- Do you set standards for yourself that are beyond reach and reason?
- Do you see failure as a sign of weakness or unworthiness?
- Do you constantly worry about not being good enough?
- Are you never satisfied with anything less than "perfection"?
- Do you sometimes work so hard on an assignment that it consumes you?
- Do you miss deadlines because you are working to perfect your assignments?
- Do you lose motivation when you get a lower grade than expected?
If you answered "yes" to most of these questions, you may be struggling with perfectionism.
A few causes of perfectionism
Fear of failure
e.g. If I fail, I’m not good enough
Remember: Your failures do not determine the kind of person you are!
Fear of making mistakes
e.g. If I make a mistake, I’ve failed
Remember: If we never make mistakes, we limit ourselves from learning new things!
Fear of disapproval
e.g. If I fail, my parents/teachers/friends won’t accept me
Remember: Nobody is perfect!
An all or nothing attitude
e.g. If my paper is not perfect, I’m not going to hand it in
Remember: If you don’t hand it in, you will fail! Don’t let your perfectionism cause you to fail your courses!
Possible Outcomes of Perfectionism
- Writer’s block
- Test anxiety
- Downward spiral of grades
Strategies to overcoming perfectionism
Set REALISTIC goals!
Set specific and attainable goals for yourself. Make sure they are realistic given how much time you have for a particular task.
For example: If you haven't started a paper due in two days it might be unrealistic to think you will get an A+ on your paper. Give yourself enough time to start your assignments and get help along the way! This will make the task less daunting, and you will still have time to revise and edit your work.
Give it a try! What is ONE task you would like to accomplish today?
Ask yourself: Is it realistic? Can I do this in the amount of time I have?
Face your fears
It is very important to think about WHY you are afraid of doing a particular task. For instance, you may be afraid of the following:
Lack of skill:
If you are avoiding writing your term paper, ask yourself: Why am I avoiding this paper? If you feel that your writing or English language skills could use some improvement, get help! The Student Learning Commons provides free writing consultations for students.
Lack of understanding:
Do I fully understand the assignment? Ask your professor or TA! Many perfectionists think they have to do everything on their own. This is not the case! Many successful students seek help when they need it.
Lack of time:
Get started! Thinking about how much time you left to complete your assignment is not helping you get it done! Tackle small pieces of your assignment each day, otherwise you may get overwhelmed and never start. Just remember, even doing 15 minutes a day towards an assignment is better than nothing!
Also ask yourself: What is the worst that could happen? In most cases, the result will not be as catastrophic as we may think!
Embrace your mistakes!
Try to see your mistakes as part of the learning process. If you are in doubt, ask people you admire about their road to success. You will quickly find out that failure is an integral part of success. As Albert Einstein once said, anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.
Bring in an expert
If perfectionism is leading to poor performance, depression, or anxiety, speaking with a counselor at Health and Counselling Services might help.