Talking mental health: Striving for success

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Will it ever be good enough? If you struggle with perfectionism then the answer is likely no. Many university students strive for excellence, but those with perfectionism set excessively high standards that are nearly impossible to reach.

Perfectionism triggers self-doubt, which makes it difficult to make decisions and complete tasks. If you make a mistake, you do not just feel bad about the situation, you feel bad about yourself. As a result those with perfectionism tend to be plagued with self-criticism (e.g. the ‘shoulds,’ such as ‘I should have done better’) and their self-worth tends to be contingent upon approval from others and perceived accomplishments.

Perfectionism causes fear of failure, rejection, loss of control and mediocrity. It’s no surprise that perfectionism is linked to procrastination, social anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and eating disorders.

Healthy striving is different than perfectionism. Aiming to do your best allows you to set goals that are in your reach so that you feel challenged but not overwhelmed. Moreover, ‘healthy strivers’ let go of disappointments, learn from their mistakes, accept compliments from others, and feel proud of their personal achievements.

Overcoming perfectionism can be difficult as it affects the way you feel, think and behave. In order to create change you need to be motivated. Critically examine how well your perfectionism is working for you by listing the advantages and disadvantages of it. If you’ve decided that it causes more harm than good, then the following suggestions will help you become a healthy striver. Rather than avoiding negative feelings like stress, learn how to mindfully acknowledge and accept them.

It is okay to struggle or feel overwhelmed at times — we all do! Although it might be hard to ask for help, seek support from others. They may be able to be to ease your workload, help problem-solve, or simply (but perhaps most importantly) listen as you share your worries.

Start to challenge negative thought patterns by acknowledging other possibilities and giving voice to compassionate and balanced thoughts. For example, if you’ve received a low grade, you could acknowledge that you did your best given the situation and that you learned the value of creating a schedule.

This will allow you to take responsibility (if it needs to be taken) for something you could do differently but doesn’t leave you feeling criticized or ashamed.

Set realistic goals for yourself. This will help reduce procrastination and build your confidence as you work toward your goals.  Allow yourself to focus on the process (e.g. writing an essay) and not just the end result (e.g. an ‘A’-paper).Finally, make time for rest and play. Some students will let themselves procrastinate but not deliberately relax.

While procrastinating you might play on the internet for hours or watch several episodes of a TV show, but end up feeling guilty. If you intentionally give yourself permission to relax—even doing the same activities—you’re more likely to feel recharged and rested.

For more information, tune into Talking Mental Health on Radio Laurier, visit www.talkingmentalhealth.tumblr.com  or check out www.mylaurier.ca/counselling.

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