Perfectionism can have its benefits--motivation and setting high standards for your work-life--but it can also have negative side effects, like heightened levels of stress and anxiety.
Even worse, self-critical perfectionism, which is linked to psychological conditions like eating disorders and depression, is harmful to a person's mental health and can lead to feelings of inadequacy. While it's good to set high goals and accomplish them, people who are self-critical perfectionists can unravel during failure and stress.
Being hard on yourself is one thing, but beating yourself up mentally for not being perfect is another. But new research has found a Buddhist practice can help abate these negative feelings and behaviors and replace them with positive feelings.
According to a study in Clinical Psychology & Psychotherapy, self-critical people became markedly more compassionate and loving toward themselves after practicing lovingkindness meditation compared with a control group, the Wall Street Journal reports. The specific type of Buddhist meditation might also help reduce symptoms of depression, researchers say.
Metta bhavana, which loosely translates to "lovingkindness meditation," is a Buddhist practice to help develop compassion and cultivate self-love and loving-acceptance toward others. The meditation is used as a form of self-psychotherapy to develop unconditional kindness and feelings of warmth toward everyone you encounter in life.
"Practicing the technique may activate a soothing-caring regulation system that is probably deficient in chronic self-critics," WSJ reports.
The study, which took place in Israel from 2011 through 2012, found 23 women and 15 men who scored high for self-criticism on an evaluation and broke them into two groups. Half of the 38 subjects went through a seven-week lovingkindness meditation program while the other half formed a control group.
Half the subjects went through 90-minute weekly meditation sessions, during which they practiced how to direct compassion toward themselves. Gradually, the subjects directed their feelings of love toward friends, strangers, and adversaries.
After seven weeks of meditation, the subjects were tested and found that their levels of self-compassion and self-reassurance had increased as their levels of self-critical perfectionism and inadequacy had decreased. The control group saw no changes whatsoever. The benefits, the researchers found, lasted for three months.
While you probably don't have time to meditate in Israel for seven weeks, the study is encouraging for people who want to change their negative feelings and behaviors. It goes to show that, just as you can train your body through psychical exercise, you can train your mind with meditation. At the very least, cultivating feelings of love toward yourself and toward others could help lift your mood and reduce stress.