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 but making every assignment perfect and not making any mistakes. I’ve always been quite perfectionistic, but this is getting out of control. I think I’m scared that people will find out my secret: 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’m focused on it all the time and I’m not having fun with my friends anymore because I’m always so worried about my schoolwork. Now I’m starting to avoid even doing assignments. I get frozen and can’t even start. My heart totally races when I sit down to work on it. 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. Therefore, striving to be perfect will hold you back because it causes a lot of anxiety. When every task or test is a measure of one’s self worth, school can certainly feel very risky, full of potential land minds. While mild to moderate levels of anxiety can be motivating (think of how hard it would be to get motivated to study for a test if weren’t anxious at all), high levels of anxiety actually interfere with learning and get in the way. It can take SO much time too. Perfectionism can also take a huge toll on your mood. 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 e-mail 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 bet you will find out that your grades do not suffer from a few mistakes and you feel a lot less pressure and stress!