Tackling Perfectionism with a Growth Mindset
Updated: Sep 3
*Image used with permission from the artist, Nick Seluk's Heart and Brain comics. You can see more of his work here http://theawkwardyeti.com/chapter/heart-and-brain-2/
Perfectionism is the tendency for someone to set rigid and unreasonably high standards for themselves. It often goes hand-in-hand with black and white thinking (i.e., it’s either good or bad, right or wrong, perfect or worthless).
Needless to say, the chase for perfection would be endless because even when we reach a particular goal, it would often be replaced almost immediately by the need to achieve the next milestone.
Nobody is perfect and in time, this constant race towards an undefined, moving target can make us feel terrible about ourselves. We might give up on something before we even started because it doesn’t seem like we could do it perfectly. So what can we do?
Adopting a growth mindset
What is a growth mindset, exactly? People who embrace a growth mindset are prone to think of their abilities to do different things as changeable and something to be improved over time.
On the other hand, those with a fixed mindset tend to believe qualities, such as intelligence and talent, are something a person is born with and set in stone.
By adopting a growth mindset, we are shifting our focus from outcome/achievement to process/progress.
Harness the power of ‘yet’
Instead of telling ourselves, “I can’t do this”, add the word ‘yet’ to the end of the sentence.
“I can’t do this yet.”
This one, simple word can be powerful because if we were to tell ourselves the former, we would quit. After all, why would logical thinking being attempt something that is impossible?
However, by thinking we cannot do something yet (but are definitely capable of learning, growing and developing), it motivates us to problem-solve, to think up a plan on how we could conquer the task. One step at a time.
Redefine mistakes and failures
Unhealthy perfectionism can be driven by an excessive fear of making mistakes and worries that being short of perfection might make you less likeable or even less worthy. In a fixed mindset, mistakes and failures are a disaster.
Therefore, many perfectionists might try to protect themselves by avoiding tasks so they could avoid making mistakes or experiencing perceived failures at all costs.
However, at what cost? Ultimately, the avoidance would imply a bunch of lost opportunities… to experience something exciting, novel, stimulating. To have a great time with people we care about. To find out about different possibilities.
It might sound cliché but through redefining mistakes and perceived failures as something that is no different from the muscle pain that we experience to develop strength during a workout, as a discovery of what does not work (which is just as important as discovering what works), we open the door to a world of learning and growth.
Perfectionism can be detrimental to our mental wellbeing and is a risk factor for a host of mental disorders, including depression, clinical anxiety, eating disorders, as well as for suicidal ideation and self-harm.
If you have been engaging in a long-standing battle with perfectionism, consider getting in touch with a psychologist, who can help you work through your challenges. You can also contact us for a consult using the Contact Us page above.
For more resources on this subject matter, here are some suggestions:
Books for children
The Girl who Never Made Mistakes - by M. Pett
Beautiful Oops! - by B. Saltzberg
Mistakes that Worked - by C. F. Jones
Your Fantastic Elastic Brain: Stretch It, Shape It - by J. Deak
Not Yet - by L. Cox
Penelope Perfect: A Tale of Perfectionism Gone Wild - by S. Anderson
Nobody's Perfect: A Story for Children about Perfectionism - by E. F. Burns
What to Do When Good Enough Isn't Good Enough: The Real Deal on Perfectionism: A Guide for Kids - by T. S. Greenspon
Videos and TED Talks
Carol Dweck on Perfectionism
A Recovering Perfectionist's Journey To Give Up Grades by Starr Sackstein (TED x Youth@BHS)
The perfection detox by Petra Kolber (TED x Syracuse University)
Perceptions of Perfection by Joey Harrington (TED x Portland)