How many of us have found ourselves stuck in a situation in which there were choices laid in front of us but we were unable to make a final decision based on the desire to make the “absolutely best decision” and fearful of making a poor choice? Or unable to start a big project or task because we wanted to do it perfectly if we were going to put forth the energy to do it at all? Have you ever planned a dinner party and found yourself overwhelmed and stressed out in trying to manage and handle all of the little details to ensure that everything – the invitations, the dinner menu, the table setting, your home, the music- is “just right” so that your guests enjoy themselves? At one time or another, we have all been faced with situations in which our personal need to be the best, perform the best, present the best, and select the best, has created frustration or anxiety. Yet, for some individuals, it will be the self-awareness of the intensity and the frequency of these perfectionistic tendencies that will determine whether it takes on a healthy, or destructive, role in their lives.
It is important for us to have standards and appropriate beliefs that are helpful and drive us as individuals to live up to our potential. An individual may spend careful time in the morning to get ready and choose the perfect outfit because it is important for them to look put together and professional at work. Someone may spend extra time rehearsing their speech the night before their presentation because it is important to them that they do the best they can, to the best of their abilities. We all have appropriate beliefs about standards of performance that serve us well. However, what we need to consider is the “truth” and accuracy of our beliefs when we establish our own standards, and this is a factor that can be difficult for many people. If our beliefs about certain standards become excessive, inflexible, or even inaccurate, we can run into great difficulty.
Consider Student A and Student B, who both hold the belief that in order to demonstrate the fact that they are very good students who takes their studies seriously and work hard, they must achieve high grades. They have developed the belief that an excellent student earns top grades. Now imagine that along the way in their studies, both students earn a C grade in a challenging chemistry course. Student A assesses the situation with statements such as “I am fine with a C grade because this was an extremely difficult course and I put forth my absolute best efforts and lots of hard work all along the way.” He does not berate himself for earning this grade, as he knows that one or two lower grades among his many other strong grades will not tarnish his belief that he is an excellent student whom takes his studies seriously. He is flexible with his belief. However, Student B is devastated by this grade, as he strongly believes that there is impossible for a strong student to earn such a poor grade, and therefore, it must mean that he is not a good student after all, or that he clearly did not try his best. As a result, he becomes even more strict with the time, effort, and energy he puts into his studies. He stops engaging in several activities that he used to enjoy in order to have more time to study, and eventually grows depressed and overly stressed, as he feels consumed with having to “maintain top grades.”
It is important for us, as individuals, to monitor and assess the beliefs we develop in regards to the standards we set for ourselves. A good starting point is to closely look at our own core values. What are the things you most value in life, and are the beliefs you are developing in line with enhancing those values? Having a clear picture of what is valuable to you will keep you connected to establishing healthy and flexible beliefs, and these beliefs will support your motivation and emotional response when faced with decisions and actions. Another important step is to clearly outline your priorities in your life. Are the standards we are setting for ourselves reasonable and in line with our top priorities in life? You may have “connected family time” as one of your top priorities, due to the fact that “family” is a strong core value for you. However, if you find yourself spending the majority of the day’s hours at work, slaving away at your emails, projects, and paperwork, because you believe that you will not be viewed by your company as a valuable employee, is the belief and standard you have developed in regards to your work in line with your core value and priority of family time? Our self-monitoring of our beliefs and standards will be a constant process in our lives, as our values and priorities may slightly change or shift across time, or be dependent on our current situation. And, the acceptance that we are all simply “ a work in progress” will help us maintain a healthy mentality and attitude toward the decisions we make and actions we take.