Perfectionism is one of those things that people tend to think of as an admirable quality. Seeking perfection suggests that you are striving, keeping your eye on the prize, and working hard to achieve your goals. That’s why so many of us strive for perfection in our endeavors.
But what we all fail to realize is that by its very nature, perfection is unattainable. This is why perfectionism is not really a desirable trait but is ultimately a saboteur; it undermines us and interferes with our success, leading to self-criticism and impeding personal growth.
How Perfectionism Sabotages Our Success
Perfectionism is a trait in which someone’s self-worth is dependent upon achieving an unrealistic standard or goal. By definition, when we are seeking perfection, we are seeking a goal that is unrealistic and unattainable, no matter how hard we try. The goal remains out of reach, leading perfectionists to feel unsatisfied and unhappy with their efforts. Their inability to attain that goal is perceived as a failure, which cultivates an environment of self-criticism and self-judgment, and a belief of unworthiness.
Worse still, perfectionists are generally unable to acknowledge their own successes because they’re too busy reaching for something unattainable. They cannot validate their own accomplishments or accept validation from others because in their mind, they didn’t succeed. They weren’t perfect. They failed.
Repeatedly experiencing what they view as “failure” is defeating, demoralizing, and ultimately impedes personal growth. After all, how many times do you fail before you give up your attempt? Most commonly this leads to burnout, but sometimes a perfectionist can develop such a strong fear of failure that they will opt-out of the attempt altogether rather than taking a chance and risking more failure. Ultimately, perfection can only be chased so far before it is met with self-criticism, anxiety, depression, addiction, or disordered eating.
Perfectionism and Weight Loss
Many people trying for weight loss and healthy lifestyle changes also approach these goals with perfectionist tendencies. They set unrealistic and unattainable goals in regard to nutrition and exercise, then berate themselves when they are unable to achieve them. This leads to negative thoughts and beliefs about their bodies, which studies have shown causes them to be less likely to choose healthy foods or participate in exercise and other physical activities. Ironically, their failure to achieve perfection makes them less likely to achieve any change at all.
Getting Past Your Perfectionism and Embracing Your Humanity
Setting goals for yourself, even lofty, audacious ones, is not a problem. In fact, goal setting is an important part of seeking a change of any kind. The problem is the idea of seeking perfection. As humans, we are imperfect. Therefore, we are setting ourselves up for failure when we seek perfection.
It’s important to get past your perfectionism and embrace your humanity. Embrace the fact that you are flawed, that you are not and will never be perfect because you are human. And in doing so, treat yourself with kindness and self-compassion.
A practice of self-compassion can diminish the negative effects of perfectionism. When things don’t go as expected, viewing yourself with compassion, kindness, and an absence of judgment can round out the disappointment you may feel. Instead of undermining yourself and giving up, you can keep at it, acknowledging that no one is perfect. With time, this can unravel your perfectionist tendencies and help you achieve the changes you are seeking.