Why Perfectionism Is Counterproductive

Alain Saint-Dic
Alain Saint-Dic, Health and Fitness Editor at 20something, brings over nine years of experience in the health and fitness industry. Though he studied pre-law, his love for the human body, it's adaptive ability and unlocking the largely untapped potential of human beings led him to pursue a passionate career in health, fitness, and athletics.

“Perfection is not attainable but if we chase perfection, we can catch excellence” -Vince Lombardi

We live in a competitive world where striving to be better than everyone else usually makes all the difference in your levels of successes. In an ideal world, everyone could set the goal to be number one and attain it. However, there’s only one gold medal, one spot at valedictorian, one presidential seat. Where there’s a winner, there’s always a… not winner.

Yet, this isn’t even the worst of defeats. The worst is the aspiration of personal perfection and the inevitable perception of falling short, because at the end of the day, what is perfection really? Sure, things can go according to plan or there may be a positive desired outcome with bumps in the road. Perfection rarely occurs even for the highest of aspirers. Ask almost anyone who has accomplished something that they sought out to do and they will tell you, “Yeah, I did it, but there’s more.” It turns out that this thought pattern in itself could be detrimental to performance.



1. Perfectionist Striving

Perfectionism as a whole isn’t a bad thing. The positive aspect of perfectionism is called perfectionist striving: setting high personal standards and working toward those goals in a pro-active manner. These efforts may help maintain a sense of accomplishment and delay the debilitating effects of burnout. Lofty aspirations? Check! Positive progressive realization? Check! Perfectionist striving? Check!

You are now on your way to attaining everything you’ve ever dreamed of, without the crash and burn. But what causes the potential burnout?

2. Perfectionist Concerns

This is the negative side of perfectionism. It can be more detrimental when people constantly worry about making mistakes, letting others down, or not measuring up to their own impossibly high standards.

The truth is, there are some really high standards out there and some of us unrealistically choose to set those standards for ourselves. I could wake up tomorrow with all the fire and drive in the world to become Beyoncé; even if I overcame the small obstacles, like being a man and not being able to sing, the journey to Bey-dom is still near unattainable for most.

However, if I set this goal as my measure for perfect success, I would live a life of misery.



Understanding that the journey to this goal is just as rewarding as the goal itself, even if it goes unaccomplished, would lead to a more enjoyable life.


20something Tip

Staying in the perfection striving zone does not mean setting lower goals. It means setting smaller goals that lead up to a much larger one. If you can do each small goal perfectly, then chances are you will achieve your perfect desired outcome with small moments of triumph along the way.

It’s not bad to be a perfectionist, it’s only bad to put unreasonable and unrealistic pressure on yourself, to the point of physical and mental decline.


Your health should never come at the cost of anything except maybe saving another person’s life.