Overcoming Perfectionism

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					Overcoming Perfectionism

Susan Kendal and Adam Sandelson LSE Student Counselling Service
Monday 14 January 2008, AGWR
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Aims
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Examine difficulties with perfectionism Identify the causes and how it develops Explore common myths and thinking errors Identify strategies to overcome it Review sources of help
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Introduction

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What is perfectionism?

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Are you a perfectionist?
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Do you feel like what you accomplish is never quite good enough? Do you often put off handing in papers or projects, waiting to get them just right? Do you feel you must give more than 100% on everything you do or else you will be mediocre or even a failure? Are you working toward success or trying to be perfect - too perfect!
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What is perfectionism?
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Self-defeating thoughts and behaviours associated with high ideals, not realistic goals. Often mistakenly seen as desirable or even necessary for success. Recent studies show that perfectionist attitudes actually interfere with success.
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The desire to be perfect can deny you a sense of satisfaction and cause you to achieve far less than people with more realistic goals.
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Key Elements

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Your expectations of yourself Your expectations of others Others expectations of you

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Causes of perfectionism
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If you are a perfectionist, it is likely that you learned early in life that you were mainly valued for your achievements. You may have learned to value yourself only on the basis of other people's approval. Your self-esteem may be based primarily on external standards. This can leave you vulnerable and sensitive to the opinions and criticism of others. To protect yourself you may decide that being perfect is your only defence.

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Negative thoughts and feelings
• Fear of failure. • Fear of making mistakes. • Fear of disapproval. • All-or-nothing thinking. • Over-emphasis on ‘should’, ‘must’ and ‘ought’. • Never being good enough.

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How does it develop?
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Early experiences
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parents’ expectations rewards and reinforcements punishments modelling behaviour and information

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‘I am stupid’ ‘I must achieve the highest standards or be a complete failure’
Assessment of worth – Strategies to manage it
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How is it maintained?
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Current triggers – eg exams, presentations Negative predictions – ‘I may not do it well/ Unhelpful behaviours,
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others will think I am stupid

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eg avoidance of writing, constant checking

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Confirming our negative beliefs Self Critical thoughts – ‘I’ve failed again’ Depression and low mood
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Vicious circle
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Set an unreachable goal. Fail, as the goal was impossible to begin with. Constant pressure to achieve perfection and inevitable chronic failure reduces your effectiveness. This leads you to be self critical and selfblaming, which can lead to low selfesteem, anxiety and depression. At this point you may give up completely on your original goal and set yourself another unrealistic goal, thinking "This

time if only I try harder I will succeed".

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4 common myths with perfectionism
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You can’t succeed without it It gets you the best results It enables you to overcome obstacles It helps you achieve and please others

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Myth 1: I wouldn’t be the success I am if I weren't such a perfectionist
REALITY:
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There is no evidence that perfectionists are more successful There is evidence that given similar levels of intellect and talent perfectionists perform less successfully. Perfectionism does not lead to success and fulfillment. Success may be achieved despite compulsive striving.
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Myth 2: Perfectionists get things done and they do things right.
REALITY:
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Perfectionists often have problems with procrastination, missed deadlines, and low productivity They tend to be "all-or-nothing" thinkers, and see events as good or bad, with nothing in between. Seeking flawless work can make even small tasks overwhelming, leading to perfectionism. ‘If it can't be done perfectly, it's not worth doing’. Such beliefs often lead to undesired results. Work is handed in late or not at all, with agonizing over noncritical details.

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Myth 3: Perfectionists are determined to overcome all obstacles to success
REALITY:
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Instead of concentrating on the process of getting the task done, perfectionists focus exclusively on the outcome of their efforts. Far from an asset, this relentless pursuit of the ultimate goal becomes a liability Perfectionists may be vulnerable to writer’s block, depression, and social and performance anxiety.

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Myth 4: Perfectionists just have this enormous desire to please others and to be the very best they can
REALITY:  Their tendencies may begin as an attempt to win love, acceptance and approval.  They can be driven by low self-esteem, and find it harder to see the needs and wishes of others.  Relationships may be complicated not enhanced.  Great achievers are willing to make mistakes and risk failure. They recognize that mistakes, failure, and imperfection are part of the reality of being human.
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What can I do about it?
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Realize that perfectionism is undesirable
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perfection is an illusion that is unattainable.

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Challenge self-defeating thoughts and behaviours that fuel perfectionism. Cost benefit analysis of keeping high standards Identify goals – general and specific – to be less perfectionistic
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Challenging Perfectionism - I
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Identify negative/ faulty thoughts List possible alternatives Consider the positive and negative of the original and alternative thoughts Choose a more realistic way to view the situation or that fuel perfectionism.

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Recording thoughts and feelings
Situation Emotion Intensity (Rate 0 -10)

Perfectionistic beliefs and interpretations
If I don’t get each sentence right, my tutor will think I’m stupid I have to know everything or else people will see me as a useless failure

Alternative thoughts They are more concerned with my ideas than each sentence

Rewriting an essay Rewriting an essay

Anxiety – 5 Frustration - 7

Anxiety – 8

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Challenging Perfectionism - II
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Exposure based strategies
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Hierarchy – rank and practice

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Stopping negative actions (eg constant checking, rewriting) Communication
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Effective Prioritising Overcoming Procrastination

Being assertive Listening and paying attention to non verbal communication

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Strategies to move forward – I
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Set realistic and reachable goals Set subsequent goals in a sequential manner Experiment with your standards for success. Try for 80% or even 60% Focus on the process of doing an activity not just the end result. Evaluate success in terms of what you accomplished and whether you enjoyed the task.

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Strategies to move forward - II
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Check your feelings. Monitor feelings of anxiety and depression.
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"Have I set up impossible expectations for myself in this situation?"

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Face your fears that may be behind your perfectionism by asking yourself
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"What am I afraid of? What is the worst thing that could happen?"

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Celebrate your mistakes
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"What can I learn from this experience?"
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Conclusions
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Look after yourself (diet, sleep) Keep a supportive structure for your daily life; have relaxation time See writing as a time of discovery Recall past achievements Challenge negative thoughts Imagine looking back at the task in 3 or 6 months time

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Sources of Help
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TLC Study skills advisors Disability Office LSE Learning world: http://learning.lse.ac.uk/ Speak to other students Tutor or Departmental Tutor Mental Health and Wellbeing Advisor
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LSE Student Counselling Service
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Free and confidential Groups and Workshops programme
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Website has information about the Service
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Stress Management Group – Thursday 24 January 3 week group, meets 2.30 – 4.00. Places available. Self Esteem Group – Thursday 21 February. Further workshops on procrastination and perfectionism Stress management handout Relaxation tape MP3’s Links to self help resources

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