Do We Need an Antidote to Perfectionism?

perfectionism312According to a spate of recent reports, perfectionism is on the rise, especially among young people. This is a very bad thing – perfectionism is linked to anxiety, depression and many other problems – but the silver lining is that we’re no longer talking as if it were something to be proud of. For those coming of age in a winner-takes-all economy, where flawless success seems like the only viable alternative to penury, perfectionism is an entirely forgivable affliction. But it is an affliction. Those who still defend being a perfectionist seem to mean something like “being committed to constant improvement”. But that’s different. Perfectionism is the belief that anything short of the very best is a shameful failure. It’s a recipe for being a miserable high achiever, or worse: some studies suggest it’s actually an obstacle to high achievement.

One common response to perfectionism, drawing on stoicism and cognitive behavioral therapy, is to encourage the sufferer to see that her fears are exaggerated – that things won’t really be so bad if she flunks the exam, gets criticized for her work performance or lets the house get messy. (This is the logic in a wise suggestion from the psychologist Jessica Pryor: pick some “low stakes” area of life, like tidiness at home, and experiment with letting go of perfectionism there. Later, you can extend the approach to other parts of life.) Perfectionism means a life spent unhappily leaning into the future, because no matter how well you perform on any given challenge, there’s always the next one to stress about. So it makes sense to help people see that, when that next challenge arrives, an imperfect performance wouldn’t spell catastrophe.

Read the full article in The Guardian online.

Source: The Guardian | Do We Need an Antidote to Perfectionism?, | © 2018 Guardian News and Media Limited

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