Perfectionism: A Good or Bad Way of Thinking?

perfectionismI strive for perfection all the time, especially when it comes to academics. If I feel as if I scored less than an A on any assignment or exam then I have terrible anxiety accompanied with crying spells. During these times of distress, it’s nearly impossible to calm myself down. I shake and mentally exhaust myself so much that I cannot do anything else for the rest of the day. These intense distressful experiences last for hours.

The definition of perfectionism is a person’s constant effort to achieve unobtainable goals, and measuring their self-worth according to their accomplishments rather than their own values and essential worth as a person. Being a perfectionist can have positive aspects, such as being very detail-oriented and highly motivated. However, when perfectionists fail to meet their unrealistically high standards, they can become depressed.

The problem is, no one is perfect. Therefore, holding yourself to standards of perfection will always create unhappiness, because those standards are not attainable.

It may seem difficult to let go of perfectionistic ways. I know for me it is hard to stop obsessively worrying about exams that I have taken in which I’m worried that I did not get an A. Here are some ways to take your mind off your perfectionist ways:

  • Watch a movie
  • Color or draw
  • Talk a walk
  • Hang out with supportive friends
  • Meditate
  • Exercise

Engage in any pleasurable activity that does not relate to the activity you are trying to perfect. This will assist in easing the obsessive thoughts that come along with perfectionism.

A recent study showed that activities that foster self-compassion help perfectionistic people avoid falling into depression. So meditation, positive self-talk, and any other activity that supports compassion toward yourself can be especially helpful if you’re obsessing about the latest exam and your possibly imperfect grade.

How do you get past your worry that a poor grade on your biology or chemistry exam will ruin your chances of success? How do you work with the voices in your mind that tell you you’re a failure if you don’t get an A? 

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Hi! The moderator is a research team member with a background in behavioral health. We're here to help answer your questions and stimulate some great conversation! We don't provide therapy and are not available 24-7 so please if you are in crisis, go to our crisis page: https://sova.pitt.edu/i-need-help-now We look forward to talking to you!

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