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Building On The Strengths Of Your Perfectionism

I often think of the well-known expression “perfect is the enemy of good” when I am endlessly rewriting an article to make it better (when it is already good enough) and in the process just make or even miss a deadline. But this old saying also reflects the dark view many people have of perfectionism. As a personality trait, it is seen as obsessive and at times pathological. People who are perfectionists may become so focused on setting a high standard for themselves that they live their lives as if graded constantly on a report card.

But perfectionism has a bright side, too. Desirable aspects of this personality trait include conscientiousness, endurance, satisfaction with life, and the ability to cope with adversity. This helps explain why some perfectionists become corporate leaders, skilled surgeons, or Olympic champions.

Dr. Jeff Szymanski, a clinical instructor of psychology at Harvard Medical School and executive director of the International OCD Foundation, believes it is possible to become a better perfectionist—by building on the strengths of this quality and learning to minimize its drawbacks. In his new book, The Perfectionist’s Handbook, he discusses this theory in greater detail and provides exercises people can try at home. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Harvard Health Blog*

Perfectionism Will Keep You Cramped And Insane Your Whole Life

“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life…

…I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.”

—Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird


This paragraph hit me between the eyes. I’ve now read it about ten times in the past 24 hours. Ms Lamott was talking about the first draft of a manuscript. Just get it down on paper, willy-nilly, free lance, she said. Let loose and enjoy yourself she goes on to advise.

But these words spoke to me about so many other things in life. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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