Are you a ‘good’ or a ‘bad’ kind of perfectionist? Find out right here

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Amy Lewis

Though often bandied around the office as a formidable yet compulsive trait, science now says that being a perfectionist might actually be a good thing.

But, warn researchers behind the new study, it all depends on what kind of perfectionism you practice.

The unhealthy type can lead to burn out at work, increased levels of stress and general unhappiness. No surprises there.

The other kind however, which the team of British psychologists are calling ‘healthy perfectionism’, has actually been found to prevent all of the above.

Published in the Personality and Social Psychology Review, the meta-analysis (a study of studies) looked at 43 pieces of research on the subject of perfectionism, with a combined total of almost 10,000 participants.

Unhealthy perfectionists were characterised as those who set very high goals for themselves, are rigid and inflexible about the standard of those goals, and are unwilling to adapt to changed circumstances.

Organised desk - postit notes - OCD

They are also more likely to measure their own success by comparing themselves to people around them, and feel anxious or uncertain about their own skills and capabilities.

By analysing the findings of the 43 studies, the researchers found these behaviours to be a straight route to burn out and mental exhaustion. The healthy perfectionists however, didn’t display the same relationship with burn out. In most cases, the researchers found that the exact opposite was true.

“Our findings suggest that one element of perfectionism, the tendency to set exceedingly high goals and strive for them, is not in isolation a problem,” says co-author of the study Andrew P. Hill. “In fact, if you set high goals and achieve them, you will feel motivated and good about yourself.”

Though more research needs to be done to determine the exact reasons as to why healthy perfectionism is such a protective trait, the researchers believe that it’s likely down to the positivity which comes from achieving realistic goals, and the nous to not punish yourself harshly when the goal posts move.

Use the check list below to identify which kind of perfectionist you might be...

Healthy perfectionists…

  • Set high but realistic goals for themselves
  • Can be flexible about these goals
  • Are internally motivated
  • Enjoy the thrill of accomplishment
  • Can use reason when their goals aren’t met
  • Understand that their high standards aren’t appropriate in all situations
  • Have a good measure of their own capabilities

Unhealthy perfectionists…

  • Set consistently ambitious goals for themselves
  • Have a rigid and inflexible approach to these goals
  • Are externally motivated
  • Have a fear of failing
  • Experience stress when their high standards can’t be met
  • Are often anxious or uncertain about their own capabilities

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Amy Lewis

Amy Lewis is a freelance writer and editor, a lover of strong tea, equally strong eyebrows, a collector of facial oils and a cat meme enthusiast. She covers everything from beauty and fashion to feminism and travel.

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