As the infamous Fairground song lyric goes: ‘It’s got to be-e-eeee-e perfect’. Or does it?
Evidence suggests that our quest for perfection, in everything from our love lives to our work, could be doing more harm than good. Whilst setting high standards of ourselves can help us live life to the fullest, it can also easily tip us over into a paralysing form of perfectionism - where no matter how hard we try, we believe our efforts are never ‘good enough’.
What’s more, the wellbeing industry can be seen to capitalise off of our obsession with perfection. By constantly bombarding us with idealised images of health we believe that in order to be perfectly well we must buy another diet plan, sign up for a shiny new gym membership or purchase an expensive Fitbit. So how do we buck this trend, celebrate our imperfect selves and ensure we can live perfectly good lives? Well, we might know a thing or two…
A virtuous character quirk?
Perfectionism is the ambition to want to get things absolutely right. Distinct from being a little competitive or striving for excellence, perfectionism means setting impossibly high standards and then chastising ourselves when we (inevitably) fail to live up to them.
Whilst being a perfectionist is often seen as a virtuous character quirk (particularly in a work context), the reality can be much more sinister. Perfectionism crops up in a myriad of mental health disorders, from clinical depression to eating disorders and is also linked to increased risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, in some cases. In short, perfectionism can have a significant, detrimental impact on our wellbeing.
Wellbeing and perfectionism
So it makes little sense to see the promotion of perfectionism is rife within the wellbeing industry. Setting unrealistic expectations of our health through strict diets, or unwavering exercise routines, is counter-productive to actually improving our wellbeing; as we feel so much worse when we fail to keep it up (and fail we will, because we’re human).
Social Media’s invitation to compare ourselves to others can add further fuel to the perfectionist fire: As we consume images of beautiful people, yogi masters balancing precariously on their heads, or colleagues triumphantly completing their fifth marathon, without the less glamorous (and much lengthier) stories behind their struggles to reach that point.
To the wellbeing industry, we say, enough! Why can’t we embrace our imperfections and simultaneously want to improve our wellbeing in small, achievable ways?
We believe we can!
We can go for a jog without training for a marathon, we can play tennis with our in-laws without needing to look like Serena Williams whilst doing it, and we can eat in a way which supports our bodies without counting calories or cutting out carbs.
“Perfectionism doesn’t believe in practice shots. It doesn’t believe in improvement. Perfectionism has never heard that anything worth doing is worth doing badly – and that if we allow ourselves to do something badly we might, in time, become quite good at it.” Julia Cameron, Author
Let's not over-egg the pudding: What tiny steps can we take today to improve our wellbeing without buying into the unrealistic expectations of perfectionism? There's nothing wrong with small improvements. They stack up over time.
Want to know why motivation isn't shooting for the moon? Have a nosey here.