Perfectionism vs Healthy Striving: Which One Are You?


Are you a healthy striver or a perfectionist?

At one point or another, we are all driven to perform better on certain tasks or improve specific areas in our lives. Setting reasonable standards that will launch you on a path to success is both admirable and healthy. But when we allow perfectionism to impede on our lives, it can actually hold us back from taking action and hinder progress. On the flip side of perfectionism is healthy striving. Healthy strivers understand as human beings we are innately imperfect and rather than trying to be perfect, healthy strivers embrace their imperfections. When sets backs happen in life, healthy strivers aim to learn and grow from their experiences. Accepting one's imperfections and moving towards becoming a healthy striver takes time and lots of self compassion, so be gentle with yourself!

Brene Brown, author and researcher, explains the difference between perfectionism and healthy striving beautifully: "Perfectionism is not self-improvement. Perfectionism is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance." For a perfectionist, one's identity is tied to accomplishments and self-worth is tied to the praise received from their success. Brene Brown's research revealed most perfectionists were raised with praise for their accomplishments and performances. When self-worth and self-identity is "other focused," it can create dangerous messages like...."I am what I accomplish" or "What will they think of me if _______________?"

Healthy striving is "self focused." Healthy strivers ask questions like, "How can I improve?" Or "What can I learn from this experience?"

Let's look closer at different characteristics between perfectionists and healthy strivers:


·        Fear failing and condemnation

·        Have a difficult time accepting anything less than perfection

·        Get stressed and overwhelmed when goals aren't met

·        Correlate mistakes to not being worthy or good enough

·        Are critical of themselves and others

·        Set unreachable goals

·        Take feedback personally and/or are defensive

Healthy Strivers:

·        Focus on the journey, not the destination

·        Get back on track after setbacks

·        Capitalize on mistakes as a platform for learning and growth

·        Manage fear in a loving and compassionate way

·        Are open to hearing criticism in a positive manner

·        Set realistic goals

7 tips to get you out of perfectionism and into healthy striving:

1). Consider your motivation- Get curious about why you are doing something and where the drive is coming from. Is your goal driven by your own internal reward, pleasure, or desire to learn and grow? Or are you driven by external means, such as to please others or escape rejection or criticism? If you are more motivated by the approval you receive from others, then it’s time to adjust your goals to fulfill your own personal growth.

2). Evaluate the costs of perfectionism- Write down a list of lost opportunities when perfectionism has stood in your way. Perhaps your perfectionism prevented you from pursuing your dreams or has stifled your creativity.  Also, think about the cost that perfectionism has had on your life. Has perfectionism impacted your relationships? Is your health suffering? Is your perfectionism causing a great deal of distress on your life? Chances are you will find perfectionism is costing you more than you thought.

Now, write down what you would gain if you adopted a healthy striver approach. Would you be less stressed? Would your relationships improve? Would you have more time because, “done is better than perfect?!?!”  

3). Adjust your goals- Now, I don't mean change your goals altogether or even lower your standards, but rather get real about your ability to reach your goals. Ask yourself, "Is this even possible given the time frame I'm giving myself?" or "How much stress will this cause me if I don't meet my goals?" If you have one big goal, break it up into smaller mini goals and celebrate your success along the way.

4). Set limits for projects- Give yourself a time frame to complete tasks. When the time is up, celebrate your efforts and move on. This simple strategy can help reduce procrastination which is typically a result of perfectionism. Again, “done is better than perfect.”

5). Be good enough- Remind yourself regularly you are enough just as you are. When I first heard the term "good enough" it was from British pediatrician and psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott in his famous book, Playing and Reality. He coined the term "the good enough mother." It's a term that has imprinted on my life. As a mother myself, Winnicott's words serve as a north star in my parenting. I am in tune to my child's needs. I pay close attention to his cues. I am essentially baby led. And I also know wholeheartedly that I won't be able to meet his needs all the time. I may even fall short in the parenting department at times. And what still rings true, I am a good enough mother. Can you apply this concept to areas in your life? Can you let go of the need to be perfect in exchange for good enough? This simple concept of, "good enough," has the ability to create liberation from perfect standards that ultimately stand in your way.

6) Connect with others- Our vulnerabilities and humanity is what ultimately connects us to others, so surround yourself with people who celebrate their imperfections and are thriving. Those people might serve as the helping hand you need to let go of your perfectionism.

7) Practice self- compassion- Are you as hard on others as you are on yourself? Would you talk or treat your loved ones the same way you treat yourself? Chances are, no you wouldn't because it would be difficult to maintain relationships with others if you treated them the way you treat yourself. Be kind to yourself. You are doing the best you can. When your first reaction is to judge yourself, STOP! Instead, be loving towards yourself. When you hear that internal critical voice, STOP! Instead, be kind and give yourself a break!







Christina Cruz