Why life’s mantra should be progress, not perfectionism

Why life’s mantra should be progress, not perfectionism
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Setting unrealistic expectations for ourselves can lead to crippling anxiety, procrastination and feelings of exhaustion. The Covid-19 pandemic has put a spotlight on mental health, and perfectionism is yet another issue causing rising concern among health experts.

Perfectionism is often defined as "the need to be or appear to be perfect, or even to believe that it's possible to achieve perfection". While it is usually viewed as a positive characteristic rather than a flaw, there are times when the pressure to avoid making mistakes becomes overwhelming and is detrimental to our health.

Perfectionism can stop people from trying new things or completing tasks, especially when it comes to education, work, relationships or our appearance. It may mean we miss out on new opportunities because we are afraid of failing, and our own unrealistic expectations can lead to procrastination and anxiety.

Perfectionism often triggers anxiety and leaves you feeling exhausted and unable to make decisions, with physical symptoms including an upset stomach, headaches, racing heart and tension in the neck and temples.

Angela Bryant, the founder of independent business review site angelrated.com, has shared some important signs to look out for if you suspect you or someone else may be battling perfectionism:

  • Being highly critical of your own work and that of others, taking pride in spotting (and correcting!) tiny mistakes and imperfections.

  • Setting unrealistic standards that you expect others to meet.

  • Being driven by a fear of failure/of trying to prove that you are perfect.

  • Beating yourself up at the end of each day if you haven't achieved everything that you wanted to.

  • Procrastinating because you are so worried about starting and failing.


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As with many mental health issues, getting to the root of its cause is an important part of developing coping strategies. Angela believes looking back at childhood experiences is a good place to start.

It's also helpful to pinpoint triggers to understand what is fuelling your perfectionism - are you afraid to fail at work? Or are you dreading upcoming exams? Have you had a bad relationship in the past?

Getting to grips with exactly what is worrying you is crucial.

Here are Angela's top tips for dealing with perfectionism:

  • Recognise what is driving your perfectionism and try to understand where it came from (your childhood, the media, etc).

  • Keep a list of examples of when you finished something that wasn't 'perfect' and nothing bad happened/it was still a success.

  • Break goals down into bite-size chunks so you don't fall into the all-or-nothing mindset of either wanting to complete everything or not do it at all.

  • Keep repeating the mantra progress, not perfection!

(Cover Media/Reuters)

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