Executive FunctioningScott LutostanskiStudy Skills

Perfectionism and Being Good Enough

By April 19, 2017 No Comments

scott by Scott Lutostanski – Galin Education Director of Academic Consulting 

Perfectionism starts with the phrase “good enough.” Each one of us defines “good enough” on an individual basis. Take a high school wrestler. Each wrestler decides what is “good enough.” One wrestler may have a record of 12 wins and 12 losses and be satisfied with the performance. Another may win a conference championship, but place 7th at state and not be pleased with his performance. And a third wrestler may win a state championship, but lose at nationals and this won’t be “good enough.”

We must be aware of our propensity to consider ourselves not good enough. A perfectionist will constantly be entertaining the thought that they are not good enough. As the previous paragraph shows, this is done on a uniquely personal level. The issue doesn’t lie with the individual’s performance–99% of wrestlers would be thrilled with winning the state championship– it rests in the principle of “good enough.”

A perfectionist will create a pattern of never being good enough. This will impact his self perception, stress level, and performance. Eventually, it will affect his willingness to even try. This is a common symptom when talking about school. Students will lack the ability to break down a large task, such as writing a research paper, because they cannot focus on the components and steps needed to successfully work. They can only focus on what it should look like at the end(perfect) and how unattainable that is. Schoolwork does not become about making progress and improving, it becomes only about the perfect, unblemished final result. With this mindset and that final goal, pretty much any outcome will be considered “not good enough.” This fosters a level of self-created stress and pressure that can paralyze a student’s ability to complete work. It can create such a negative self-view, that student’s need a strong support group around them in order to be productive.

Perfectionism is a struggle for a student to overcome. It takes a lot of awareness, understanding, and action in order to have realistic expectations and work to the maximum extent of our abilities. Perfectionists live in fear of not being able to be good enough. In order to enable and empower themselves, perfectionists need to confront their struggles and learn how they are impacted. Constructive, supportive feedback from a trusted ally certainly helps. They need adults around them to model behavior of self-correction and self-reflection. With support and encouragement, students can work to transform from not “good enough” to believing that school is about consistent improvement and growth.