Dr Tal Ben-Shahar – Harvard Open Courses 1504 – Positive Psychology 15

This session is about perfectionism.

I thought I am a perfectionist as I am picky about things I care, but I don’t really know the whole picture of perfectionism. This session explains a lot and helps me to see myself and understand I’m not an extreme perfectionist but I have the Perfectionism schema working in my mind to some extent. It’s what I need to learn and want to change.

Perfectionism is an incapacitating fear of failure that permeates our lives, especially those areas that we care about most.

There are two schemas of the journey of life from A to B. One is Perfectionism and the other is Excellence. There is no perfect perfectionist, we all exist somewhere along the continuum between Perfectionism and Excellence. However, there are many people closer to the Perfectionism end of the continuum. 


  • try to get the most efficient way, a straight line from A to B. there is only one way.
  • is terrified to failure
  • having frustration of not accepting reality
  • if we have this schema in our mind, we are putting ourselves fight nature
  • defensiveness
  • over-generalisation
  • all or nothing approach
  • only experience temporarily relief


  • as ambition as Perfectionism
  • acceptance of failure, see it as learning experience, an opportunity to growth
  • the journey is a part of the success
  • accept what the reality is
  • open and welcome criticism
  • learn enjoying every step of the way
  • Pursuing Excellence is about a constraint view of nature, they do not give up ambition and also do not give up enjoying the journey

Perfectionism schema hurts self-esteem because:

  1. does not accept him/herself
  2. constantly perceive self as a failure
  3. is less likely to try

Perfectionism harms relationships, Perfectionism leads to anxiety and stress.

How can we change toward the Excellence schema?

  1. self-awareness, understanding perfectionism.
  2. focus on and reward effort
  3. active acceptance and take action

Interesting research findings:

  • Pareto Principle or the 80-20 Rule helps you manage those things that really you care the most.

People and their work:

  • Warren Bennis’ book Geeks and Geezers – work-life balance
  • Nathaniel Branden – self-esteem
  • Peter Senge – creative tension
  • Richard Wiseman’s book The Luck Factor
  • John Updike – perfectionism is the enemy of creativity
  • Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s book Flow
  • Nathaniel Branden’s book A Woman’s Self-Esteem: Struggles and Triumphs in the Search for Identity
  • Anita Roddick’s work for women and self-esteem
  • Carol Dweck – not all praise is good – it can change our schema
  • Karen Horney – neurosis is always part of us, but it’s manageable.

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