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Perfectionism Runs on Mindlessness

Any mind is a hostage to its habits.  Perfectionistic mind – even more so.  Perfectionist’s mind is a high security prison guarded by guilt-tripping shoulds. Thomas Hurka, in a philosophical analysis of the idea of perfectionism, observes: “The perfectionist ideal is a moral ideal <…>: it is an ideal people ought to pursue regardless of whether they now want it or would want it in hypothetical circumstances, and apart from any pleasures it may bring.” (1993, p. 17).

Restated the doctrine of perfectionism means that we should strive for the sake of striving, not because it feels good, but just because.  Preaching perfectionism for the sake of perfectionism is akin to idealistic hazing designed to override the fundamentals of human motivation and to override free will.

If I tell you to dig a perfect hole in the ground, for no reason other than that you can, and you comply without any questions, you are a soldier of the absurd, a zombie.  Striving for perfection for no particular reason or gain, just because, is masochistic insanity that can be only tolerated through reflexive compliance. 

What miraculous force makes this irrational, reflexive compliance possible?  The name of this seemingly unstoppable force is mindlessness.

When mindless, we don’t choose for ourselves, we don’t lead, we don’t self-govern; we follow the shoulds of our programming.   Shoulds are necessary:  to function as a society we do need guidelines.  Perfectionistic shoulds, however, are in a league of their own: they are either irrationally self-referencing (“I should try harder because one should always try harder”) or they are extreme expectations (“I should never make a mistake”).  In either case these kinds of perfectionistic shoulds can only thrive on the mindless obedience of a habit.  While all of us, up to a point, are creatures of habit, perfectionists are notoriously rule-bound and compulsive.  Stuck in routines, they struggle with change.

The goal is to free yourself from the tyranny of shoulds, to sprint some spontaneity into the rigid machinery of mindlessness, and to practice change.  The aim is nothing less than to rehabilitate the capacity for making conscious choices.   After all, freedom to change begins with a conscious choice!


7 Habits of Existentially Vibrant Living

Perfectionism Runs on Mindlessness

Pavel G. Somov, Ph.D.

Pavel Somov, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice and the author of 7 mindfulness-based self-help books. Several of his books have been translated into Chinese, Dutch & Portuguese. Somov is on the Advisory Board for the Mindfulness Project (London, UK). Somov has conducted numerous workshops on mindfulness-related topics and appeared on a number of radio programs. Somov's book website is and his practice website is

Marla Somova, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Pittsburgh, PA. She is the co-author of "Smoke Free Smoke Break" (2011).

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APA Reference
Somov, P. (2011). Perfectionism Runs on Mindlessness. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 9, 2020, from


Last updated: 9 Jul 2011
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