Perfection Is Not the Goal (and What to Focus on Instead)

February 6, 2023 Matt Brocklebank

I remember visiting my therapist when I was learning to cope with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and one of the things he said was, "Mr. Brocklebank, you have set yourself a very high bar." Of course, I knew this already. I have been painstaking and particular about everything I do for as long as I can rememberwhat some might call a perfectionist. But is perfection something you should try to achieve, or can you be happier without it? As a perfectionist, can you ever meet the uncompromising standards you set for yourself? Should perfectionism ever be a goal?

The Problem of Setting Perfectionism as the Goal

Setting the Stage for Disappointment

Growing up, I was happy with the perfectionist label. I always worked hard and did well without experiencing too much difficulty. But as I grew older, I found it was more of a double-edged sword. I still felt reassured knowing that I worked to a high standard, but this also created a lot of stress by struggling to get everything "just right." Of course, being just right was an arbitrary benchmark I had set for myself. It wasn't real. And more often than not, it led to disappointment.

Anyone who aspires to live in a perfect world will know that disappointing situations can arise at any time and place, no matter how large or small a task is. Take repairing a broken piece of furniture, for example. You mend the item at hand and get it good enough. Most people would be happy at this point, but "good enough" doesn't meet your benchmark. Thinking you can do it better, you keep going.

Making Matters Worse

You keep tightening, sanding, or painting until the inevitable happens. Seeking perfection, you go too far and break a piece off, scratch something, or mess up the paintwork. Whatever it is, you make the situation worse than it already was. In a brief moment of alarm, you try to fix what you've done, but it's too late.

What most would view as a near miss, you see as an unrecoverable catastrophe, and your image of perfection vanishes before your eyes. You consider starting again from the beginning, but in most cases, you give up altogether. All your hard work was for nothing. Not only that, but you get to beat yourself up about being a failure for the rest of the day. But perfectionism shouldn't have been the goal.

Perfection Isn't the Goal; Satisfaction Is

This situation does nothing to increase your happiness or give you a sense of pride in having done an excellent job. It's the complete opposite. And after experiencing countless scenarios which always resulted in similar disappointment, I finally cultivated the ability to take a step back, take a deep breath, and forget about trying to make things perfect. If I feel frustrated that something isn't going as planned, I'll stop what I'm doing and leave it. I might have a cup of tea or go outside for some fresh air and then return to whatever the job was with a new perspective.

Rather than judging whether or not I'm getting closer to my image of perfection, I look at it compared to where I started. Because every job has a definite starting point, I can quickly and easily evaluate how much I have progressed. This attitude is much more likely to lead to satisfaction than working toward imaginary ideals and expectations.

Adopt a Happier Attitude by Not Making Perfectionism Your Goal

If you can adopt the same attitude of judging your progress in terms of how far you've come rather than by how far you have left to go, you will release much of the pressure of trying to get everything "just right." On top of that, you'll create a much happier and more satisfying outcome for yourself in the process.

APA Reference
Brocklebank, M. (2023, February 6). Perfection Is Not the Goal (and What to Focus on Instead), HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 25 from

Author: Matt Brocklebank

Find Matt on YouTube, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Leave a reply