Post No.: 0871
Try to take pleasure in what you get or have. Perfectionists and ‘maximizers’ – those who are only content with the best outcome – are often more regretful after purchases or other decisions because they dwell on what they might’ve missed out on rather than what they’ve got. They’re less optimistic, less satisfied with life and with even some of the successes they’ve achieved, and thus they’re more likely to become depressed. The desire for more here is less about greed but perfectionism – the beating themselves up over not getting the top result, the absolute best price, drawing the neatest lines or whatever, or a result they thought they could’ve obtained. They’re sometimes more driven and ambitious but if so it’s only because they’re never happy or satisfied, or for long.
Meanwhile ‘satisficers’ – those who are content with good enough – have a reasonable threshold above which they’ll be happy :). This makes their comfort zones wider thus they’re more likely to encounter outcomes that’ll make them feel satisfied and content.
Most things in our daily life don’t really matter when it comes to doing it absolutely perfectly or not. So be more of a ‘satisficer’ in your general day-to-day. They tend to be more relaxed, and also efficient with their time and other resources because good enough is technically good enough. So no one is saying be content with shoddy efforts or low standards. Like making marginal gains in sport, going from 98 to 99% can take as much time and energy as getting from 93 to 98%. But in non-competitive contexts, 90% of our maximum is usually fine. And with the time saved, we can spend it on other important tasks and thus be overall more productive. Or we can spend this time on leisure and resting, which again will ultimately help us to become more productive once we return to work due to the recuperation. Woof!
‘Maximizers’ can be paralysed by choice and feel regretful in hindsight even if they thought they made the best choice at the time. So once a decision has been made or a job has been done – focus on the positive aspects of the choice or accomplishment. Notice that the glass is half-to-mostly full, and don’t jeopardise what you have or are going to get just because of perfectionism.
People mostly regret things that concern their education, career, relationships and parenting i.e. the big things in their life. To feel less regret, we’ve got to remember that we don’t know that things would’ve turned out better ‘if only’ we chose a different path in the past. Despite all the planning, we don’t always have full control of what happens anyway, and even the right rational decisions can result in unfortunate outcomes. It’s like you should rationally accept a bet where you have a 99% chance of winning $1,000 and a 1% chance of losing $1,000 – but 1% chance events do happen. It won’t be your fault even though you may view it that way.
These negative feelings and regret from trying to maximise rather than satisfice with our decisions are stronger the greater the number of alternative options there are/were perceived to be. Hence having plenty of choices isn’t always a blessing. More choice can mean more potential regrets.
So be kinder on yourself. You can still potentially change the present and future so concentrate on that. Accept some uncertainty and compromises. And practise embracing and expressing gratitude for the good things in your life right now.
Being praised for ‘fixed’ traits (like intelligence) rather than ‘variable’ traits (like effort) can promote perfectionism, which can be very unhealthy if one cannot shake this notion off. Like when praising a child, praise your own efforts and comment on specific actions rather than self-label yourself with global traits. For instance say, “I played an excellent game today” instead of, “I’m smart.” Or say, “That was a silly thing I did” instead of, “I’m stupid.”
Being a perfectionist and aiming high is often commendable, and has some benefits because it impels us towards seeking betterment. But instead of focusing on the few mistakes you’ll inevitably make – see the positive aspects of your performance as well. Never hate yourself, especially if you’ve tried your best. Feel good for simply giving your best shot, however that pans out. Set high standards but do so not because your whole sense of self-esteem depends on it. Offering ourselves self-compassion (accepting that we all sometimes fail) promotes more resilience than trying to protect our self-esteem (which might manifest in constantly delusionally telling ourselves ‘I’m the best’) anyway. You want to be the best, but know that you’re good enough already. Or you can work on self-improvement, but your fulfilment must not be determined by the result but by your endeavours.
If you don’t think you’re doing enough, like you’re not productive enough or ambitious enough, yet you struggle to feel motivated to do more – try listing your ‘tasks done’ rather than ‘tasks to do’. Satisfice and understand that it’s okay to not be constantly busy. Break large tasks into smaller chunks and just start with one chunk without the pressure to do the rest. In fact, jump into an activity even if you don’t feel like it, but without any pressure to finish it – you might find that you then get into a groove and feel like just carrying on.
This technique of doing a desired action first before one waits until one somehow feels motivated to do it, but then as the more one does it the more one feels motivated to carry on doing it, is called ‘behavioural activation’. This helps because if we try to wait until we feel motivated to start something, we could be waiting forever! This technique can be effective for treating those with low motivation, like depression or anxiety. Be more presently mindful on the task by telling yourself that the current activity is the only thing you need to think about and do at this very moment. Start anything in any small way then get some encouraging feedback on how you’re doing. If unfinished tasks conversely keep you awake at night for thinking about them – write down a plan for when you’re going to do them the next day.
The scourge of perfectionism can apply when trying to maximise on your social life and friendships when you’re socially anxious that your first interaction with a stranger won’t be perfect and they’ll leave with an awful first impression of you. You might therefore not even approach them at all. But there’s more to gain than to lose in these situations. So if there’s an opportunity to socialise and you’ve nothing else important to do – jump in with both feet without second-guessing yourself. Accept the possibility of failure – you might fail if you try something, but you’re guaranteed to fail if you don’t try it at all. So you more likely won’t regret trying than will.
Playing the fool via improv sessions – although quite daunting to try in the first place – can loosen us up for when we make mistakes in real life, which happen. Practising this activity can therefore reduce anxiety and increase confidence.
Perfectionists are their own worst critic, and other people’s praise can be dismissed because one doesn’t feel like one deserves any kindness or clemency.
High achievements in the past can reinforce high expectations today. Feeling that perfection is within our grasp can also encourage us to push for it; akin to if we feel that all we’re missing from a card collection is one last card, which might lead us to pay over the odds to obtain it. (Manufacturers exploit this by releasing the last pieces of a collection at inflated prices and/or unexpected further expansion sets that we’ve got to buy to keep our collection 100% complete!)
When something doesn’t work, we cannot always immediately tell if it’s because we’re doing the wrong thing or if we’re doing the right thing but just not far enough. So if we’re mentally struggling to find answers to a conundrum that’ll satisfy our perfectionism – is it because we’re thinking too much or are we still not thinking enough? Should we give up or try harder? People get criticised for being stubborn, yet people get criticised for being quitters(!) But there’s got to be a time when we just have to move on from a problem we cannot solve and accept it as it is.
Perfectionists tend to find it hard to delegate because they feel that other people might not have the same desire to do the absolute best job they can, hence the sentiment ‘it’s easier if I just do it myself’, which obviously burdens the perfectionist.
Times of stress can exacerbate one’s self-criticism and desire for perfectionism too, which creates a vicious cycle for thinking that one needs even greater levels of perfection to produce something one will be satisfied with.
People with self-critical perfectionism will even worry and ruminate on weekends and holidays when they should be relaxing. Those with personal standards perfectionism on the other paw show themselves compassion if they know they did the best they could, even if it’s not to the standard they’d hoped for.
Perfectionism and never feeling good enough is unhealthy – instead, talk gently to yourself, as you would talk to a loved one who’s feeling down. And don’t generalise your performance in one area or moment as a reflection of your entire character or self worth.
Remember your good qualities and accomplishments. Remember the times you weren’t perfectionist or couldn’t fulfil your obtrusive ‘OCD’ perfectionist cravings and nothing bad happened.
Coming second but missing out on first place by a narrow margin can feel worse than coming third – we’ll think more about what we missed out on and the tiny things we could’ve possibly done differently to win instead of get what we got. But you really must think about the positives, the gains. And if there’s anything you could’ve done differently – learn these lessons for next time.
Pick your competitions carefully anyway because not all of them matter or are beneficial even if you win them, like how many vodkas you can drink at once! You’ll lose some battles but winning the war is more vital than any single battle, as it were. Moreover, win overall more than any war – there are cases where the countries that lost wars have ended up economically more powerful than the winners of those wars down the line! In your own life, winning overall means finding a sense of contentment and equanimity – and as long as you have your physical necessities met and you look after your health, you have the chance to experience this state with the right frame of mind.
Live well enough, be a good enough parent, and seek a good enough end of life too. Aim to find a point of equanimous acceptance and peace of mind with death. We can compete to try to be the best at something, yet not be harsh on ourselves if we fall short. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, and we win some and lose some. We can aim for the best, but not be self-critical if we don’t reach it. No one is perfect. So understand compromise in relationships. A good relationship only needs to be good enough too – two people navigating each other’s inadequacies with sympathy and kindness.
So in summary, aim to satisfice more than maximise. Good enough is by definition good enough – and this includes in your furry pursuit of achieving a healthy perspective! Idealism often has to give way to pragmatism.
Woof. I know this post isn’t perfect but I feel it’s good enough. If you have any advice of your own related to how to manage urges for perfectionism then please share them with us via the Twitter comment button below.