Burns provides fascinating evidence that, on strictly pragmatic grounds, perfectionism is an enemy of excellence. He cites a study of insurance salesmen, which revealed that perfectionists who linked self-worth to achievement earned an average of $15,000 a year less than the nonperfectionist control group.
A report on Olympic qualifiers among male gymnasts was similar. “The researchers found that the elite group tended to underemphasize the importance of past performance failures, while the athletes who failed to qualify were more likely through mental images of self-doubt and impending tragedy.”
He also reports that perfectionism is allied with impaired productivity, emotional disturbances, impaired health, loneliness, and disturbed personal relationships. The root of the problem is imbedded in dichotomous, all-or-nothing thought patterns. The perfectionist is trapped in a “saint-or-sinner” syndrome, which sees partial success as total failure. Self-esteem is contingent on outstanding achievement and total competence.