Perfectionism is a common disease that many college students struggle with. Do you spend too much time doing less important things like cleaning your house rather than starting on that midterm essay that’s due in two days? Are you apologizing too much for your minor mistakes? Do you think of yourself as a failure because you didn’t make an A on that English exam that you studied extremely hard for? If you’ve said yes to any of the questions above, you may be currently struggling with perfectionism.
Don’t worry, though! Acknowledging that you’re a perfectionist is the first step in being able to change your ways. Unfortunately, changing how you think and how you view your performance won’t be an overnight miracle, but with time and patience, you’ll learn how to stop being too hard on yourself and letting this dictate your life.
First, let’s define what perfectionism is. Perfectionism is a personality trait that is characterized by an individual aiming to achieve a goal with high standards and flawlessness. What makes perfectionism so toxic is that while those who struggle with perfectionism desire success, they are more focused on avoiding failure, resulting in a negative orientation. The individual is so focused on succeeding that everything around them blurs into the background, and they will do nothing but stress and worry over a specific thing until they achieve what they deem as acceptable.
Unfortunately, people with high levels of perfectionism are at a greater risk of experiencing depression than non-perfectionists, especially during periods of stress and anxiety. Did you know that perfectionism can also kill you? A study was done over 450 participants that were followed over a 6.5 year period. The results revealed that the risk of death was significantly greater to those who scored higher on the perfectionism scale than those who didn’t score as high.
So, how can we overcome perfectionism?
1.) Stop using all/never language.
Stop indulging in the mindset of “I’ll never succeed in this course” or “I will always be a failure”. Instead, whenever you find yourself thinking like this, steer your thoughts away from the negatives and try to be more positive. Instead of saying, “I’ll never succeed in this course”, why not say “The material for this class is difficult to comprehend, but if I go to office hours and create study groups with my friends, I have a higher chance of succeeding in this course”?
2.) Create more personal and realistic goals for yourself.
Stop creating unrealistic goals that you are trying to achieve within a short period of time. If you’re hoping to accomplish twenty tasks within one day, and you’ve only managed to complete seven out of those twenty tasks, you’ll be harder on yourself for not being efficient or productive enough. Instead, jot down the tasks that you want to complete, but then highlight the ones that you absolutely need to complete for the day. That way, once you’ve completed all of your highlighted tasks, you’ll feel much better about yourself because at least you’ve got the required tasks done for the day.
3.) Look at the bigger picture.
Will this matter in a month? Will this matter in six months? How about a year? Try to ask yourself these questions whenever you’re stressing over something. When you’re trying to get all of the details right, sometimes you forget to look at the bigger picture. I know this is easier said than done, but whenever you find yourself worrying over something small that may seem like it has taken over your whole world, take a deep breath and think about how much this will matter in a few months. Odds are, it probably won’t matter as much as you think it will.
I know that overcoming perfectionism is no easy feat. However, with time and patience, you will be able to treat yourself more kindly and you’ll find yourself not being as stressed out and anxious as you used to be. Perfectionism is very common amongst college students, so don’t think that you’re alone. It may be daunting at first to acknowledge that you do inhibit perfectionist tendencies, but once you do and begin to work towards your mental health, you will become much happier.