Goal setting at the gym is great, but holding yourself to too-high standards can lead to serious burnout and even sabotage your performance
Goals are great, but obsessing over setting a new PR comes at a price: "perfectionistic concerns" can be the dark side of goal-setting and the strongest factor behind burnout, according to a new study published in Personality and Social Psychology Review.
Researchers from the University of Bath and York St. John University in the United Kingdom culled 43 studies on perfectionism and performance. They found that in many scenarios, perfectionism lives up to its rep of causing serious stress and anxiety. Blame something called "perfectionistic concerns," says Andy Hill, Ph.D., and lead author of the study. Translation: the fears, doubts, and concerns we have if we don't meet the standards we set for ourself. And when we get too caught up with these concerns, we become bogged down with worry, anxiety, and distracting thoughts that can sabotage our optimal performance. (Find out the 5 Telltale Signs You're Exercising Too Much.)
However, certain aspects of perfectionism can serve as serious motivators for reaching our fitness goals. According to the study, "perfectionistic strivings," which lead us to set high personal standards, can actually help us to maintain the positive effects of achievement and delay burnout—AKA blow those PR goals out of the water. "Perfectionistic strivings capture the standards we have for ourselves," says Hill.
How can we make sure perfectionism is helping and not hurting our game? "Goals are most effective when they are based on personal performance—not competition. Meaningful, challenging, but realistic," says Hill. So, for example, forget about your running buddy's latest 10K time and focus on setting goals that represent meaningful milestones for you. (Has Your Love for Running Turned Into an Unhealthy Obsession?)
Also, don't stress the setbacks. "Having high goals is important, but punishing oneself for minor failures or perceived flaws isn't," he says. In an ideal world, people would set high goals but not be worried about failure, Hill says. (Easier said than done, right?) "Changing your view of failure so that it is just as valuable as success will help." Instead of viewing setbacks and shortcomings as failures, think of them as valuable opportunities that are ultimately getting you closer to your goal. One terrible run doesn't mean you'll never reach your PR, but instead might be a chance for you to reevaluate your rest day schedule or refine how you're hydrating before hitting the pavement. And next time you're dealing with a setback, try these 5 Simple Stress Management Tips That Really Work.