3 Things Healthy Perfectionists Do

Remember when you learned that there are healthy types of fat, that napping makes you more productive, and that there are safe types of sun exposure? The new research on perfectionism is like that.

Increasingly, studies in the field of positive psychology are emphasizing a new, beneficial brand of perfectionism.  Positive striving, adaptive perfectionism, normal perfectionism—the healthy kind of perfectionism goes by a lot of different monikers, all with refreshingly constructive connotations.

Regardless of what you call it, the verdict is in: using perfectionistic traits to your advantage and actively working to minimize the negative aspects of perfectionism can significantly contribute to increases in self-esteem, positive social interactions, overall happiness, successful goal-attainment, and a bunch of other good stuff.

So how do you make the shift from perfectionist to perfectionistic?

Here are 3 things that healthy perfectionists do: 

1.  Healthy perfectionists outsource their disappointments.  When something doesn’t go according to plan, you take responsibility where it’s due, but you also look at what else was happening that was outside of your control.  You look for external attributions to get the whole perspective on what happened and why. You typically encounter a feeling of disappointment like, “Well that was unfortunate, but I can’t control everything,” and then you move on.

Unhealthy perfectionists don’t do this, opting instead to try and maximize control in every way, then ruthlessly blaming themselves for not being able to yield the desired result (regardless of how unpredictable or unrealistic the goal was).

2.  Healthy perfectionists know the difference between aspirational and successful.  When I say aspirational, I’m talking about the brannan filtered / ‘partner at the top firm but totally relaxed and approachable'  / ‘just hangin out on a ranch with windswept hair in my $3,000 coat’ kind of lifestyle-branding that’s pushed along to NYC women as almost attainable…if you would just get your expletive together.

These dangerously normalized versions of achievement completely discount the most important part about having an ideal or an aspirational vision to begin with, which is that ideals are not meant to be achieved--they're just supposed to inspire.  When you mistake aspirational for successful, nothing you do is ever good enough.

3.  Healthy perfectionists monogram their success.  Meaning, healthy perfectionists make success personal to them.  Unhealthy perfectionists ask: What would be the best version of a relationship?  Healthy perfectionists ask: What would be the best version of a relationship for me at this particular point in my life? 

I fully believe in all the ten tenets I developed to help guide my practice, but #3 is especially relevant here.  Accordingly, if shifting from a perfectionist to perfectionistic is a change you really want to make, give yourself the space and time to make it.