Blog 5.1

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In our fifth blog series, we will discuss Tal Ben-Shahar’s book, The Pursuit of Perfect:  How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a RICHER, HAPPIER Life.  Many of our blogs and lessons within our course are focused on the importance of working hard, being resilient, and staying determined to meet goals and dreams that are out of our comfort zone.  While this is critical for peak performance, it’s just as critical to embrace the reality that perfection is unattainable and satisfaction can be found even when you feel you’ve fallen short of your goals.

Perfectionism is one of those traits that we are “supposed” to see as negative, but we might flaunt it as an example of our commitment and dedication to achieving success.  In fact, we might be frustrated when others act in a perfectionistic manner, yet secretly feel good about our own perfectionistic tendencies and even downplay the impact it has on our functioning. 

Ben-Shahar refers to unhealthy, negative perfectionism simply as perfectionism, but coins the term optimalism to describe the components of perfectionism that are adaptive and positive.  The author emphasizes that the definition of the word “optimal” clearly includes acknowledging limitations and basically, making the best of the current situation.  Ben-Shahar further explains that a perfectionist tends to reject failure, reject painful emotions, reject success, and thus, rejects reality, because those are all fundamental in the human experience.  An optimalist, on the other hand, accepts failure, accepts painful emotions, and accepts success, which ultimately means this person is accepting reality…..because we all experience this at some point.

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As we detail in our Transitions to College Athletics course, college life is very different than high school.  The journey is exciting, but also uncertain.  We all face transitions with the hope that it will be smooth sailing, but when we reflect back, most of our transitions include bumps and challenges along the way.  Ben-Shahar uses this figure to depict the difference between a perfectionist and optimalist in terms of their expectations.

When we have perfectionistic expectations, we can be easily derailed and frustrated when life isn’t going according to our playbook of “what it’s supposed to look like.”  When we adopt an optimalist perspective, we are better able to experience positive emotions, despite challenges, frustration, and disappointment.  That doesn’t mean we are letting ourselves off the hook, it simply means we are more grounded in the reality that life simply is never perfect.


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