Monday, 31 July 2017

Top Ten Quotes on Perfectionism

Today I read a sobering article about perfectionism - linking it with suicide. 

Perfectionism is described by Psychology Today as the following mindset:

"For perfectionists, life is an endless report card on accomplishments or looks. It's a fast and enduring track to unhappiness, and perfectionism is often accompanied by depression and eating disorders. What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those in its grip desire success, they are most focused on avoiding failure, so theirs is a negative orientation. And love isn't a refuge; in fact, it feels way too conditional on performance. Perfection, of course, is an abstraction, an impossibility in reality, and often it leads to procrastination. There is a difference between striving for excellence and demanding perfection."

Perfectionism is something I come across in my daily life, working with students with social, emotional and mental health needs - not just the students, but in myself also. It can be simply a mildly annoying and hampering tendency but when you travel down the perfectionist road too far, it can lead to exhaustion and other longer-term conditions that cause substantial physical harm. And as the article I mention above highlights, at its most extreme perfectionism can lead to suicidality.

There is an argument as this article highlights that both the recently-reformed education system, with its renewed focus on numerical grades and 'gold standards', alongside the rise of social media culture, are pushing young people towards perfectionism - particularly it would seem girls.

Here are ten quotes on the dangers which may help us see it more clearly for what it is:

>> "Perfectionism is internalized oppression." - Gloria Steinem

>> “Perfectionism is self-abuse of the highest order.” - Anne Wilson Schaef

>> “Good enough is good enough. Perfect will make you a big fat mess every time.” - Rebecca Wells

>> “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.” - Ecclesiastes 11:4

>> “On Tolkien: "His fussiness threatened to overwhelm his creativity.” - C. S. Lewis

>> "Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing." ~Harriet Braiker

>> "A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault." - John Henry Newman

>> "To escape criticism — do nothing, say nothing, be nothing." ~Elbert Hubbard

>> “The essence of being human is that one does not seek perfection.” - George Orwell

>>  "And now that you don't have to be perfect, you can be good." - John Steinbeck

Certainly with my own students, I regularly discuss 'good enough' and 'perfect' in terms of work expectations - emphasising the limitations of time to complete a project (time framed as a 'budget', that can only be spent on so much product in terms of quality and quantity). This is a good starting point, alongside being more open and authentic with students about your own mistakes.

If you are worried about your own perfectionist tendencies, it might be worth trying out this questionnaire to gain self-awareness about just how far you go with it - and from there, maybe engaging in something like a CBT or mindfulness course. There is no shame in this - pursuing 'mental fitness' should be regarded as worthwhile, and as everyday, as going on a diet or going to the gym as we do when pursuing 'physical fitness'.

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