Being a perfectionist comes with its share of benefits. These highly motivated, intelligent and achievement-focused individuals are built to succeed. But their constant need to be the “best” at everything comes at a price. Extreme self-criticism, stress, depression, anxiety—even compulsive disorders—are some of the struggles faced by those with perfectionistic tendencies.
In his analysis of 43 studies on the subject, Andrew P. Hill, associate professor in life sciences at York St. John University, found that perfectionistic traits are strongly correlated with burnout—both in school and, later in life, at work. This is especially true when perfectionistic concerns, such as fear of failure, making mistakes and letting others down, are prevalent.
This e-newsletter will discuss the top three challenges faced by perfectionist students and will offer tips educators can use to help these achievement-focused individuals overcome the need to be perfect.
- Fear of failure: The unreasonably high expectations perfectionists set for themselves can cause an overwhelming fear of failure. This may initiate feelings of vulnerability, reluctance to try new things and even procrastination, as those who possess this trait often put off beginning challenging work, or they spend countless hours starting the simplest of tasks to ensure a flawless outcome.Thomas Edison once said, “I haven’t failed; I have just found 10,000 ways that didn’t work.” Use these famous words to inspire lessons that encourage and even reward mistakes. Consider challenging students to come up with as many solutions to a problem as they can, and then reward those with the most potential solutions … not necessarily the “right” solution. Erasers, temporary tattoos and chalkboard locker magnets make nice prizes—and they can serve as a reminder that errors in learning are seldom permanent.
- Growth: Perfectionism can actually impede growth as it causes students to stay within their comfort zone—after all, you’re less likely to fail at what you’re already good at. Mindset author Carol Dweck recommends adopting a growth mindset as an alternative. A growth mindset encourages students to recognize that most talent is not solely inherent. Rather, it is learned and developed. Adopt the growth mindset in your classroom and challenge students to “learn” a new talent. Consider asking your star athlete to participate in a social science debate, or your “mathlete” to take on a creative writing project.
- Recovery from mistakes: Perfectionists often have difficulty recovering from mistakes. However, mistakes are an important part of the learning process. Reviewing mistakes in class (without singling anyone out, of course) can be a powerful motivator. It not only provides immediate feedback, it shows students mistakes are an acceptable part of the learning process, providing a bridge to understanding.
Next time you have a pop quiz or exam, open up the results to the class. Encourage students to own and learn from their mistakes. Reward participation with school logo’d plush key tags or backpack tags, depending on grade level.
Perfectionism can help students achieve and excel, but it can also impede learning. Try these tips to overcome perfectionism and help your students conquer the obstacles associated with being a perfectionist. And if you fail, try again!
Evely, Murray and Ganim, Zoe. “Perfectionist.” Psych4Schools. N.p., n.d. Web. Retrieved 13 Oct. 2015.