Progress not perfection image

Progress Not Perfection

At this time of year, we are bombarded by ‘New Year, New You’ messages to set goals, buy new gym memberships, start a diet or take a self-improvement course.  It exploits the mix of motivation and guilt we feel to make changes and achieve more in the new year.  There’s nothing wrong with setting goals to make changes, having high standards or striving to be the best version or yourself.  However, research demonstrates that tendencies of ‘perfectionism’ are on the rise and this is increasing our stress and anxiety levels, damaging our mental health and happiness.  The rise in perfectionism has been linked to the constant evaluation and ranking we perceive from social media, education systems and the workplace.

This month if you are setting goals, we encourage you to check in with your personal values to help you design a year based on what is important to you, not others.  Strive for progress rather than perfection.  

What is Perfectionism?

A perfectionist is defined as someone who holds themselves to incredibly high, often unattainable, standards and engages in harsh self-criticism when they fall short of their own or other's expectations.  This could be from any form of evaluation, from social media, family and peer groups, education systems and the workplace. 

While having a perfectionist personality type is advantageous in some areas, driving a high standard of work and achievement, it can also be damaging to the individual when they don’t receive the results or approval for which they are striving.  Research has shown that not only are our younger generations, Gen Z and Millennials, exhibiting higher tendencies of perfectionism than previous generations but also that perfectionism is associated with higher rates of stress, depression, anorexia nervosa, suicide ideation, and early death. 

The impact of Social Media 

Social media means our achievements or lack of are always on display and rated by a fake values system of friends, likes and follows.  It breeds a false sense of reality, presenting a highlight reel of someone’s life as they create content that they think will be rated favourably and add to their status. With every like or follow, dopamine is produced in our brain giving us a sense of an addictive sense of satisfaction.

The Impact of Perfectionism in the workplace 

In the workplace, perfectionists may feel like they can never make a mistake or admit a weakness which all leads to an inevitable rise in stress, anxiety, depression, and a range of other mental health issues.  Considering the number of stressors already in our daily lives, a perfectionist personality type and culture that creates more stress isn’t helpful.  It also can also hamper work performance and opportunities for learning and growth as taking criticism can be challenging. 

Strategies to help you strive for progress, not perfection

Many of us will already know we have a ‘perfectionist’ personality type and are our own worst enemy at times.  However, you may not be aware of the increasing societal pressures driving your perfectionism and impacting your mental health and wellbeing.  The tips below can help you strive for progress, not perfection.

Remind yourself of what’s important to you: The new year is the perfect time to check in with your personal values to help you direct your time and energy into those areas of your life that you feel most satisfied, energised and fulfilled by.  It will also help you reduce your quest to be perfect in those areas that aren’t important to you.  Set goals for 2020 around these values and areas of life that you want to improve on.  For further help to identify your personal values and structure your week to achieve more value fulfilment, register with the Accuro Health Hub and take our two-week-long challenge, Get Engaged.

Identify areas of life where you strive for perfection: Identify the areas of life that you are currently placing unhealthy expectations on yourself.  It may be the pressure you put on yourself to excel in all areas in your job or your role as a partner, parent, friend, sibling, son/daughter or athlete.  It may be you feel you always have to look your best or are putting too much pressure on yourself to achieve financial goals.

Ask yourself; Is this worth the stress, time and energy at the expense of other priorities in my life?

Evaluate your social media activity: Consciously evaluate how you feel after using social media.  Use it to determine who you ‘follow’ or how you spend your time browsing.  Ensure it is adding value to your mental wellbeing and not compromising it.

Reframing perfectionism: Remind yourself that striving to be perfect in all areas of life is often unattainable, out of your control and not worth sacrificing your mental wellbeing for.  We fear our imperfections will expose us as failures when actually they show the areas in life where we can grow.

In the words of Leonard Cohen, “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”


Showing others that you aren’t perfect will also help build trust that you are genuine, honest and confident in who you are.  It also helps others relate to you and appreciate you are a human who makes mistakes, balances priorities and doesn’t sweat the small stuff.  In turn, others may be able to be more genuine, feel better about their own situation and admit their faults or weaknesses, changing our perfectionist culture. 

Reframe perfectionism by instead focusing on progress and growth in areas of your life so you still feel like you are achieving but to a more realistic standard.  Instead of expecting 110 percent at all times, allow yourself to apply the 80/20 rule.  Remind yourself this is a smarter approach to preserve your physical and mental energy to apply to the areas in life that are important to you.  Set yourself smaller, more realistic and achievable goals that will still give you that approval and sense of satisfaction without consuming you.

Focus on your own life: Comparison is the thief of joy and in our quest for perfectionism and approval from others we end up living a life shaped by other’s values and not our own.  Keep in mind that our perfectionist culture means that often the people you are comparing yourself to won’t be presenting their true selves.  Everyone has their own struggles that many people mask.  If you also find yourself seeking and worrying about other’s judgment or approval, keep in mind that most people are so consumed by their own life they don’t have time to judge yours.

This year take a step back from social comparison and our perfectionist culture and design your own year around what is going to energise you, fuel your passions and give you the greatest sense of satisfaction.  Give yourself credit when credit is due and strive for progress over perfection.