July 3, 2020

Overcoming the curse of being a Perfectionist


Do you find yourself in pursuit of the perfect answer to a solution, the perfect personal statement, the perfect dissertation? Do you ever find it? If you’re a perfectionist, you’re probably thinking ‘no, I could have done better.’

Perfectionism is a multi-faceted personality trait, most often born out of not being able to meet expectations. Although it sends its victims on the pursuit of excellence, it also cripples them with the fear of failure and causes academic procrastination.

Perfectionists hold a dichotomous view towards the end result. Everything is seen as a success or a failure where both of the outcomes are unhealthily defined. A student afflicted by perfectionism will consider attaining a B+ grade a failure and only a 100% a success. You might think that’s great, it means this student is always striving for a 100%. Well, what happens when they don’t meet the extremely ambitious bar they set for themselves? They believe they’ve failed. At 99%, they have failed.

Performance results become a measure of your own self-worth. This perpetual cycle of setting yourself unreasonable goals and feeling like a failure when you don’t meet them, results in contingent-worth anxiety.

Anxiety is not the only consequence of perfectionism. When faced with a task of any kind, perfectionists struggle to make a start because doing it well enough is not an option. It has to be done perfectly. Doing something that is average is not acceptable, it must be exceptional. And that’s a near impossible goal to set for yourself. It makes the task so daunting that you do your best to delay it. This is known as perfectionism driven procrastination and is one of the major causes of academic procrastination in today’s students.

So, how do we overcome it?

First, we have got to stop defining everything in a binary manner. The outcome of every task does not have to be win or lose. When we do define our goals, we must be reasonable and allow ourselves to be successful. Consider achieving an 80% and above a success. Second, your worth is not based on your exam results. Self-worth and academic performance must be dissociated from each other.

The need to be able to produce a perfect piece of work in one go must be reconsidered. The resultant procrastination backs us up against a deadline and then our work is rushed and far from showing full potential. When you have an assignment at hand, don’t worry about making mistakes. Instead break down your project in really simple and achievable goals such as writing out the headings. Achieving the perfect result in one go is rarely a possibility but if you can make a start, you will have the time to do multiple iterations and improve your work.

It is important to remember the time it takes to complete a task. The procrastination causes bad time management so create a list of your bite-sized goals and start scheduling everything. A trick here is to schedule in your time to not worry about the task. If you allow yourself relaxation that you have timetabled, you will be able to let go of any apprehension and be refreshed for the next item on your list.

Perfectionism is by no means an easy trait to deal with but it is very common. Fortunately, we can recognise it and remind ourselves that we are more complex than the outcome of any task. With reasonably defined goals and taking a small first step, we can battle the anxiety and procrastination. We can find the balance in working hard towards excellence and not being scared of failure, allowing perfectionism to be a blessing rather than a curse.