Xolopreneurs: don’t let your ‘perfect’ be the enemy of your ‘good’

Mark Travers
Written by Mark Travers
on May 26, 2022 3 minute read

New research teaches us why it’s important to keep our perfectionistic demons at bay.

Perfectionism is on the rise around the world. In Scandinavia, young adults are colloquially referred to as the ‘generation of performance anxiety.’ One study found that the trait of perfectionism has grown by over 30% in today’s adults compared to adults of the 1980s and 1990s.

Most psychologists agree that this trend is not a good one. According to recent research, perfectionists are more likely to experience depression. They also have a higher risk of exhibiting anxiety, bulemia, feelings of hopelessness, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

One question is what is causing this rapid increase in perfectionism. Psychologist Simon Sherry believes that shifting parental expectations is part of the problem.

“In my practice as a clinical psychologist, I see young adults pushed and criticized by demanding parents to the point of making those young adults mentally ill,” comments Sherry. “In fact, a family environment characterized by parental criticism and demands is an incubator for perfectionism and illness in children. Consistent with what I see in my practice, our research shows young people report higher levels of perfectionism than ever before.”

Other factors fanning the flames of perfectionism include biological factors (genes and temperament), cultural pressures (needing to showcase one’s ‘perfect life’ on social media), and societal standards (hyper-competitiveness, individualism, and capitalism).

“Perfectionism no doubt emerges from a complex interplay between nature and nurture, with research suggesting perfectionism is moderately heritable,” says Sherry. “Inherited dispositions combine with familial and socio-cultural environments to raise the likelihood someone develops perfectionism.”

The important question for Xolopreneurs is what this trend means for our own mental health and our ability to achieve our business goals. Here are two insights from recent psychological research that can help us keep our perfectionistic demons at bay.

#1: Only some forms of perfectionism are maladaptive

A recent study conducted by a team of researchers at the University of Bergen in Norway offers convincing evidence that there are actually two types of perfectionists. One type, called the "striving" perfectionist, may be associated with positive psychological outcomes, and another type, called the "evaluative" perfectionist, is likely associated with psychological problems.

According to their analysis, striving perfectionists are more likely to identify with statements such as:

  • I set higher goals for myself than most people
  • I have extremely high goals
  • Other people seem to accept lower standards from themselves than I do
  • I expect higher performance in my daily tasks than most people

Evaluative perfectionists, on the other hand, are more likely to identify with statements such as:

  • If I fail at work/school, I am a failure as a person
  • If someone does a task at work/school better than me, then I feel like I failed at the whole task
  • If I do not do well all the time, people will not respect me
  • The fewer mistakes I make, the more people will like me

From reading the statements above, you can see how the two types of perfectionism differ from each other. One has to do with an intrinsic desire to be the best while the other has to do with the importance of not failing in the eyes of other people.

In their data, evaluative perfectionists scored higher on measures of depression and anxiety while striving perfectionists did not.


#2: Therapists are really good at treating perfectionism

If you feel like perfectionism is preventing you from being the person you want to be, it’s important to know that it is treatable. There are several effective, evidence-based therapeutic interventions available for perfectionism, including dynamic-relational and cognitive-behavioral approaches.

Psychologist Katerina Rnic, an expert on perfectionism, offers the following three-pronged advice for individuals struggling with perfectionism:

  1. You should first know that you are not alone and that many people struggle with perfectionism. It is a real and important problem.

  2. You might then think about the ways perfectionism has gotten in your way, particularly in your relationships with others. You might ponder what some of the benefits of letting go of the pursuit of perfectionism might be. Would you have more time for the things you enjoy? Would it be easier to get started on and complete tasks? Would you get along better with your spouse or partner? 

  3. You might consider trying out ‘behavioral experiments’ in which you make a plan to practice intentionally making mistakes and doing things imperfectly. As part of these ‘experiments,’ you predict what will happen when you make a mistake and then you follow through with the plan to see what actually happens. 

“People are often amazed to see that the sky didn't fall and that, in fact, there is much to be said for the freedom of embracing imperfection,” concludes Rnic.


About Mark

Mark Travers, Ph.D., is an American Psychologist with degrees from Cornell University and the University of Colorado Boulder. Xolo helps him run his online therapy practice, www.awake-therapy.me, from whatever part of the world he is currently living in.