Perfectionists make themselves unhappy.


By David Joel Miller.

Trying to be perfect causes pain.

Unhappiness

Unhappiness
Photo courtesy of Flickr (Family O’Abé)

Some people believe that the way to achieve happiness is to be perfect at everything. Unfortunately trying to be perfect leaves you chasing an unattainable goal. The closer you get to your goal the larger the gap between what you have accomplished and perfection will appear. Often perfection seekers become so focused on their errors that they become blind to their accomplishments. In students, we often find the B student is far happier than straight A student. These perfectionist habits can follow people the rest of their lives and create a lot of unhappiness.

Here are some of the reasons why people who aim for good enough may be happier and enjoy life more.

They focus on learning the big idea stuff, not every detail.

Students who attempt to get straight A’s often try to memorize large masses of data. The average student is more likely to try to grasp the concepts and may be better applying those ideas to other novel situations.

Outside of school perfectionists can’t let go of that focus on detail. Some parents are so busy trying to create the perfect birthday party for their child, the right napkins, the right gifts, the right guests; they forget to include some fun things for the child.

They enjoy what they have.

The B average student who occasionally gets in A is likely to be delighted. The student with an all A’s record gets one B, is likely to consider themselves a failure. Their effort to be perfect interferes with their ability to be happy with what they have.

Many adults are unable to enjoy their successes. The matter how much you accomplish someone else may have done more. Perfection is a yardstick that keeps stretching. When you focus on an imperfection, it grows to you can’t see anything else.

They can take the time to enjoy the process.

All A students frequently sacrifice their friends, family, and social relationships because they feel they must study constantly. Students with lower GPA’s often can enjoy a better school life balance.

When you focus only on getting everything right, the stress can become unbearable. The matter what you do you’re likely to be miserable. People who enjoy the process can cut themselves some slack.

They don’t need to always be right. Fewer conflicts.

Students who are driven to get every answer right find themselves arguing when they get a question wrong. Students who are less grade motivated more easily entertain other possibilities. They are better at developing learning relationships rather than conflicted, I am right, you are wrong, relationships.

In the workplace, perfectionists find it difficult to admit their errors, to themselves and to others. There are likely to develop resentments and blame others when things don’t go right.

They see possibilities, not rules.

Students who attempt to get all A’s are likely to seek for absolute rules. Other students are more capable kicking around alternative possibilities. They may better grasp how to apply principles to varying situations.

Perfectionists tend to have lots of rules for themselves and others. They live in the land of tyranny, of the must’s and the should’s. This inflexibility creates conflict. People who attempt to live life on the “good enough” basis are more open to change and new experience.

They can think for themselves.

Creative students can see how to take what they’ve learned and applied it to other areas and other situations. Students are motivated to be perfect are likely to look for the page number on which the correct answer appears.

At the heart of creativity is an openness for novelty and new things. When you continue to do things the way they “should be done” nothing can ever change.

They can apply information from other disciplines.

B students may know a little about many things. They often are motivated by trying to see how the past knowledge applies to the current issue. It may also look for ways to take what they are currently learning and apply that new knowledge to the things they already do.

Allow yourself to be open to new possibilities. You may well discover that trying something new will bring you a lot of happiness.

They get to know themselves.

Learners who seek internal validation learn because it makes them happy to do so. They’re able to test new knowledge against what they already know and see how this connects with their values and goals. Students who are highly motivated to find the “correct answer” may lose who they are in their effort to think like the master.

When you stop trying to come up with the right answer for others you may find the right answer for you.

They see things as they are.

Students who are motivated by high grades often believe that their self-worth is measured by their GPA. Students who are more internally motivated, avoid the delusion of thinking that a particular score on a test in any way measures their worth as a person.

As an adult, being open to possibilities, allows you to enjoy the process of life by avoiding focusing on who or what is not perfect.

They know when to keep at things and when to cut their losses.

B students tend to put the effort to get big picture ideas. They know that beyond a certain putting in more time studying results in ever decreasing returns. Spending large numbers of hours trying to memorize every fact in a book made increase their final grade by a point or two, but memorized facts are likely to be soon forgotten.

Throughout life knowing when to stick to something until it’s finished and when to give up on something that will never be possible is an important skill. Far too many people stay stuck in an unhappy situation because the only option they know is to keep working harder trying to get everything perfect.

One key to happiness is to strive for your very best while accepting that your best is good enough.

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For more about David Joel Miller and my work in the areas of mental health, substance abuse, and Co-occurring disorders see the about the author page. For information about my other writing work beyond this blog check out my Google+ page or the Facebook author’s page, up under David Joel Miller. Posts to the “books, trainings, and classes” category will tell you about those activities. If you are in the Fresno California area, information about my private practice is at counselorfresno.com. A list of books I have read and can recommend is over at Recommended Books

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