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Perfectionism comes from a belief that you must be perfect in everything you do to be accepted by others. As a result of this belief, your self-esteem becomes fixed to the work you produce and the approval of those around you.

How perfectionism looks

Examples of perfectionism include:

  • Black-and-white or all-or-nothing thinking, such as ‘Anything less than perfection is a failure’.
  • Catastrophic thinking, such as ‘if I fail this test, my life is over’.
  • Should statements, such as ‘I should never make mistakes’.
  • Probability overestimation, such as ‘Although I spent all night preparing for this presentation, I know I won’t do well’.

People who always strive for perfection can often be setting themselves up for failure, as perfection is typically very hard to achieve. Setting such high standards for yourself and consistently failing to meet this standard can lead you to feel anxious, guilty, burnt out and far from perfect.

What to do

Aiming for perfection in your studies is not only unnecessary, but time consuming and unnecessary. Instead of aiming for perfection, try to set and achieve results that are good or of a high standard. This approach allows you to vary the level of achievement and effort that is required based on what you realistically need to do to meet the required learning outcomes.

To overcome perfectionism, try:

  • recognising that no one is immune to imperfections;
  • setting realistic and flexible time frames for the achievement of a goal;
  • setting your next goal based on how well you achieved your previous goal;
  • focusing on enjoying the process of learning and being part of university life; or
  • discussing your perfectionism with a counsellor.

Getting support

If you would like to speak to someone about your experiences of perfectionism, you can make an appointment at Deakin's Counselling service or with a Language and Learning Advisor.

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