Perffectionism

 

Have you ever found yourself sitting staring at a blank page, unable to get started?

Do you put off starting your assessment (or piece of work for your PhD supervisor) until the last minute because you feel overwhelmed with anxiety about doing it right?

Did you notice the spelling mistake in the title?

If you answered yes to these questions, you might recognise that you struggle with procrastination, but you may not realise that perfectionism might be one of the underlying reasons for the procrastination.

Perfectionism is one of the most common causes of anxiety and procrastination in university students; however, it is concept that is often misunderstood. Often people believe that being perfectionistic means to be a ‘high achiever’, or think that avoidance or procrastination are due to ‘being lazy’ – this is often not true.

 

So what is perfectionism?

Perfectionism has three main components –

  • The relentless striving for extremely high standards
  • Judging your self-worth based largely on your ability to strive for and achieve such unrelenting standards
  • Experiencing negative consequences of setting such demanding standards, yet continuing to go for them despite the cost.

Perfectionism tends to be driven by a fear of making mistakes, and beliefs that mistakes might make you less successful, likeable or even less worthy, or sometimes that mistakes will lead to some unspecified catastrophic outcome.

Some people may strive to be perfect in only one part of their life, such as studies, at work, or appearance. Others may strive to be perfect in many or all areas of their life. This article will just focus on perfectionism in an academic setting.

 

What does perfectionism look like?

Perfectionism can generally go one of two ways – overcompensation or avoidance. It is not uncommon for people to flip between both.

Overcompensation might involve the following:

  • repeatedly writing and re-writing sentences
  • repeatedly looking over work searching for errors
  • asking others to check your work repeatedly
  • endlessly creating lists and timetables
  • not letting others do any of the work because you are afraid that tasks won’t be done properly
  • focusing on small details at the expense of the bigger picture
  • collecting too much information at the expense of starting writing

Alternatively, this pressure to reach such high standards can be paralysing, and so striving for this often leads to procrastination, avoidance or even giving up. This often looks like:

  • difficulty getting started on assessments
  • not attempting an exam or assessment because you are sure your won’t do well enough
  • handing in your work late
  • not starting an assessment until the last minute so that if you don’t do well it is not a reflection of your ability,
  • distracting yourself with YouTube or Facebook (or anything else) as a way of coping
  • being unable to make a decision
  • not handing in an assessment at the due date because it is not ‘perfect’, even though you have a completed piece of work.

People who can be perfectionistic can easily end up stuck in a vicious cycle where their self-worth is tied up with achievement, leading them to set unrealistic goals. When they fail to reach these goals, they might feel depressed and lethargic and a deep sense of failure, which reinforces their need to meet their high standards to feel ok.

Sometimes, when they do actually achieve the standards they set for themselves, they dismiss that goal as not being important or difficult enough, or simply being a fluke, and so get no satisfaction from the achievement. They might then set their standards even higher.

 

Is perfectionism good or bad?

People often have good reasons for being perfectionistic, such as the feeling of satisfaction of being top of the class, or always feeling prepared or in control, or receiving praise from family or friends when you do well (or avoiding criticism). However the paradox of perfectionism is that sometimes these standards can actually impair performance (such as when it leads to avoidance or procrastination), or meeting the standards may come at a huge cost to your emotional wellbeing, relationship, physical health, or other aspects of your life. Perfectionism can lead to burnout, as well as increasing risk for mood, anxiety and eating disorders.

“But [I hear you say]… if I let go of my high standards, won’t I end up not caring at all or doing nothing? How will I have any direction in life?”

It is important to remember that there is a vast difference between striving for excellence and demanding perfection. In a nutshell, healthy striving is more about being motivated by your passion for learning (rather than a fear of failure), putting in your best effort within a reasonable time frame that still allows you to live a balanced life, learning to be ok with failure if it does occur, and knowing that you are still a worthwhile person regardless of your achievements.

 

 

What can you do about perfectionism?

If you decide that you want to change, then here are a few ideas to try:

  • Recognise the signs– the first step is to get to know what perfectionism looks like for you. Consider what behaviours, thoughts and feelings you experience that signal perfectionism might be around, so you can identify perfectionism when it is occurring.

 

  • Decide whether you want to let go of perfectionism – This might sound straight forward, but it can be difficult to let go of the high standards because doing so might involve being willing to experience the anxiety that might come with trying a different approach. It might be useful to note down the costs and benefits of a perfectionism habit. For example, “I really like doing things well, but I have no free time.” What is it about perfectionism that causes the most problems for you?

 

  • Ask yourself: “Does telling myself that it has to be perfect help me to be effective and get things done on time?” “Does focusing on one failure and ignoring all my achievements increase my chances of being successful in the future?… Or does it have the opposite effect?

 

  • Start with a “Shitty First Draft” – If you are stuck staring at a blank page, try to shift your expectations – aim for just writing a “shitty first draft”. Just let the words come out however they choose and don’t focus on making it perfect at the outset. You could even adopt a sense of humour about it and award a ‘worst sentence of the day’. At the end of the day you may not have a masterpiece, but perhaps you will have something that is ‘good enough’.

 

  • Experiment with your standards – Choose any activity and instead of aiming for 100%, try aiming for 90%, 80%, or 70% success. Consider, what perfectionistic behaviour would you like to do less of? What other things would you like to do more of in your life? e.g., time with friends, different interests etc.

 

  • Notice some unhelpful thinking styles that tend to fuel perfectionism. For example,
    • All-or-nothing thinking: “If I don’t get a distinction, then I don’t deserve to graduate
    • Shoulds: e.g., “I should study for three hours every night no matter what happens.
    • Mental filter – noticing and focusing on only the mistakes or flaws but dismissing all of the parts of your work that are correct
    • Catastrophising: e.g., “If I don’t get a distinction in this assignment, then I will never get a good job and my life will be over.”

 

  • Finished is more important than perfectthis short clip highlights why finishing a project is way more important than having something that is perfect, but not finished.

 

  • Reasonable standards – Try to identify a more reasonable or flexible expectations for yourself, such as “I prefer to do a good job, but if it is not perfect it is still adequate for what is required here.” While this idea is simple, it can be hard to actually follow through with, and you might need to repeatedly remember to come back to the reasonable standard and be patient with yourself.

 

  • You are more than your grades – Try to challenge the idea that failing at uni means that you are a failure as a person. For example, consider “If I fail at uni, it is not a reflection of my whole self. My whole self includes….”. As with the previous point, a simple concept, but not easy to do.

 

Perfectionism can be a complex beast to tackle, so if you have had a go at some of these strategies but are still struggling, please don’t go it alone. Talk to friends, family, or supervisors, and don’t hesitate to contact us here at UON Counselling.

 

For further information on Perfectionism –

Center for Clinical Interventions has some very informative and free brief tips sheets, or a series of self-help modules that look at perfectionism in more detail

When Perfect isn’t Good Enough – Book by Antony Martin

When Perfect isn’t Good Enough – TED talk by Antony Martin


Managing end-of-semester Stress

So it is week 10 (nearly week 11), getting towards the pointy end of semester, and many of you may be feeling the squeeze with lots of assessments due and exams on the horizon. Chances are that you might be experiencing some feelings of anxiety and stress – this is a completely normal human response!

Alternatively, some of you might take the more “bury my head in the sand” approach and try to avoid thinking about everything/anything. There is no shame in this, it is just a way of coping that most of us will have used at some point in time. However, most of us will acknowledge that this approach has its downsides (no pun intended) – tasks pile up and feel even more overwhelming or we might miss deadlines. And the truth is, that this approach is usually also a sign that you are feeling a bit overwhelmed or anxious.

So, say you are able to recognise that there is some anxiety going on for you at the moment – then what? What can you do with this anxiety?

Well as with most things, there are a few different options, and different things work for different people.

Some options for managing intense anxiety might include relaxation strategies like grounding yourself in the present moment using your senses, slowing your breathing rate, progressive muscle relaxation or using some guided mindfulness exercises. A couple of good apps for mindfulness and breathing include Breathe2Relax, headspace, and Smiling mind.

On the other hand, you might like to try to change your relationship with the anxiety. Rather than fighting or struggling to get rid of or avoid the anxiety, you could try making space for the feelings and being willing to experience them in order to work towards something that is important to you. Being willing to experience uncomfortable emotions can mean your actions are guided by your values, rather than avoiding discomfort.

For some people, much of their stress might come from getting caught up with thoughts about the work needing to be done perfectly or to a really high standard. This can be impossible (or come at the cost of your mental or physical health) when you have a number of things due at the same time, and for some people it can lead to being paralysed and not handing in anything at all. If this sounds like you, then you might like to have a look at some of these resources on perfectionism, and consider what would be more reasonable or helpful expectations for your work, taking into consideration all the demands on you at the moment. Remember – you are a human not a machine!

The key thing with managing your stress, is to give something (or a few different things) a try, and see what works for you. And remember – you are nearly there!

Stay tuned to the blog for more on perfectionism and other ways to manage anxiety in the coming weeks.


Lest we forget

As an Australian the saying ‘Lest we forget’ is one that resonates with me deeply. It is a time to remember what it means to be Australian as well as reflect on what people who are not too different from me have sacrificed to enable me to live in a free society.

Sometimes it is good to take the time to practice gratitude for what we have in our lives. Studies show that we can consciously grow gratitude, and can increase our well-being and happiness by doing so. In addition gratefulness, especially expression of it to others, can increase energy and empathy.

Mindfulness is a slow and easy way to practice gratitude, and it is something that you can easily work into your day. It allows you to stop and re-connect with the world around you and ground yourself in reality. Some quick ideas might be practicing mindfulness during daily task, such as;

  • Set an alarm on your phone to go off at certain time of the day to remind you to check in with your breath
  • Brush your teeth and as you clean focus on the movements of the toothbrush in your mouth and the sounds/smells/taste
  • Sitting at traffic lights try a quick body scan and check in with your emotions and where are you holding your stress

Over the next week take some time to remember to be grateful and mindful of the world around you, and perhaps these tips may be of use as you return to your studies after the Easter recess.

Remember our Skype Drop In Sessions are up and running for the remainder of the semester with the exception of this Tuesday’s 8pm session.

 


Getting in contact over Easter

It seems like the Easter Recess has snuck up on everybody this year and that we are all feeling in need of some time away from Uni. Like students, the staff here will also be having a break over Easter and that means the University will be closed between Friday 14th and Tuesday 18th April and no Skype Drop-In Sessions will not be on during the above dates.

Today and tonight (Thursday 13th May) there will be Skype Drop-In at 2.30-3.30pm and 8.00-9.00pm with the next session on Wednesday 19th April at 3.30-4.30pm.

Outside these times there are several options to keep in mind.

If you need to speak with someone urgently Lifeline offer a 24 hour telephone counselling service on 13 11 14 and you can also connect over chat. The Mental Health Contact Centre also offer 24 hour advice and referral information on 1800 011 511.

Happy Easter, may it be full of the things and people you love and we look forward to seeing you all back here rested (and full of chocolate) soon!


Lost between the gap

“This world is in desperate need of creative and intellectual minds to solve complex problems. But before we can do that, we need to build a culture that accepts mental diversity.”
Alix Generous

Alix really captures so much in this quote about Asperger’s and also about diversity as a whole. So often people ask me “Am I normal?” This question makes it seem like there is a desire to be like everyone else, to fit in or in some cases fade into the background. I say seems like because I don’t think this is the desire at all. I think the desire is for acceptance, to be different and it be ok.

When I was planning this blog post with a colleague we thought that Autism awareness week was a great time to promote around the roadblocks that students with ASD might encounter while here at the university. It is still a great idea and we have resources to do this but it’s not the right one for now. Watching Alix’s Ted Talk I am reminded again of the inadequacies of society as a whole to meet individuals with ASD in their world. The roadblocks we put up in being able to access the minds of the visual thinkers, the pattern thinkers, the verbal thinkers and all other types of apparently “non normal” people. I watch daily people with ASD seek support to access the “normal” world. I watch them try and find ways to teach us what they see so clearly in their dreams and minds. I watch the ideas of the inner mind get lost in translation or between the gap between the brilliant mind and the lagging society norms.

So what do we do? Alix suggests that the judgement needs to stop! I agree but I take it to the next step and say it has to go further, we have to stop assuming that this “normal” way is the right way, or the only way. We need to accept alternatives and embrace diversity more. We all need to take the step of closing the gap, it doesn’t have to sit like a burden atop the shoulders of every person identified as ASD. It is a shared responsibility. So next time you are in a conversation where the other person lacks tone, or gets stuck on a topic, doesn’t grasp what you are saying, misses your humor, appears to lack an inhibition button or lack what you consider an appropriate response to a situation step up and try and enter their world instead of blowing them off. This person may just be able to unlock the cure for cancer, have the key to solving world hunger, or maybe just maybe might be the helping hand that you need to growing your inner world beyond what you could have done by yourself.

Check out Alix’s Ted Talk, she really is quite humorous!

 


Dealing with Bullies

Many of you may have celebrated all things Irish last Friday the 17th March, but did you also know that it marked the seventh National Day of Action against Bullying and Violence in Australia?

Bullying has three main features:

I think sometimes it seems easier to understand the first two parts of bullying rather than the different types of behaviours that can cause harm. These can be social, verbal or physical and you might consider some of these as more serious? But all forms of bullying can have a lasting effect on those involved and because we are all different it is impossible to tell what the effect may be on someone.

Politics both here and overseas have been increasingly causing me to question what acceptable behaviour is and whether we need to be more mindful of social and verbal behaviours. Seeing some of the statements from world leaders about acceptable behaviour definitely ticks the boxes of those features of bullying! But what about here at University? As a student I remember a few times when a member of academic staff had a reputation for behaving inappropriately towards students and at times it can seem like we can’t do anything about such behaviour, especially when it is sitting just below the surface.

Scilla Elworthy explores how to deal with a bully without becoming a thug in return. She outlines that in order to deal with bullying we need to understand our values and be able to reflect on how we can manage our fear and anger in relation to these values. She asks you to treat the fear like a child, what does the fear need to feel better, stronger? Scilla also reminds us that the anger we feel can be powerful, rather than getting angry with people and wasting that power using it to make positive changes.

Now might be the time to stop and give pause to what you can manage in relation the world around you, what you can do when you see behaviours that cause harm and what you can do in response to bullying. Practicing skills of self-reflection and being in touch with your values can be the first step in developing your confidence to be assertive. Our tip sheet on this also has some great ideas and suggestions to help you feeling more confident in standing up to bullies


Multilingual Meditation

This app and website are like Meditation Gold! Yes there are so many different options to chose from not just in terms of the different guided meditations but also in language, and groups you can connect with. And it’s all FREE!

Insight Timer  is a free website and app that provide guided meditations across different topics like compassion, spirituality, depression and anxiety to name a few. You can use the timer, customise your playlist, chose scripts in different languages (25 languages are covered) and connect with a wider community of people also engaging in the same practice.  It has over 4,300 guided meditations and music tracks from over a 1,000 teachers. You have the opportunity to join different groups and intereact with the members of that group through posts or just view the world map and see others meditating at the same time as you across the world.

With a wide variety of influences and the meditations including, Buddhism, Judaism, Psychology, Shamanism, Sikhism, Vedic, Yoga, Hinduism, Christianity, Kabbalah, Scientific and Taoism there is sure to be something for everyone.

What’s good about it: It is a one stop shop that has no barrier of language, culture or belief!

What’s not so good about it: With all that choice it can seem a little daunting….I mean where do you start and how do you know what’s good. My tip is just explore but do it slowly. Start with one group or one practice and trial it for a week before adding or expanding your playlist.


The Cultural Diversity of the Calming Breath

by Marie Rockford **

Before it starts to get busy this semester balancing assessment and exam commitments with work, friends and family get started on your skills to ride the storm by introducing the calming breath.

The calming breath is achieved and valued in many cultural societies and spiritual traditions. From Buddhism and Hinduism to Chinese Confucianism to European Christianity; to indigenous animist and ancestor worship, the practice of meditation often includes the calming nature of breath awareness, reflection and prayer. A central theme strives for the art of being silent, receptive, empty, and attentive through meditation.

Within the Western Psychology, meditation is often based in ‘Mindfulness’ a very popular practice derived from Buddhist traditions of being aware of the moment. Mindfulness is a form of ‘Open Monitoring’ meditation, such as found in Vipassna meditation or some forms Taoist meditation.

Buddhist meditation, also includes some forms of Zazen, Loving Kindness Meditation, Chakra Meditation, Kundalini Meditation, Sound Meditation, Mantra Meditation, Pranayama, some forms of Qigong, and many others. These are ‘focused attention’ meditation.

So too, within the Islamic traditions there is Salat (the ritual of cleansing and salutation) five times a day. There is also Dhirk, the silent and / or the vocal repetition of the names of God. And, Sufi orders use differing meditations related to love and the heart, a personal favourite of mine. Yes I am a lover of Rumi. Other Sufi paths also practice zikr; the use of music or twirling as a focused attention on Allah.

Wondering what is available on campus around meditation then you could make inquiries with NUSA’s clubs and societies, check out the UON students event schedule, drop by counselling in the Student Services building or if you’re a postgrad student check out NUPSA‘s offerings on the Callaghan Campus.

 

** Marie is a Student Support Advisor located on the Sydney Campus.  If you’re interested in an App around cultural diverse meditation scripts then Marie has also done a review that will be published tomorrow on a multilingual app.


I am woman hear me roar….

I’m sure it hasn’t escaped anyone’s attention that this week we celebrated International Women’s Day. As a result my social media streams were filled with a range of posts both celebrating the power and strength of women but also highlighting the inequalities when compared to men in society. There were also posts highlighting the vulnerability of women with statistics of domestic violence rates and sexual assault incidences.

What I loved about all these diverse posts is that they all came together and did one thing…. they spoke aloud of women. They made sure that no issue was left alone for fear of the stigma and shame associated with it. They all encouraged conversation about the great and not so great parts about being a woman in today’s world. They highlight the growth of our society. Compared to being a woman in the 50’s we have come a long way. We are no longer aiming to be the perfect housewife, instead we are aiming to be doctors, engineers, professional athletes and so many more professions.

We have a long way still to come but this week we have been open about the good and the bad. We have not hidden the bad but shone a light on the path we have yet to travel.


Random Acts of Kindness

Happy 1st week of uni everyone! It is amazing that it is March already.  Febfast is over, another great event/awareness month in February is Feel Good Feb.  This description is from their Website:

“Feel Good Feb was created to encourage and inspire people to initiate random acts of kindness for their fellow community members. There has been extensive research to prove that ‘giving out good’ not only benefits the receiver but also increases the happiness of the giver. There’s mental happiness and physical benefits for all involved. It is a win-win situation!”

I know February is over, but it really got me thinking about Random Acts of Kindness and how we could put some “good feelings” into Semester 1 here at UON.  A Random Act of Kindness does not have to be a big deal, it can be as simple as asking a lost looking new student if they need some directions. Or smiling at someone who looks like they need it, give up your seat on the bus, the list is endless.  Random Acts of Kindness take very little effort and energy but can make a huge difference to someone’s day.  Imagine the domino effect if everyone here at UON did one small act of kindness this week, or even this month.  The flow-on effects would be beautiful.  Happier students, less stress, brains more able to learn. Exciting stuff!  Have a think about something little you can do.  What will be your Random Act of Kindness today?

p.s. You might be happy to know that I survived Febfast and did not have a single spoonful of chocolate icing! It was great to raise some money for a good cause; it was also really good to achieve a personal goal!


The material or views expressed on this Blog are those of the author and do not represent those of the University.  Please report any offensive or improper use of this Blog to RPS@newcastle.edu.au.
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