Perfectionism and the need to succeed

You know the saying: “if something’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well”? That’s all well and good, and I completely understand the reasoning behind it – do your best in everything you do. BUT my brain has to take it to a whole new level.

My brain, instead, reads this as: “Everything you do has to be done well, or it’s not worth doing” – only a change of word order, but a completely different meaning. And a different interpretation of the word “well”, which here (in my brain) means perfectly, rather than the intended definition (to the best of one’s ability.)

This whole perfectionism thing is really becoming a problem. I notice it when I become stressed, and I occasionally catch myself thinking these thoughts (“It won’t be perfect so don’t bother” etc.) For example, I went to the gym yesterday. This may be seen as an achievement – I managed to go, and tire myself out, I went by myself, and I went because I told myself I should – not because of anyone else. This should be a no-brainer – a win for the elephant, but it wasn’t.

Whilst at the gym, I caught myself comparing myself to other people – “I will never be as fast as her”, “or as thin as her”, “or as good looking as her” – comparisons I shouldn’t make because they only cause further negativity. And by the time I finished my work out, completely exhausted and red in the face, I was greeted by these niggling thoughts in my mind – “You should’ve done more”, “You should be fitter”, “You aren’t good enough”, “You look like s-“, instead of feeling a sense of achievement, I felt like a failure. It wasn’t good enough, so why do I bother?

Another thing I feel this with is my blog. I like writing my blog, and I’m so glad to have met all the wonderful people I have met so far, but the negativity seems to follow me around, even here. “No one wants to read what you have to say” my brain tells me, “That’s why no one bothers to read it anymore”, “They are sick of your whining”, “You may as well quit, you aren’t succeeding…”

I know it doesn’t really matter whether people read my blog. I think it’s more that people DID used to read it, and the number of views is ever dwindling now. I haven’t been writing as much, I haven’t been reading and commenting as much either, because I haven’t been feeling great. But these things are not taken into account by the horrible negative creature which resides in my brain.

Everything I do seems to consist of constant questioning in my mind – “Is it good enough?”, “Is it PERFECT?”, “Is it the best?”

Realistically, I can’t do everything right, I can’t do everything perfectly, I can’t be the best at everything (or in fact, anything) but that doesn’t stop my thoughts. Rational thinking doesn’t come into it. “Is it 100%?” “No.” “Then why not?” That’s my thought pattern.

It’s really quite stressful living like this. And there’s so much pressure (from myself) to succeed, that it puts me off trying things. Then, when I feel good, I take on too much – but I have to succeed in everything that I take on (even if there’s too much) and it becomes more stressful, then I feel worse, can’t do everything, thus feel like a failure, and end up not wanting to do anything… It’s a stupid, messed up cycle, and I need to break out of it. Maybe counselling or something could help me get out of this perfectionist mindset.

I guess I’ve never really failed at anything, and I am under pressure to keep that up. I want people to be proud of me, to think I’m doing well, and above all, to think I’m coping. Because, hey – if you are succeeding in everything you do, you must be fine – right?

12 thoughts on “Perfectionism and the need to succeed

  1. buckwheatsrisk says:

    i think that creatures twin lives in my brain…my creature is in the voice of the father. this is a terribly hard thing to break and really can only be done with therapy…who spoke to and treated you like that?

    • anxiouselephant says:

      I don’t think anyone ever has really. My ex did some of it, but even before that I had a need to succeed. I think it’s all pressure I put on myself, because I wanted my parents to be proud and they were so happy when I did well that I thought I need to continue. I’m sorry that you have this creature’s twin…your father should never have treated you like that, and it seems so unfair that even after he treated you like that, the consequences are so long lasting. 😦 Is your therapy helping? Sending you Ellie hugs xxx

      • buckwheatsrisk says:

        be nice to yourself you are good enough 🙂
        yes the father is brutal…they all blame me for the family break (aka they are not allowed in my life at all) when in reality it’s his/their abuse…it sucks. therapy is helping but really painful, this form of it…i keep going because it is very effective, i dread going because it’s the most painful form of therapy i’ve ever done.

  2. bpshielsy says:

    “if you are succeeding in everything you do, you must be fine – right?”

    Wrong – I’ve succeeded in many things, but for me inside things have been far from fine. I think things are fine when you’re happy, but at the time you may not be succeeding. For example in the past things haven’t been going great at work, but my private life has been going well. For me my family & friends are more important than work, so if that side is going well I can live with work not going so well.

    I suppose we need to figure out what is important to us & then focus on making that successful area.

    • anxiouselephant says:

      I know it’s not true, it’s just the way my brain works. It’s like I have to appear to be fine, even when I’m not. And when I say succeed in everything I do, I mean everything – studying, work, friends, family etc, it’s hard to keep up with my own expectations of myself. Thanks for your comment, hope everything is going well at the moment!

  3. Lithe Clay Zebu (@LitheClayZebu) says:

    I recognise so much of this! Even once you accept things don’t need to be perfect, it’s hard to know what ‘well’ means. If you put all your energy into one thing and did it ‘well’, that ‘well’ would be different to if you spread yourself between several things and did them ‘well’.

    There’s a school near me and its slogan on the signs is ‘Only my best will do’. I often wonder if that has been put there to guarantee therapists’ jobs in the future!

    I haven’t found a perfect (ha! no pun intended) answer yet, but good luck to you!

  4. aallegoric says:

    You’re right – you should congratulate yourself on going to the gym and not bother about the others 😉 but you apparently know that.
    About the blog statistics I can only say that fluctuation is normal. I just want to say that I know it can be frustrating to check the stats and see that only x people read that one post you’d consider one of your most insightful ones… but that’s just how it is. You can’t force people to read even though you want to be acknowledged for some things specifically because sharing the pain helps easing it (I hope this doesn’t sound wrong). So my only advice to that would be not to check the stats regularly… Also, people that genuinely care will always keep coming back to your writing, even if they might not comment for weeks – in the end, they will pop up again (especially at times or posts you don’t expect them to.)
    But we also have a life beside our blogs, people are busy,people are miserable, or just not online… don’t take it too hard. xx

  5. jellified says:

    I’m going through this right now. My AS levels were shocking. I was expecting As and Bs but instead I got 3 Ds.
    Now i’m facing my A2s and its so hard. Whats the point im just going to fail right?
    My attendence is shocking, my grades are bad. I used to be so good at everything. I was Head Girl, I got amazing GSCE results. Now its all going wrong and I just want to throw it all away.
    I don’t want to give up.
    I don’t want to fail.
    If I stay I fail. If I give up i’ve also failed.
    Everyone just looks at me funny when I tell them I didn’t have the motivation to get out of bed that morning. Everyone just thinks im lazy. Im not. I know im not.
    What do you do to help yourself?

    • anxiouselephant says:

      I’m really sorry you’re struggling. It is really hard. Are you seeing a doctor about your depression? If not I would definitely recommend it, as it will probably not go away by itself, also you can get a letter from the doctor to get special consideration on your exams.
      I know what you mean about wanting to give up but not wanting to fail. I find the best thing to do is do your best. When you feel like you can work, then go for it, but don’t push yourself too hard or you will feel worse. Small targets are good, and getting your attendance up will help if you can. If you can’t, then try to catch up on what you’re missing, and try and do at least a little bit each day.
      I also did a couple of posts about being a student with depression that have some advice on, although they’re really about university, some of it applies to A level students too, if you want to have a look!
      Wishing you the best of luck, and if you want someone to talk to (well, type to!) you can always email me at 🙂

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