It’s important to do the best you can when caring for a loved one. But aiming for perfection can bring on problems. For yourself, in terms of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. And for your relative and other family members, who may feel burdened by living under the stress of constant measurement and judgment.
A desire to excel is completely honorable. But research shows that perfectionists actually get less done than other people. That’s because of black-and-white thinking. They see only the options of “complete success” or “complete failure.” That intense fear of failure results in an overfocus on details. What about gray? Maybe Mom did only some—not all—of her prescribed exercises today. That’s not failure; that’s a “good enough” day. If Dad snuck a shake of salt on his low-sodium diet, that’s not perfect, but it’s not failure, either.
Traits of a perfectionist. Do you recognize yourself in any of these?
- Unattainable goals. A perfectionist sets the bar unreasonably high. By contrast, greater success is achieved by starting with smaller goals and building from there.
- Outcome-oriented. A perfectionist focuses solely on the results, rarely the process. They live in fear of a flawed outcome. The alternative: Give it your best. Aim high, but also aim to enjoy the process.
- Judgment. Perfectionists look for flaws in their own achievements and those of others. And judge themselves harshly. Another approach is to honor what is accomplished, even if some goals fall short of ideal.
- Disappointment. A perfectionist is often disappointed. This frequently leads to depression. There is a more resilient option: Identify what worked and what didn’t and note what to do differently next time.
- Procrastination. Fear of failure can loom so large that perfectionists become paralyzed about moving forward. A success-oriented person understands that wins and losses are just a part of life. And you can’t win without daring to try.
If any of these traits feel familiar, don’t assume your standards are all wrong. (There’s that black-and-white thinking!) Consider broadening your focus to be success-oriented while appreciating the journey and the shades of gray between absolute perfection and absolute failure.