Why Striving for Excellence, Not Perfection, Is Better for Your Health

Why Striving for Excellence, Not Perfection, Is Better for Your Health

Perfectionists—those who consider anything short of perfection unacceptable, set unrealistically demanding goals, and feel worthless when they don’t achieve those goals—are headed for health problems and are at a higher risk for suicide, says an alarming new study out of Canada’s U. of York.

Perfectionists put themselves under constant stress, which can lead to severe psychological pain and hopelessness—two factors that play a significant role in suicide, says Gordon Flett, Ph.D., who led the study.

How to get out of this mind-and health-crushing bind? “The best alternative is to strive for excellence, not perfection,” says Flett. “Part of this is simply becoming aware that perfectionism doesn’t pay off in terms of performance outcomes, and can actually backfire,” he says, citing research that analyzed suicides in Alaska between 2003 and 2006, and found that 56% of those who’d died were described as “perfectionists” by their family members.

“People need to learn how to accept their mistakes and failures and not use them to judge themselves in a very self-critical, uncompassionate way,” Flett advises. This especially applies to guys: “Men are likely to keep quiet and not seek help when they need it,” he says. “But they shouldn’t stigmatize themselves as ‘weak.’” Instead, in extreme cases, “they should get some form of therapy or counseling.”

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