There are many times in life when striving for perfection is a good thing: When you're operating a vehicle, for instance, it's important that you follow every single rule of the road—your safety is at stake.
And when you're baking chocolate chip cookies, no one is going to complain if you get them exactly right (read: crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside).
But there are also times when striving for perfection can bring you down. In fact, a new study published in the Review of General Psychology found that perfectionism may cause anxiety, depression, and may even be a risk factor for suicide.
To help you avoid the negative consequences of being Type A, we asked Deborah Grayson Riegel, certified professional coach and author of "Oy Vey! Isn't a Strategy: 25 Solutions for Personal and Professional Success for times when you shouldn't strive for perfection."
When you're giving a huge presentation
Of course you want to deliver, and your audience wants you to give them credible information. But they also want you to be relatable, authentic, and human.
"Rather than worrying about memorizing your presentation to a T and never once making a mistake, spend time preparing to be able to hit the major points, reinforce critical details, and answer the expected questions," says Riegel.
Then, simply focus on making a human connection. "Tell a story, share a personal example, cite current news — just don't be a robot." And most importantly, know that if you do fumble your words, it's okay. Everyone knows that giving speeches is hard, and you'll be better off laughing it off than mentally beating yourself up for your mistake.
When you're thinking about your goal weight
Look, everyone has a "happy weight," and yes, it's good to have a weight-loss target in mind — it makes it easier to stay on track. That said, trying to stay at your specific goal weight all the time is draining.
Jobs change, relationships change, apartments change, and during all of those moves, you may gain or lose a few pounds — that's life.
"It's better to strive to be healthy and stay within a range, and that's good enough," says Riegel. If you realize you've gained or lost a lot more than you like, then take action— but if it's just a few "life" pounds here and there, take it in stride, continue doing the best you can to stay healthy, and move on. Most likely, it'll even out as the events in your life do.
When you're on a job interview
Yes, employers are looking for candidates who bring knowledge, experience, and credentials to the role.
But you know what else they're looking for? Someone who's not super-stiff and rigid — someone they genuinely want to work with every day.
"People want to work with people who are relatable, engaging, and imperfect — but imperfect in ways that don't impact their performance," says Riegel.
So if you come off too uptight in your quest for perfection, you may be hurting your chances at landing the job. Relax, and follow the age-old adage: Be yourself.
When you're working out
This is another biggie. The ultimate goal here, of course, is to stay fit and strong and healthy throughout your life. But if you strive to have a perfect workout every time —i.e., you need to run a nine-minute mile on the treadmill or it's not worth it, or you have to do ten kettlebell reps or you feel inadequate —then you're setting yourself up for failure.
"If you have to have a perfect workout, you're more likely to skip it than hop to it," says Riegel. Of course, we're not saying you shouldn't strive to hit your goals: being stronger is always awesome. But just go easy on yourself if you're tired one day or just not in the mood — you'll make up for it another time. Plus, give yourself some credit since you're not setting yourself up to resent the gym in the long run.
When you're having a difficult conversation with a loved one
Whatever the talk is about—money, sex, chores, whatever —it's easy to go in expecting a perfect outcome.
"Once I tell my boyfriend he needs to step it up in the cleaning department, everything will be better," you may think. But you're setting yourself up for failure that way, cautions Riegel, because you can only control your end of the conversation—and even that is difficult sometimes.
"Instead, strive for a conversation where you're both just talking it out, and remember: This doesn't have to be the last time you talk," she says. "It could be just the first step of what will ultimately be a series of conversations over time." Take it day by day, and you'll be a lot better off.
When you're waiting for the "perfect" time to cross something off your bucket list
Let's say you've always wanted to write a book. It's tempting to wait for the absolute ideal time to start, like when you start making the salary you think you actually deserve, or when you land that promotion.
But the truth is, there's never going to be a perfect time. There's always going to be something—welcome to life—so waiting around for that ideal moment is a lost cause.
"Instead, create a list of the minimum acceptable conditions for doing what you want, and then plow ahead," says Riegel. Chances are, you'll be very, very happy that you did.
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