Tal is one of the world’s leading positive psychologists. He taught the largest class in Harvard’s history: Positive Psychology 101.
He tells us that there are two distinct forms of perfectionism—one of them is actually adaptive and the other is not. He tells us they are so different that they need different names.
There’s the unhealthy perfectionist who suffers from all the things you’d expect from perfectionism: anxiety, depression, etc. He calls them a “Perfectionist.”
Then, there’s the healthy, high-functioning perfectionist who uses those high standards to fuel their growth. He calls them an “Optimalist.”
Perfectionist vs. Optimalist.
Here’s the primary difference between the two: The (unhealthy) Perfectionist fails to embrace reality. They actually think they can work for 16 hours a day in pursuit of their great work while staying super healthy and being a great spouse and parent and being super active in the community and a great friend to dozens and… (I get stressed just typing that.)
The source of their misery is the fact that they fail to embrace the constraints of reality. They simply CAN’T do all of those things. So, when they inevitably fall short of their expectations, they beat themselves up mercilessly and experience all the negative effects of unhealthy perfectionism.
The (healthy) Optimalist?
They have really high standards and want to be a great creator, spouse, parent, friend and vital human but they rub their vision up against reality. They see only so many hours in a day and construct their optimal life within the boundaries of those healthy constraints.
Note: The word “optimal” is derived from the Latin optimus which means the “best”–not the “perfect.” The best. The best within the constraints of our individual realities.
Do you tend to be a Perfectionist or an Optimalist?
How can you hold your high standards AND embrace the constraints of reality just a little more today?
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