Redefining “Perfectionism” For A More Productive Life

Is your ambition holding you back?

Redefining “Perfectionism” For A More Productive Life
Image Source: Anangsha Alammyan Instagram

Is your ambition holding you back?

What if I tell you reality is a construct?

Your self-image, circumstances, beliefs, fortune, friends — everything that feels so unshakeable is but one version in a million other possibilities. It appears so solid because this is the reality you chose create every single day of your life; a version built on the foundations of your limiting self-beliefs.

“But, what are limiting self-beliefs?” you ask.

To put it simply, these are assumptions you have about yourself and the world around you. They are shaped based on your perception of the experiences you’ve had all your life. More often than not, they hold you back from achieving your full potential.

If you can re-wire your brain and teach yourself to view your life’s experiences in a new light, you can re-write your reality.

I chose to do exactly that. After reflecting on my growth through the past few years, I have come up with a debilitating self-belief, I believe most millennials have that is holding them back from reaching their full potential. This post is about how you can refocus that belief and redefine your identity.

Failure…Does It Exist?

Before we get into the limiting self-belief, let us try to understand something simpler: what exactly is “failure”? Maybe when you miss out on achieving the results you desired, you say you have failed?

But, can you consider it a failure if you:

  • Learned a valuable lesson that will prevent you from making a similar mistake in the future,
  • Made a lot of connections which will prove valuable in the long run,
  • Discovered a quality in yourself you weren’t previously aware of,
  • Forced yourself to get out of bed and work through the day to complete the task you had in mind?

Most of the times, we spend hours and days of our life crying over “failures” which aren’t really failures at all, but life lessons.

“The only guarantee for failure is to stop trying.”
― John C. Maxwell

Perfect… What’s That?

If failure does not exist, is it even worth worrying over creating that “perfect” project?

I was raised by strict, middle-class Indian parents who only had only one dream for me — that I should have a future better than their present. To make their dream come true, I got used to having sky-high expectations from myself. No matter what I attempted, I had to be the best in it.

I thought this streak of perfectionism was my biggest strength; the major reason for all the laurels I had spiked up along my way in school and college.

The two types of perfectionism

Recently, however, researchers have begun to distinguish between two distinct types of perfectionism, one a maladaptive form that results in emotional distress, and a second form that is relatively benign, perhaps even adaptive.

Broadly speaking, the distinction between adaptive or ‘‘healthy’’ perfectionism and maladaptive ‘‘unhealthy’’ perfectionism is that the former helps a person continually strive to improve themselves and their work, while the latter fills them up with perpetual discontent, a strong criticism to their own work, and a sense of never meeting their own expectations.

It took me twenty-seven years to realise that the perfectionism that I had considered to be my biggest strength was actually the reason holding me back from doing all I could have done. It was the reason I felt discontented and dissatisfied, never quite able to let go of the lingering feeling that I’m never quite perfect enough.

This is made more evident by the example social psychologist Thomas Curran explains in his brilliant TED Talk,

“And we think to ourselves, “Once I’ve reached that summit, then people will see I’m not flawed, and I’ll be worth something.” But what perfectionism doesn’t tell us is that soon after reaching that summit, we will be called down again to the fresh lowlands of insecurity and shame, just to try and scale that peak again. This is the cycle of self-defeat. In the pursuit of unattainable perfection, a perfectionist just cannot step off. And it’s why it’s so difficult to treat.”

How to Get Out of This Trap We Set for Ourselves

In this world filled with infinite possibilities, life will often defeat us. But, that’s alright. Failure does not mean you are weak. Don’t hold yourself a prisoner to this self-defeating snare of impossible perfection. Only then will you be able to detangle yourself from impossible expectations and truly let your creativity soar.

Of course, being a perfectionist is not necessarily bad. Perfectionists are typically bright, ambitious, diligent and hardworking. But it is important to practise a little bit of self-compassion. We should learn to go easy on ourselves, especially when things don’t go according to plan.

There is beauty in imperfection. It is as much a normal and natural part of everyday living and loving, as the desire for success is.

Closing Notes

Call this a limiting self-belief, or a necessary lesson you need to unlearn, but you can achieve growth only when you stop beating yourself up every time you fail to achieve what you set out to.

In conclusion, I am leaving you with this quote by Denis Waitley to ponder upon:

“Failure should be our teacher, not our undertaker. Failure is delay, not defeat. It is a temporary detour, not a dead end. Failure is something we can avoid only by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.”


  1. Bieling, P.J., Israeli, A.L. and Antony, M.M., 2004. Is perfectionism good, bad, or both? Examining models of the perfectionism construct. Personality and individual differences, 36(6), pp.1373–1385.
  2. Wieber, F. and Gollwitzer, P.M., 2016. Decoupling goal striving from resource depletion by forming implementation intentions. In Self-Regulation and Ego Control (pp. 43–65). Academic Press.
  3. Adderholdt, M. and Goldberg, J., 1999. Perfectionism: What’s Bad about Being Too Good? Revised and Updated Edition. Free Spirit Publishing Inc., 400 First Ave. North, Suite 616, Minneapolis, MN 55401.

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