perfectionism, happiness, time perspectives

Cultivate: setting goals, taking risks, being organized, self-actualizing
De-emphasize: worrying about regrets and how you are perceived
Takeaway: Build self-regard and internal measures of achievement

[Psychologist Robert W. Hill of Appalachian State University] argues that perfectionistic traits can be either adaptive or maladaptive. It depends upon whether they are forward- or backward-looking, emotionally positive or negative, and motivated from an inner urge or an outside push.

In a paper just published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, Hill and two colleagues describe an experiment that illustrates the importance of distinguishing between types of perfectionism. They surveyed 216 psychology students to assess their perfectionistic tendencies, as well as their psychological well-being and satisfaction with life.

Adaptive perfectionism was determined by combining the students’ self-reported scores in four areas: striving for excellence, organizational skills, tendency to plan ahead and holding others to high standards. Maladaptive perfectionism was measured by the sum of four other scores: concern over mistakes, need for approval, tendency to ruminate over past performances and perceived parental pressure.

“We found that adaptive perfectionism was associated with indicators of positive psychological outcomes,” Hill reports. “The more an individual was prone to striving for excellence, planning ahead, being organized, they typically had a high level of psychological well-being, life satisfaction and positive mood. The inverse was true for maladaptive perfectionism.”

Hill found a “wide distribution” of these traits in the test subjects, suggesting that most people have some combination of adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism….

“Adaptive perfectionism is an internal standard for achievement,” he notes. “Maladaptive perfectionism is an external concern – wondering what other people are going to think. It’s kind of a thinking habit: ‘I made a mistake there.’ ‘Someone will notice I didn’t do that right.’ We know from a number of studies that cognitive behavioral therapy can change or reduce those kinds of thoughts.”

—Tom Jacobs, “The Two Faces of Perfectionism,” Miller-McCune, January 28, 2010


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