We spend a lot of time working toward our goals, but even when we reach them, we’re often left wondering if we truly did enough. Part of this feeling is a byproduct of our modern work culture, says social psychologist Thomas Curran, Ph.D., in a recent TED Talk. We’re taught to chase perfection, he explains, and research shows that our expectations only continue to rise as more industries adapt to our culture’s always-on mindset. Factor in the impractical standards and unrealistic depictions on social media — and our obsession with being perfect becomes toxic.
“We tend to hold perfectionism up as an insignia of worth,” Curran says. “We never really stop to question that concept on its own terms.” According to Curran’s research, striving for perfection can actually hold us back from unlocking our potential. In order to succeed, we need to embrace — and celebrate — our flaws. Here’s why doing so can make us so much happier:
It reduces the stress of unrealistic expectations
When we try to be perfect, we put ourselves into a cycle of striving toward unrealistic standards, and Curran says this endless loop can add to our regular stressors. “This is a cycle of self-defeat,” he points out. “[We end up] discontented and dissatisfied, amid a lingering sense sense that we’re never quite perfect enough.” According to Curran, shifting our mindset to see that we’re made to make mistakes can help lessen our stress, and allow us to understand that there’s actually profound value in failing. “Perfectionism is about perfecting the self,” he adds. “[But] failure is not weakness.”
It encourages self-compassion
Hustle culture urges us to work our hardest until the job is complete— but this mindset can make us feel worse when we don’t reach our goals as quickly as we want, Curran notes. Instead, he suggests pausing, acknowledging your failures, and embracing positive self-talk in your most imperfect moments. “Going easy on ourselves when things don’t go well can turn those qualities into greater personal peace and success,” Curran explains.
It helps us focus on our off-screen wins
In 1989, researchers found that nine percent of young people struggled with “socially prescribed perfectionism,” the idea that we try to live up to the expectations of our environment. By 2016, this figure had doubled — and the number continues to rise as social media becomes increasingly prevalent in our lives. “In this new visual culture, the appearance of perfection is far more important than the reality,” Curran explains. “[We’re fed] this idea that there’s a perfectible life. If we want our young people to enjoy mental, emotional, and psychological health, we will invite them to celebrate the joys and the beauties of imperfection as a normal and natural part of everyday living,” Curran says. By taking breaks from our screens and celebrating our real-life wins, we can break away from the unrealistic comparison traps of social media, and ultimately feel better about our successes that have nothing to do with our online personas.
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