I have been told I have one of those type A personalities. You know the ones – we type As like things to be, well, kind of perfect. Whether it be at work, at home or in our personal lives.

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And never does this pursuit of perfection raise its ugly head more eagerly than with the approach of the new year. It's undeniable; the start of a new year is fertile ground for a renewed commitment to being perfect.

It's as though with the tick of the clock at 12.01am, all of your bad habits, shortcomings and lazy tendencies can be erased. I view it as a chance to metaphorically wipe the slate clean and start afresh. While I always believed this perfection streak was a personality quirk, I'm beginning to realise it's more common among women than first thought.

A quick canvass of my closest friends reveals we all have type A tendencies. We strive for that ever-elusive perfection - at work as the model employee, angling for the corner-office promotion; in motherhood, where we aspire to bring up perfectly behaved and over-achieving children; in our relationships, being a sexy, yet intelligent girlfriend or wife in equal measure; or at the gym, where we're determined to run for five more minutes in a bid to shed just one more kilo.

But perfection can be exhausting and even counterproductive. We've all heard of the all-pervading myth of the superwoman. The woman who seamlessly juggles a demanding career, is the perfect mother to her children, who maintains a stylish and pristine home, is well turned out and stays in shape with regular Pilates classes. And yet who eventually feels harassed, burned out and stretched to her limits.

If merely reading about this so-called superwoman sparks feelings of misguided guilt, perhaps it's worth considering Dr Steven Hendlin's thoughts on society's preoccupation with perfection, and the importance of separating perfection from excellence. As a clinical psychologist and author of three books, including When Good Enough is Never Enough: Escaping the Perfection Trap, Dr Hendlin defines a perfectionist as "someone who thinks anything short of perfection in performance is unacceptable, whereas the person who strives for excellence is able to derive personal satisfaction and pride from a good-enough performance." In learning to be pleased with our attempts at excellence, at our personal efforts, regardless of the outcome, it seems we'll save ourselves a lot of unwarranted angst.

 

The lessons we learn

Thanks to our preoccupation with celebrity, it's hard to ignore the cues we receive from women in the spotlight labelled with the superwoman moniker. It's a rare interview with Academy Award winning actress Reese Witherspoon that doesn't reference her own self-confessed type A tendencies and as the mother of two children, founder of her aptly named production company Type A Films and her impressive movie resume, it would appear the sky's the limit for this apparent overachiever. Fellow Academy Award alumni Kate Winslet has also been branded a superwoman; ex-husband Sam Mendes once described her as "incredibly, relentlessly dedicated and detail oriented to the point of obsession."

Someone known for her nit-picking attention to detail, Martha Stewart has declared, "I'm a maniacal perfectionist. And if I weren't, I wouldn't have this company. I have proven that being a perfectionist can be profitable and admirable." But being displeased with anything less than perfect, or being overly anxious over falling short of extremely high standards, may cause you to become stymied and incapable of moving forward.

 

A slippery slope

Although the allure of perfection may be the siren song for a lot of women, unfortunately it has the potential to produce more than procrastination, with many experts revealing that an obsession with perfection can segue into various emotional conditions, such as depression, general anxiety disorders or even anorexia nervosa. "The emotional stress caused by the pursuit of perfection and the failure to achieve this goal can evolve into more severe psychological difficulties," says Monica Ramirez Basco, psychologist and expert in cognitive-behavioral therapy, and the author of Never Good Enough: How To Use Perfectionism to Your Advantage. Without Letting It Ruin Your Life.

"Perfectionists are more vulnerable to depression when stressful events occur, particularly those that leave them feeling as though they are not good enough," she says. "In many ways, perfectionist beliefs set a person up to be disappointed, given that achieving perfection consistently is impossible. "What's more, perfectionists who have a family history of depression and may therefore be more biologically vulnerable to developing the psychological and physical symptoms of major depression may be particularly sensitive to events that stimulate their self-doubt and their fear of rejection or humiliation."

So while striving for perfection may seem like a noble cause, it can actually prompt all-consuming fears, anxiety and negative self-criticism - none of which make for a healthy mind. "The reach for perfection can be painful because it is often driven by both a desire to do well and a fear of the consequences of not doing well," Ramirez Basco says. "This is the double-edged sword of perfectionism. "It is a good thing to give the best effort, to go the extra mile, and to take pride in one's performance, whether it is keeping a home looking nice, writing a report, repairing a car, or doing brain surgery. "But when you feel as though you keep falling short, never seem to get things just right, never have enough time to do your best, are self-conscious, or feel criticised by others, you end up feeling bad."

 

It's that time of year

As Mark Twain famously espoused of new year's eve, "Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual." For the perfectionists among us, the new year becomes just another benchmark at which to measure ourselves and our performance, and if we fail at keeping our resolutions (as more than three quarters of us do), it becomes yet another opportunity to feel like we're falling short.

So this year I'm trying something entirely different. For the first time ever I'm throwing out my resolution to-do list. In fact, the only resolution I will make is committing myself tohaving a fabulous night with friends and family, and allowing life to unfold as it happens in 2011. Perfectly or not.