Rules break, guidelines bend


People with perfectionism set very strict and high rules to measure their performance.

The problem is that a person who sets rigid, all or nothing rules (e.g., I must get over 80% in all my marks or I am a complete failure) can become trapped in a cycle of all or nothing. The person is likely to either think that they have completely failed at something (receiving 79%), or when they achieve their standard, reset their standards even higher (e.g. I must get above 85% because 80% is not that good).

To stop this vicious cycle, we can replace rules with guidelines and accept less than perfect performance.

It is helpful to start noticing the rules you have for your performance and replace these with guidelines instead. For example, you might replace a strict rule such as “I must never eat chocolate” with a guideline that “I aim to eat healthily and not to eat chocolate every day, but if I eat it now and then it is OK”.

Try writing down a list of your “rules”, “musts” and “should” and changing them to guidelines. 

I must/should always…. I aim to...

Even prisoners get time off for good behaviour. Do you get time off from the prison of rules? No harm will come if your rule about eating five portions of fruit and vegetables a day is turned into a guideline, if you sometimes forget a friend’s birthday or if you don’t pick up your clothes from the floor.


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