, you may fear that you will not live up to these expectations. This can lead to avoiding tasks, allowing work to pile up, or handing in assignments late. By lowering standards and accepting mistakes, it will be easier to finally sit down and complete the task in a timely fashion. Perfectionism can be a huge time eater. If you lower your standards slightly, you will find that you have freed yourself up for other activities to accomplish or enjoy.
4. Lack of compassion.
Some people strive for excellence and reach for the top but are also okay when they fail. They usually have this ability because they exercise self-compassion. If you berate yourself for every mistake you can enter a pavlovian cycle where you have conditioned yourself to fear mistakes. This is problematic not only because it reinforces unhealthy perfectionism and/or avoidance, but it can increase the likelihood of mental health disorders and lower the frequency of taking risks. Most people who are successful achieve their goals because they took risks while leaving perfectionists behind because they played it too safe. It is helpful to look at your mistakes as your “teachers” and to practice consoling yourself when you fail.
5. Worth contingent.
When your worth as a human is continent on things being perfect, you are definitely an unhealthy perfectionist. Ultimately, everyone’s worth should be solely connected to simply being a human being, however; if you do put contingencies on your worth they should be reasonable things you can control. It is a much healthier practice to find worth in the value of hardworking than it would be to put value into being perfect. Hardworking is a more subjective measure that one can control without many barriers. It may be hard for an athlete to have the best record in the world for example, but that athlete can work extremely hard and therefore feel worth.
Overall, no one is perfect and striving to be so will leave you feeling frustrated, empty, and like a failure. Finding perspective to help you achieve excellence and strive for the top while also seeing the value in not getting there all the time can be helpful in any task you take on, but also for your overall well being and mental health.