Perfection Versus Excellence

Howdy my friends! How are you doing today? I’m doing very well. 🙂

Today I’d like to go into depth about perfection versus excellence. It’s a very important topic for me, and I learned SO MUCH about it at The Center for Discovery.  I’d like to share a few thoughts if I may.

Raise your hand if you’ve always been a PERFECTIONIST:

Yep, I’m raising my hand. I’m a perfectionist.

One of the issues that *many* people who struggle with eating disorders have is perfectionism. Seriously, it’s RAMPANT for many reasons. Some of us didn’t feel like we’ve lived up to other people’s expectations, for instance, or we’re born with the natural personality trail; stress can be a factor, etc. etc. We are all different, and eating disorders do not discriminate when it comes to any of these factors.

Perfectionism is the individual’s belief that he or she must be perfect in order to be acceptable. Perfectionism is black and white with no gray area in between. Anything other than perfection = failure. Perfectionism is an attitude, not necessarily a behavior. In other words, two people can engage in the same behavior such as trying to win an Olympic gold medal but one can be pursuing excellence and the other is demanding perfection. The difference lies in the thought process about the goal or behavior, not in the goal or behavior itself.

Unfortunately, perfectionists fail to meet these impossible standards (obviously), and thus, they set themselves up for low self-esteem and a sense of complete worthlessness. ED sufferers in particular believe that once they meet these impossible standards, they will be valued, successful, and worthwhile – able to ultimately control their lives. They may strive for perfection in their academic or work performance, morality, relationships, cleanliness and order, or dieting, exercise, body weight or shape. It is common for people with perfectionist traits to think in an “all-or-nothing” way where anything other than perfection is seen as failure.

It’s a vicious cycle.

I personally struggled with perfectionism for YEARS, y’all. I wanted to be the best … but my best was never good enough.The pursuit of excellence, however, is the desire to attain a goal of excellence, to achieve at a high level, to be the best that one can be but without the demand attached to the goal or desire. Pursuing excellence may require tremendous effort and focus as well as other resources. But, unlike perfectionism, it does not demand a sacrifice of self-esteem as it tends to focus on the process of achievement rather than the outcome.


“Strive for excellence, not perfection.” H Jackson Brown Jr

Here’s a helpful bullet point:

Perfectionism (Black and White Thinking):

  • There is nothing better
  • Unattainable
  • Failure inevitable
  • Depression
  • Being “right”
  • Fear
  • Anger and Frustration
  • Control
  • Taking
  • Doubt
  • Pressure
  • Result Focused
  • You’ll never be good enough
  • Mistakes are not tolerated
  • Inflexible and rigid
  • Despondence

Excellence (Gray Thinking):

  • The best we can hope for
  • Achievable with effort and planning
  • Sense of achievement
  • Contentment
  • Be willing to be wrong
  • Taking a risk
  • Powerful
  • Spontaneous
  • Giving
  • Confidence
  • Natural
  • Process focused
  • You’re one of the best
  • Accepting of mistakes
  • Flexible
  • Motivated

To reiterate, striving for excellence is gray thinking, Striving for perfectionism is black and white. But the world is NOT black and white – it’s gray. The perfectionist will *never* been good enough while those striving for excellence give themselves grace and see the world in a different view than just black and white.

Here’s some helpful ideas to help curb perfectionism and strive for EXCELLENCE, even in what we see as failures.

The nature of failure in excellence can be objective, tangible, and not changeable (i.e. an exam grade). So what’s your responsibility? You can ask “What can I do to change?” “What better choices can I make?” “What can I do now?” “What could I do differently in the future?”

But some things aren’t your responsibility, even for the excellence-seekers. For instance, you might think “It was out of my control. Other factors played a part.” “Is there anything I could do differently if a similar situation occurred again?”

And if you feel you’re FAILING, the nature is subjective, abstract, and changeable. You might think your responsibility is to ask “Shall I keep going?” “Shall I do something different?”

And again, some things are *not* your responsibility, but you can ask yourself “Is there anything I can do to make positive changes?”

Yes, I know that perfectionist black and white thinking is a MASSIVE THING to overcome – I’ve been seeing the world through perfectionist-glasses for most of my life, and I’m just now starting to work on changing my perspective.

Yes, it is rough to turn around perfectionism. It’s not an overnight process. But in recovery, the goal is to turn most of your thinking to EXCELLENCE, not PERFECTION. I’m not saying that it’s easy – it’s very complex. But it CAN be done with mindfulness and practice along with giving yourself some grace.

~ Mandy

References include Excellence versus Perfection by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D. and

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