Being a perfectionist may lead you to unwittingly sabotage success at work, school or in sports, leading to stress, burnout and health problems, according to new research.
In a meta-analysis of the relationship between perfectionism and burnout, researchers at York St. John University in England analyzed the findings from 43 previous studies conducted over the past 20 years.
What they found is that perfectionism isn’t all bad.
One aspect of perfectionism called “perfectionistic strivings” involves setting high personal standards and working toward those goals in a proactive manner. These efforts may help maintain a sense of accomplishment and delay the debilitating effects of burnout, according to the study’s findings.
The dark side of perfectionism, called “perfectionistic concerns,” can be more detrimental when people constantly worry about making mistakes, letting others down, or not measuring up to their own impossibly high standards, said lead researcher Dr. Andrew Hill, an associate professor of sport psychology.
Previous research has shown that perfectionistic concerns and the stress they generate can contribute to serious health problems, including depression, anxiety, eating disorders, fatigue and even early death.
“Perfectionistic concerns capture fears and doubts about personal performance, which creates stress that can lead to burnout when people become cynical and stop caring,” Hill said. “It also can interfere with relationships and make it difficult to cope with setbacks because every mistake is viewed as a disaster.”
The study, published in the Personality and Social Psychology Review, also found that perfectionistic concerns had the strongest negative effects in contributing to burnout in the workplace.
This may be because people have more social support and clearly defined objectives in education and sports, according to the researchers. A student can be rewarded for hard work with a high grade, or a tennis player can win the big match, but a stellar performance in the workplace may not be recognized or rewarded, which may contribute to cynicism and burnout, researchers explained.
“People need to learn to challenge the irrational beliefs that underlie perfectionistic concerns by setting realistic goals, accepting failure as a learning opportunity, and forgiving themselves when they fail,” Hill said. “Creating environments where creativity, effort and perseverance are valued also would help.”