RACHEL FOX

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Learning NOT To Be Perfect

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I recently read an article in Balance magazine that focused on the exploration of the link between perfectionist tendencies and mental health issues. For as long as I can remember, I have always striven for ‘perfection’ whatever that might be, this included things from organisation to artwork and from presentation all the way to food.

Although at the time failures really get us down and can maybe even cloud our vision, I really believe that teaching ourselves to accept flaws and mistakes could have a positive impact on our overall outlook.

Growing up in the digital age has created a generation facing issues like none before it. Student suicide numbers have been in the news a lot over the last few months. According to the article, a new study has shown that those aged between 18 and 25 really are more sensitive than previous generations. Research in Psychological Bulletin suggests that ‘perfectionistic tendencies’ have increased over the past 30 years and, when a goal isn’t reached, it’s followed by a brutal self-assessment of failure, which is something I am very familiar with. This, for some, can also lead to depression and associated aspects of mental health issues, such as anxiety, OCD and eating disorders.

Great Expectations

“It’s evident that the number of people with perfectionistic tendencies is on the rise. We’ve also seen a rise in youth mental health issues, which feed into the expectations that run parallel to perfectionism.” says Dr Thomas Curran, co-author of the study and lecturer at the University of Bath.

The article explained that the study, ‘measured whether subjects had high personal expectations (self-oriented perfectionism), social expectations (socially-prescribed perfectionism), or expectations of others (other-oriented perfectionism).’ The results did not surprise me even in the slightest: all three dimensions increased, but the perception that the social environment is more demanding went up twice as much as the other two categories. I really feel that my generation’s perceptions of social expectations are much higher now compared with previous generations.

As a result of all of the advancements in today’s society, we are growing up in a more challenging set of economic and social circumstances that is in my opinion enhanced by the emergence of social media. I have previously fallen into the trap of comparing my own self-image with others, as well as their perceived ‘perfect’ lifestyles. It is predicted that by 2030, mental health problems will be both the leading type of disease and cause of death worldwide.

Curb Your Enthusiasm

Speaking from experience, when perfectionists constantly strive and look for success, falling short leaves us feeling even worse, with rising thoughts of lack of self-worth. It is often becomes this unattainable place we want to get to. In the moment, I always forget that it’s about the process and learning along the way. However, when perfectionists, like myself do succeed, I often put the positive outcome down to luck and move onto finding the next thing to strive for perfection.

I really think that we all need reminding that yes we may work hard or set high goals, but we need to be fair to ourselves and also to be aware of the vicious cycle: the idea that success is what makes you happy is almost a trap.

Below I have summarised the advice given in the article; these are all things we should always remember!

Always be mindful of ‘all or nothing’

One mistake doesn’t equal a failure: focus on the good stuff.

Perfect/imperfect

Aiming for perfection is an imperfect mindset. You’re setting yourself up for failure; aim high, but be realistic.

Enjoy the process, not the destination

The process brings meaning and therefore, greater happiness.

Do it for yourself

Recognise your strengths and successes.

Don’t fear failure

Remind yourself that mistakes are an opportunity to learn faster, and often lead you in a better direction as a result.

Perfect is the enemy of great

How many projects have you thrown away because they weren’t perfect, or because you were worried how others would judge them? Getting something out is better than abandoning your hard work.

Good enough? Good enough!

No matter how many mistakes you make, or how slow you progress, embrace ‘good enough’ and sharing your work.

You raise me up

Surround yourself with people who lift you up, not put you down.

Socially aware

Most people feel worse after being on social media if they use it aimlessly, compared to if they’re on it for a set period or using it as a tool to catch up with friends and family.

Let’s finish with a reality check. Are you a self-doubter like myself, jumping to negative conclusions, making situations worse than they need to be, thinking of the worst in all situations? Keep reminding yourself that if it won’t matter in five years’ time, don’t stress and worry about it too much!

Rachel