New book to help combat negative mental effects of perfectionism

New book to help combat negative mental effects of perfectionism

By Rachel O'Rourke

Doctor Jeff Szymanski has launched his new book which looks at the negative effects of perfectionism on mental health, as well as aiming to teach readers how perfectionism can be a help, and not a hindrance, if managed effectively.

Szymanski, founder of the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Foundation, and his book “The Perfectionist’s Handbook: Take Risks, Invite Criticism, and Make the Most of Your Mistakes” aims to educate people to know when their perfectionism is being used for positively and negatively against the self.

The Doctor and clinical psychologist said in a statement: “Many people – including me – consider their perfectionism to be one of their most valuable attributes and critical for success in achieving one’s life goals.

“[But] there are many pitfalls of striving for perfection. Most of us are familiar with these damaging effects: the pressure that leads to paralysis, a fear of mistakes, missed deadlines, stress, anxiety and low self-confidence,” Szymanski added.

Perfectionistic tendencies include having great attention to detail, good organisation as well as an insistence on everyone working to their fullest potential.

According to Szymanski, speaking to Psych Central, the book aims to teach that there is such a thing as healthy perfectionism.

He distinguishes healthy from unhealthy perfectionism in this way: “You’re operating within the realm of healthy perfectionism when your payoffs are greater than your costs, you are striving for and meeting standards you set for yourself, and you value organization.

“However, your unhealthy perfectionism is at play when your behaviour, choices, and strategies are driven by factors such as a fear of failure, chronic concerns about making mistakes, constant self-doubting, attempts to live up to others’ expectations of you, anxiety about always falling short of self-made goals, and if your costs outweigh your payoffs.”

The books’ findings are based on of 20-years of perfectionism research, said the author. He said: “The results were quite surprising. It revealed that healthy perfectionism was associated with everything from less depression, anxiety and procrastination to higher achievement and academic success to more social support, greater life satisfaction and less self-blame.”

The problem with perfectionism, he explains, isn’t in wanting things to be perfect; it is in the ways in which people go about achieving those desired outcomes.

Szymanski outlines this “dilemma” in his “five seductions of perfectionism,” which depicts how perfectionistic strategies that can go one of two ways; paying off big or cost people big:
1. Szymanski says that “more is always better,” but warns to be careful of diminishing returns.

2. All mistakes are catastrophic because no one likes to make mistakes, says the author. “On the other hand, research repeatedly shows that keeping your eye on what might go wrong will inhibit and decrease your performance,” he added.

3. Learn to prioritize based on values, interests and strengths.

4. Learn to share the load with people who excel in different areas in order to decrease the chances of burning-out by trying to do everything yourself.

5. Szymanski says that contrary to popular belief, skipping breaks and vacations at work can actually reduce productivity and creativity.

Take the “are you a perfectionist?” test here:

Doctor Szymanski, prior to the release of his new book, had mainly concentrated his career in helping people with OCD. According to the latest figures, an estimated four million Americans are affected with the  disorder. In July 2011, Szymanski spoke at San Diego’s largest conference on the psychiatric condition, aiming to highlight how the illness can often be misunderstood.  

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