Do you always start your homework last minute?
Do you struggle to focus on an upcoming test?
Many of us tell ourselves, “I’ll do it later,” and end up starting last minute. This habit could be an indication that you’re a perfectionist.
The Desire to Achieve Perfection and The Fear of Failure
Hearing the term “perfectionist” may make you think of someone who wants to be perfect all the time, self-conscious, and strict towards others. In actuality, perfectionism can be defined by the following characteristics:
1. The desire to be perfect
2. The tendency to hold high standards
3. The tendency to be excessively critical about mistakes
4. The tendency to have a vague distrust of one’s own actions
For example, if a perfectionist were to study for a test, they would have the following thoughts:
1. I want to get a high score on every mock exam, every time.
2. I’m going to finish two workbooks this month.
3. If I had solved that problem correctly back then, this wouldn’t have happened.
4. Does this study method actually help me improve?
All 4 aspects listed above are potential stressors for a perfectionist. Generally, perfectionism can be divided into two groups:
Adaptive Perfectionism: shows stronger tendencies and characteristics of 1 and 2 from the above list.
Maladaptive Perfectionism: shows stronger tendencies and characteristics of 2 and 4 from the above list.
Adaptive and Maladaptive Perfectionism
Now, let’s look at the detailed differences between adaptive and maladaptive perfectionism. Academically, they are differentiated in the following manner:
Adaptive Perfectionism: Less stress because there is not much margin of error between what you do and the standard you seek.
Maladaptive Perfectionism: There is a large margin of error between your behavior and the standards you seek, resulting in stress and anxiety.
Both demonstrate a strong desire to be perfect and seek high standards. The difference lies in the level of stress they feel through trying to achieve these expectations. As with anything, goal setting is effective for productivity and growth. However, goals that are too high can cause physical and mental strain, leading to intense fatigue and overcapacity. This can be one of the reasons some people delay work or go through academic failure. When we push ourselves to the point of exhaustion to pursue ideals, it can lead to an internal conflict that ends with a form of procrastination.
Put Rules in Place to Avoid Procrastination
To get rid of the habit of procrastination, it’s important to recognize the strong feelings of fear and anxiety we carry within. These emotions can limit our perspective and lead to delaying our responsibilities. Understanding ourselves and shifting our conscious intentions will help with this. Below are two ways to get started.
1. Give It a Try for 10 Minutes
Deciding on a set amount of time to work on something is an effective method. For example, set yourself a 10-minute timeframe, and try working for just 10 minutes first. If you feel good about it, you can continue working, and if you don’t feel good about it, you can stop after the first 10 minutes. Even if we quit, our brain will remember the fact that we did the work and offer a sense of accomplishment. Starting an action and accumulating these little moments of accomplishments will help shift our mindset towards wanting to finish our duties.
2. Create a To-Do List
A to-do list is always effective. Make a list that allows you to visualize your efforts as you go. A visual marker in all what needs to be done, and all that’s checked off, will lead to a sense of accomplishment and enjoyment in progress.
Change Our Thoughts to Reduce Stress
The thoughts, ideas, and influence a perfectionist creates can have tremendous impact on the people around them. In many cases, they make positive contributions to groups and communities. It’s a shame when they lose confidence or turn negative upon facing their own mental blocks. Especially when there is big potential to shine.
We can change any situation by shifting perspectives and changing our mindset. If you read this and recognize that you might be a perfectionist or procrastinator, challenge yourself to shift perspectives. A change in your mindset could brighten your life in new ways.
Ishida, H. (2005). College Students’ Perfectionism and Task-Strategy Inefficience : Why Their Efforts Go Unrewarded? Japanese Journal of Social Psychology 20(3), 208-215. doi: 10.14966/jssp.KJ00003725003
Masui, A., & Iwanaga, M. (2009). The Effect of Self-Oriented Perfectionism and Responsibility on Information Gathering Behavior. Hiroshima University Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences: Studies in Human Sciences, 4, 1-9. doi: 10.15027/29014
Miyahara, C. (2010). Adaptive and Maladaptive Aspects of Perfectionism in College Students: Relationships with Depression, Anxiety, and Coping Behaviors. HEART Hyokyo Institutional Repository. Retrieved from: http://hdl.handle.net/10132/6361