New Year’s resolutions are a popular way to pursue self-improvement goals in the context of a collective fresh start. 2011 is upon us, so if you’re among the 40-45% of Americans who’s resolving to improve yourself starting now, take a step back. Consider whether your resolutions will achieve your desired affect, or whether you might tweak your ambitions to be not only more realistic, but more beneficial to your physical, mental, and emotional well-being.
This is a good time of year to discuss perfectionism. In its more extreme forms, perfectionism can lead to eating disorders, high anxiety, unrelenting competitiveness, and other situations that disrupt a person’s life, compromise his or her health or safety, and very often require therapy or counseling. In other cases, people are so bent on perfectionism that they underachieve, choosing safety over failure. For many people in the middle, perfectionism simply gets in the way of enjoying and appreciating life. As researcher Brené Brown puts it: “Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment and shame.” Perfectionism is not only impossible, but it doesn’t actually buffer us from the hard things in life.
If anything, striving for perfection makes us more susceptible to hardship; we spin our wheels trying to control everything, to make everything perfect, rather than cultivating the skills to deal with what we’re dealt. This year, instead of setting goals you think will make you superhuman, why not resolve to build your resilience? Resilience is the ability to cope with life’s challenges in a health way. It’s a hot topic among therapists and counselors this year, and there’s every reason to believe it can be learned. So even if your goals aren’t intrapersonal—they may involve physical health, social activities, etc.—consider phrasing them in a healthy way. Striving for excellence over perfection is a great challenge, and instead of measuring yourself by a finish line that’s always just out of reach, you’ll be able to celebrate your strengths and achievements as you go.
© Copyright 2011 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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