Being a perfectionist doesn’t always have to be a bad thing. Setting high standards can drive us to work hard to achieve our goals. However, the problem comes when those high standards are unrealistically high for us. For example, maybe your goal is to get an A in a class – this goal makes you focused, and you work hard to be organized throughout the semester. But then you might start having thoughts like, “I must get an A on this exam and if I don’t, then I am a failure.” When we add that last piece – the negative label we attach to ourselves if we fall short of our expectations – we can be discouraged from trying again next time, and this type of thinking can really destroy our self-confidence.
I would say that I can be a perfectionist at times, particularly around academics. I have always had high expectations for myself around grades, which worked for me because it pushed me to study hard. But I notice that even after I write a test, for instance, I constantly tell myself that I didn’t do good enough even though I haven’t gotten a mark back yet. And even if I get a good grade, I focus less on the fact that I did well and more on how I could do better next time. I don’t take the time to give myself credit for doing well because I am always focused on what I did wrong rather than what I did right.
A lot of the time I think, “That was a good mark…but I could have done better if I had got that one question right,” or “Why did I make that mistake? I am so stupid!” It is challenging to deal with this especially in school, as it is a tough academic environment and getting high grades is a huge concern for most people, especially when you start thinking about things like getting into a graduate program. It would be nice if grades didn’t matter as much, but that’s just how it is.
I also often get discouraged if my first attempt at something doesn’t work out. For example, with writing blog posts, I have trouble getting started because I spend a lot of time planning what I want to write about. So I make an outline, I read over my drafts several times, I shift things around, I worry about the way that I word things, and if my writing is any good. Does it sound too formal? Informal? Am I being too wordy? What about my grammar? Then after I submit it, I don’t go back to read it because I end up being very critical of my work. If I didn’t have a deadline, I would have a lot of half finished blog posts right now.
I think for me, something that has worked is spending less time planning and more time
taking action. It would be nice to have all the time in the world to write out assignments or finish projects, but we often have deadlines and at a certain point, you need to be okay with what you have and be satisfied with your work being “good enough.” I know that things don’t always go according to plan so sometimes it can be helpful to just be spontaneous. Sometimes if you get too focused on details, you end up second guessing yourself and might end up making more mistakes rather than improving upon what you have done.
It all comes down to being realistic. If you find that you are setting goals that you never seem to reach, don’t be afraid to lower the bar a little bit. It needs to be high enough to be challenging but low enough that it is doable. Revisit these goals once in a while and don’t be afraid to change them. This might help some of you out if you are struggling with goal setting:
The fear of making a mistake shouldn’t stop you from trying something new – just go for it, and if it doesn’t work out, use that experience to figure out how to improve next time. Making mistakes doesn’t make you a failure – it makes you human.
A real loser is someone who’s so afraid of not winning, they don’t even try. – Little Miss Sunshine
Ayesha is a fourth year student at the University of Toronto, majoring in Psychology and completing a double minor in Cinema Studies and Sociology. She enjoys watercolor painting, fantasy fiction, and crime dramas. She was diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Depression and Social Anxiety.