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Perfectionism

Perfectionism

Teen: Dear Dr. Expert,

I'm in Grade 10 this year and I have become very focused on getting straight As because my marks actually count for university now! I really can't concentrate on anything except making every assignment perfect and not making any mistakes. I've always been quite a perfectionist, but this is getting out of control. I think I'm scared people will find out my secret fear: that I'm not really smart or talented. It feels like if I fail or make mistakes, they will find out the truth! It drives me crazy when my dad says how smart I am. I know he's just trying to make me feel good, but I feel even more pressure to be perfect. I focus on it all the time, and I'm not having fun with my friends anymore because I'm always so worried about my school work. Now I'm even starting to avoid doing assignments because they get me so stressed out. I freeze up and can't even start. My heart totally races when I sit down to work on school stuff. This is so not like me. What can I do?

Perfectionistic in Penticton
Dr. Expert: Dear Perfectionistic in Penticton,

There is nothing wrong with having high standards and striving to be the best you can be. But trying to be perfect is not only unhealthy, it's impossible! There really is no such thing as perfection. Striving to be perfect holds you back because it causes a lot of anxiety.

When every task or test is a measure of your self-worth, school can certainly feel very risky and full of potential landmines. While mild to moderate levels of anxiety can be motivating (it would be hard to get motivated to study for a test if we weren't anxious at all), high levels of anxiety actually get in the way of learning. Perfectionism can take so much time, and a huge toll on your mood too.

Try out this little experiment for a couple of weeks and see what happens: try not to be perfect and let yourself make some mistakes. For example, answer one math question incorrectly on your next math quiz, send an email to a friend with a spelling mistake, or hand in an assignment a little messy. See what happens! If you are having trouble getting started on an essay, use the "five-minute rule": just give it an honest effort for five minutes and then stop - but you have to write something for the entire five minutes. Try these strategies, and I'll bet you will find out your grades do not suffer because of a few mistakes and you feel a lot less pressure and stress!

For more help and ideas, check out the MindShift app.