Are you a Perfectionist?
Are you never truly satisfied with your work? Do you meticulously check your emails for mistakes before sending them? Are you avoiding tasks out of fear of not doing them well enough? If so, you could be a perfectionist.
Earlier this month, the University held an “Overcoming Perfectionism” session for PGRs. Julia Caird, Assistant Psychologist at the UofG Counselling and Psychological Services, told us about the different types of perfectionism and gave us advice on how to challenge unhelpful perfectionist thoughts and behaviours.
What exactly is perfectionism?
Perfectionism can be useful or “adaptive”, where you have high expectations of yourself, but are still able to enjoy doing the tasks at hand. You can recognise and feel satisfied with your achievements and can adjust what your standards are to the particular situation. Adaptive perfectionists also tend to have good self-esteem.
However, perfectionism can also be “maladaptive” or self-critical, where you set unreasonable standards for yourself and continue to pursue these high standards, despite coming across difficulties such as anxiety. Unhelpful perfectionism can be applied to a number of different parts of your life, such as work, exercise and eating.
So, how do you know if you have unhelpful perfectionism?
Check to see if you have any perfectionist thoughts and behaviours. Classic unhelpful perfectionist thinking includes never feeling like you have done enough, ruminating on your past mistakes, and taking no satisfaction from your achievements. Behaviours linked to unhelpful perfectionism include chronic procrastination and avoidance of tasks, overly checking things (such as your work emails before sending them!) and overcommitting to lots of different tasks.
What can you do to change perfectionist thoughts and behaviours?
The trouble is, it can be very hard to change unhelpful perfectionist views because perfectionism can actually benefit us! Perfectionists are often seen as competent or sometimes even “superhuman” in terms of their achievements, yet it can cause us stress and anxiety as we try to reach unattainable goals.
If you’re currently struggling with perfectionism, try the following tips and see if they work for you:
Challenge the “all or nothing” thinking
All or nothing, or “black or white thinking” is thinking in extremes and seeing yourself as either a success or failure. For example, you could say you either work “all day or not at all”. To avoid this style of thinking, look back to a time when you completed a task and then imagine where you fit on a scale of work, from “perfectionist” to “lack of effort”. Seeing work effort as a scale helps to make tasks not seem quite so daunting!
Do the opposite!
Sometimes perfectionist behaviours are in place to protect you from what you fear e.g. sending a mistaken typo in an email, which could be embarrassing! To challenge this, face your fears and do what you wouldn’t normally do to test out your assumptions. For example, don’t check those emails before sending them and see what happens! Chances are, nothing will happen.
Deal with procrastination
We all procrastinate in different ways – cleaning, social-media, Netflix etc. Identify what your go-to is for procrastination, and try to avoid that thing! Remember, action comes before motivation, and not the other way around. When you’re trying to get something done, being accountable to someone else might also be a good idea!
Learn to prioritise
Perfectionists tend to give every task equal weight, but this should not be the case. Make a to-do list and rank each task by order of urgency, and tackle the most pressing task first. Remember to give yourself time to relax too!
Change your perception of self-worth
Finally, are you basing your self-worth on your outputs or achievements? To explore this, it is helpful to make a pie chart of things on which you base your self-worth on, such as money, appearance, relationships and achievements. How big is your “achievements” slice? If it is disproportionately big, consider giving some more weight to other areas of your life such as friendships and hobbies,, and slightly less to your achievements.
If you would like some further advice on how to change your perfectionist thoughts and behaviours, contact University of Glasgow Counselling & Psychological services for a drop-in appointment where you can chat confidentially with a mental health professional.