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Stop Chasing Perfection, It Can Lead To Burnout

Athletes who strive for perfection and become obsessed over tiny mistakes risk burning out, says a new study.

Written by Longjam Dineshwori |Updated : May 13, 2022 9:01 PM IST

Perfect body, perfect skin, perfect life Stop chasing for such unreachable standards, because nothing is perfect. Your obsession for perfection can take a toll on your mental health. Research has linked obsessive perfectionism to mental health problems, including eating disorders, depression, anxiety and even suicide.

A University of Essex-led study has revealed that those who strive for perfection and become fixated over tiny mistakes risk burning out. The study, published in the Journal of Clinical Sport Psychology, defined burnout in athletes as having a reduced sense of accomplishment, prolonged exhaustion, and falling out of love with their sport.

Luke Olsson from the University's School of Sport, Rehabilitation and Exercise Sciences, noted that there are many studies that have shown that chasing perfection, whether that be in work, sport, or school, can lead to burnout. (Also read: Burnout Syndrome can increase risk of developing heart disease)

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Among athletes, the stresses of pursuing perfection can lead individuals to mentally disengage with their sporting activities, Olsson stated.

The hunt for perfection associated with burnout in athletes

For the study, the research team examined more than 250 sportspeople -- across individual and team sports. They found that hyper self-critical competitors who react negatively to even minor failings are at risk of psychological difficulty.

Perfectionistic concerns -- an obsession and excessive reaction to perceived failure -- were found to be strongly associated with burnout in athletes.

Further, this fixation on failure may make them view any achievement as inadequate and upcoming competitions, as disproportionately stressful, and create a self-fulfilling performance prophecy, the researchers said.

How to avoid perfectionistic concerns and prevent burnout

Cognitive behavioural therapy, mindfulness and developing a kinder mindset may help reduce perfectionistic concerns and potentially prevent burnout, the study authors pointed out.

For preventing burnout, Olsson believes that the athletes themselves should be wary that pursuing perfection and being overly self-critical could do more harm than good.

Being less self-critical will allow athletes to celebrate successes in performance and embrace failures as an opportunity to reflect and improve rather than beat themselves up, he said.

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