The "Vicious" Cycle of Perfectionism
What is perfectionism? A lot of people think that to be a perfectionist they must be perfect at something, but that isn't necessarily true.
...have very high standards for themselves and others.
...feel frustrated when they don't meet their goals.
...blame themselves when things go wrong -- even when they are not directly involved.
...intentionally set goals they know are almost impossible to reach.
...are hardly ever really satisfied with their performance.
...procrastinate. Big time.
Procrastination is a symptom of perfectionism. Perfectionists fear they won't be able to complete the task perfectly, so they try to put it off as long as possible.
You may not think of yourself as a perfectionist, however the vast majority of college students are perfectionistic.
A Better Way of Living
The cycle of "Healthy Striving" is really a philosophical shift in goal-setting. Test your limitations by trying very hard and doing your very best, and then find what your limits are. Once you know what your best is, you accept your limitations AND then push yourself further in realistic increments. You are always working towards improvement.
Healthy Striving is different from the old perfectionistic approach because it is reality-based.
Here's an experiment to explore the costs that come with being perfectionistic. Try to predict how much time it will take for you to complete this simple jigsaw puzzle. Click the photo to launch the puzzle.
The timer cut the time you entered in half so that you wouldn't have enough time.
Did you notice the time was cut in half?
Did you continue anyway?
Did you feel frustrated at the end?
Think about your reactions for a moment. Chances are that you did feel frustrated that you didn't complete the puzzle in time. Even though you now know the experiment was rigged against you, there is probably still a part of you that wishes you could have succeeded even with only half the time.
What do you think that means?
Now, try the experiment again. This time we won't cut your time in half. Try to give yourself enough time to complete the puzzle and then notice how you feel at the end.
Now that you've succeeded, how did it feel to complete the puzzle? People who are perfectionistic usually feel disappointed even after completing the puzzle. Often they tell us that it feels like "settling" for second-best. They frequently tell us there is a part of them that wishes they could still go back and complete the puzzle in the orginal, unrealistic, halved time. Is that true for you?
The Healthy Striving approach would be to go back and give yourself 15 fewer seconds than your best completion time and see if you could complete the puzzle, and to keep trying until you just can't cut your time anymore.
Because you may be perfectionistic, you will still wonder if you could have done better. That's okay. Again, Healthy Striving is always about constant improvement. The difference is that now you have been working realistically.
FAQs - Frequently Asked Questions
Some of this applies to me, but I still don't think I'm a perfectionist. Why should I try "Healthy Striving?"
Maybe you're not a perfectionist at all. Maybe your way of setting goals works for you. If that is the case then it wouldn't make sense for you to change anything. Maybe "Healthy Striving" can help you fine-tune your approach to work and goal-setting. Just experiment and see what works for you.
I think I understand what you are suggesting, but I can't get over the feeling that I am just lowering my standards.
Lowering your standards implies that you "should" be able to keep your standards and succeed. If that is true, how do you explain your lack of success? If it really is that you're not trying hard enough, then by all means try harder. At some point, however, we all have to accept our limitations. Not everyone is going to have an aptitude for math, or be a good writer, or be able to run like the wind. Every one of us has unique talents and abilities. Every single one of us. Find your talents and hone your skills, and don't waste time trying to do something over and over again when you've already learned what your limits are.
Why can't I just keep setting high standards for myself?
The cost of setting unrealistic goals is that you always feel frustrated and disappointed when you fail. On the occasions when you do succeed, like when you had enough time to do the jigsaw puzzle above, you still didn't feel good about it because you think you "should" have done better. Imagine the weight of all of that disappointment if you continue to set goals this way for the rest of your life!
Remember to Think Small
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