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Perfectionism And Mental Health

According to, the word perfect is defined as ''excellent or complete beyond practical or theoretical improvement'', with perfectionism being ''a personal standard, attitude, or philosophy that demands perfection and rejects anything less.'' It is exceptionally common for many people to strive for perfectionism, including athletes, students, and just being a person living your day to day life. While there are many positives, anxiety and even negative self-esteem are two of the primary negatives of a person's search for perfectionism.

Everyday I see clients in my office who strive to live their lives perfectly or to ''be the best''. That is a very common phrase from those who see to be perfect. Ironically they really struggle to define what they mean by ''the best''. However, anxiety it is often the result of a person not achieving these self-imposed expectations. Worry, pressure, over studying, over training, and eventually burn out are the more common negatives I see. This belief system can trigger social and health challenges when sleep, eating, or time with friends is interrupted in the search of being perfect.

Do not get me wrong, there are many positives to having this mindset. People seeking perfectionism tend to have a strong work ethic, do well in school or sports, can be good role models for others, and generally (not always) be a good person in terms of character. Many people with the perfectionist will be highly successful in life regardless of what direction they choose. However, in order to make this happen they must learn to manage the anxiety that comes from hard work, avoid burn out, and channel their desire in a more healthy manner.

So how do you channel the desire? First, stop using thing the words perfectionism or ''the best''. You ever notice that those in different sports who others think are the GOAT never actually describe themselves that way? Instead they use the drive to work hard and aren't satisfied with mediocrity. Being the best isn't the outcome goal, but constantly improving within their craft or identity is. They are constantly looking to learn. As we have discussed before, success and failure are equal opportunities to learn. There is not end point to growth. They also have reasonable expectations in themselves, use the supports around them to learn from, and take care of themselves physically and mentally. The goal is not to ''be the best'', but to keep getting better, or as a client I am working with has recently defined herself, just be a high performer. That simple twist in language has shifted her being mad and anxious when not perfect to being more content and okay with who she is as a person despite there needing continued work to do in this area for herself.

As we said at the start, many people strive to be perfect. It is not a bad thing, just something to be understood. Use it as motivation, but keep your mindset in balance as well. By entering your day, school, or competition, with balance and a learning mindset, success will likely follow. No need to be perfect, when you just need to be successful or the high performing person you are capable of becoming.


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