Musturbation: Death by Perfection

Treat Thompson



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If you’ve ever felt like you must achieve the highest level of success in something in order to feel comfortable, satisfied, or happy, then you’ve most likely experienced what psychologists call “must-urbation”.

Dr. Albert Ellis coined the term musturbation to describe certain people’s irrational demandingness towards achieving a goal.

Whereas most people have an intense want or desire to achieve something, people experiencing musturbation place enormous demands on themselves, others, and life conditions:

  • They illogically command that they perform to perfection and be approved by their peers.
  • They insist and anticipate that others treat them positively with praise, kindness, and fairness.
  • They demand that their environment gives them everything they want and never deprives them.

The only thing they want is the highest level of achievement. That becomes a huge weakness because nothing ever goes as planned.

We're all victims of circumstance, so having leeway and flexibility in the pursuit of a goal is important in making sure we don't leave empty-handed.

Dr. Ellis listed several symptoms people experiencing musturbation will go through when they inevitably fail to meet their impossible standards:


Rationalizing is when they make excuses for their failures to make it seem like failure was inevitable, rather than accepting reality. They’ll miss a deadline at work but say it’s because their colleague wasn’t responsive enough.


Withdrawing is when a person notices that things aren’t going their way so they choose to quit the challenge entirely. It’s a coping mechanism used to avoid failure.


Pollyannaism is used to describe someone who has an unfailingly optimistic outlook. They’ll say, “Yes, I’m not performing great at work right now, but things will get better in the future, and people will come around to appreciating my skills.”

Optimism is good, but this kind is unfounded and used for comfort.


After someone experiencing musturbation fails at their enormous goal they may realize their goals are impossible to reach and stop setting goals altogether, rather than shaping more realistic ones.

Although musturbation is a mindset that’s easy to get lost in, Dr. Albert Ellis shared these 3 methods to escape it:

Reframe your perspective

When things don’t go as planned, Dr. Ellis suggests looking at it as an inconvenience rather than a permanent outcome. Your project wasn’t successful, but you can take lessons from the failure to apply to your next attempt.

Make peace with challenges

Understand that you can’t control everything and that we are all victims of circumstance. We have to take advantage of what we do have control over, which is our reactions to challenges.

Fail like a scientist

Don’t quit because things aren’t going your way. Look at every attempt as an experiment you can learn from.

Perfectionism leads to anxiety and poor decision-making. When we think we must achieve perfection, the inevitable failure can make us delusional, disengaged, and desireless.

Life is inherently uncertain, so you won’t experience perfection. However, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t chase your dreams.

This weeks quote

I wanted a perfect ending. Now I’ve learned that some poems don’t rhyme, and some stories don’t have a clear beginning, middle, and end. Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment, and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Delicious Ambiguity. - Gilda Radner

In this quote Gilda perfectly elaborates on the uncertainty of life.

When poems rhyme and stories are clear you can predict what will come next. She learned that life is not like that.

She’s saying in life you need to be flexible to make the best out of every challenge in front of you, in spite of not knowing what will happen next.

This weeks reflection

Are there areas in your life where you adopt a musturbation mindset?

Example: Sports, work, projects, etc.