Challenging the myth of perfection

Dr Anna McLaughlin

Do you ever feel like you're not good enough? Like you have to be perfect in order to be loved and accepted? If so, you're not alone. Many people feel this way, but the truth is that there is no such thing as perfection. It's a myth. So how can we learn to love our imperfections?

The myth of perfection and why perfection is meaningless

Dr Brené Brown is a bestselling author and research professor at the University of Houston, who is famous for challenging the myth of perfection in her book ‘The Gifts Of Imperfection’.

"Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimise or avoid the pain of blame, shame, or judgement. It’s a shield.” – Dr Brené Brown

However, the desire to achieve perfection is doomed to fail. Perfection doesn’t exist outside our imagination, and no one is perfect. By expecting perfection, we’re simply setting ourselves up for failure. 

Why does the myth of perfection exist?

The reason that the myth of perfection exists is due to biases in how humans perceive success. Many of the role models we look to for motivation represent the extreme end of success, and narrowly focusing on these ‘survivors’ can skew our perception of what success looks like, according to psychologist Dr Eva Krockow


Examples of successful ‘survivors’ at the top of their field could include entrepreneurs like Elon Musk, celebrities like Kim Kardashian or sports stars like football player Cristiano Ronaldo. Although there’s nothing wrong with having role models, if people define success based on people who are exceptions rather than the rule, this leads us to set unrealistic standards for ourselves. Additionally, many of the most successful role models benefit from incredibly privileged or lucky circumstances, which can significantly influence their ability to excel.


The myth of perfectionism perpetuates itself through social media and advertisements. Clinical Psychology Professor Simon Sherry believes that the rising rates of perfectionism in young people are due to the unrealistic and suspiciously “perfect” lives promoted on social media posts. Social media further contributes to skewed perceptions of success, as challenges and failures are often removed or carefully edited from success stories. 

Excellence vs perfectionism

Many people believe that aiming for perfection is a desirable trait that demonstrates you have high standards and attention to detail. However, new research suggests that perfectionism is not a healthy trait and lowers your chance of success. In the most extensive scientific study of perfectionism, which included almost 25,000 participants, researchers found that perfectionists become more neurotic and less conscientious over time. Being a perfectionist made people less likely to pursue their goals and more prone to burning out. 

Rather than aiming for perfection, striving for excellence is a healthier way to approach your goals and dreams, according to a 2020 scientific review of psychology studies. However, it’s important to pursue excellence in moderation and recognise that it’s not possible to achieve excellence in all areas of your life. In a 2022 study involving over 2,5000 students, researchers found that students who aimed for perfect grades, in fact, achieved worse grades. In contrast, students who strived for excellence performed better academically over the long term. 

The dangers of black-and-white thinking

Perfectionists tend to think about success using back-and-white thinking, which means that anything less than perfect is seen as a failure. However, this prevents perfectionists from appreciating what they have achieved and learning from their mistakes. Instead, we should think about success as a spectrum rather than a level of performance so high that it’s impossible to achieve. 

The dangers of black-and-white thinking, created by Sci-translate.

Dr Jeremy Shapiro is a clinical psychologist who wrote the book ‘Finding the Goldilocks Zone: An Antidote to Black-and-White Thinking’. He says, “This means striving for excellence (but not perfection) and, when we fall short, giving ourselves credit for the level of quality we did achieve and strengthening our motivation to do better the next time.” Often, aiming for small improvements in the ‘grey’ area between success and failure is far more accurate and constructive. 

How to embrace your imperfections

The best way to overcome perfectionism is by embracing your imperfections. If you’re struggling to love and accept your flaws, try working through these tips recommended by VeryWell mind:

1) Acknowledge the cost of perfectionism:

Do you regularly beat yourself up and judge yourself harshly for making mistakes? Do you struggle to feel satisfied or proud of what you’ve achieved? Are you overly critical of yourself and others? Perfectionism has many negative consequences that affect you and your relationships with others. Try making a list of all the ways perfectionism can be harmful to motivate you to let go of these tendencies.

2) Focus on the positives instead of mistakes:

Perfectionists are highly skilled at spotting mistakes and may even naturally search for faults. While this can be a difficult habit to break, practice being more objective by consciously noting two positive qualities for every flaw you notice. If the mistakes still bother you, take a step back and consider whether these slight imperfections actually prevent the work from being successful. 

3) Enjoy the process and take small steps toward your goals:

Perfectionists tend to set extremely high goals without accounting for a learning curve. This can lead to impatience and frustration when things don’t go as planned. Try to set bite-sized goals based on your end goal and reward yourself as you progress. Setting goals makes the process more enjoyable and encourages you to learn from experiences.


● Striving for perfection is meaningless because perfection itself doesn’t exist outside of our imagination.

● Research shows that perfectionists become more neurotic and less likely to succeed over time.

● You can overcome these tendencies by striving for excellence (rather than perfection) and learning to embrace your imperfections!