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Student Wellbeing

 

Many people experience difficulties with perfectionism. Whilst healthy striving and a bit of competition can be very motivating, persistent perfectionism can interfere with our daily enjoyment in life, causing self-defeating and negative thoughts to surface when unrealistic goals are not achieved, stealing the joy of an activity or an experience because we are so intent and focused on achieving the perfect outcome.

As flawed human beings, aspiring to perfection is laudable but ultimately unattainable. No one is perfect (even if their Instragram account suggests otherwise). And yet our society teaches us that to succeed as a person, we have to be the best. At everything. We spend time pushing ourselves, squeezing more and more in to each day, with expectations of ourselves ever increasing to try to be the best, the fittest, the smartest, the strongest. And we wrongly feel as if our success (or failure) in such endeavours define us and our value.

If you think you may need to tame the perfectionist within you, here are some helpful pointers:

  • Set goals based on your desires and aspirations rather than the expectations of others, make them realistic and break them down in to attainable chunks
  • Aim for small, incremental improvement rather than earth shattering success
  • Experiment with your standards for success and failure. Would 80% success be that bad?
  • Keep things in perspective; the world will keep turning if you don't achieve 100% all the time
  • Focus on the activity or the process, not just the end result; evaluate success not only in terms of accomplishment or performance but also in terms of enjoyment, satisfaction, stimulation etc.
  • Recognise and challenge negative thoughts about failures or set backs constructively.
  • Celebrate mistakes and ask "What can I learn from this?"
  • Discriminate between important and less important tasks. Put more effort in to the former.

See also:

UCS Self-help leaflet on perfectionism

UCS short course on perfectionism versus health striving

Know your thoughts; Make mistakes and learn from failure; Cope with criticism