Setting the bar high is great. To make sure you are doing everything as well as possible is a great quality to have. Perfectionism can be beneficial. Only if you are capable of letting go of the expectation.
If you would always strive for perfection, which means that nothing should go wrong, you will encounter enormous stress. You will never be satisfied and you will restrict yourselves from making any mistakes.
Perfectionism is a protection mechanism
Perfectionism is a protection mechanism: a way to keep control. Being a perfectionist you like to have control over your feelings. You would rather not be criticized; imagine other people – particularly your supervisor – will have the idea you are not good enough. Your PhD will be doomed.
The tricky thing is you don’t give yourself any space to grow and learn. And I can assure you: you need to learn a lot of new things during your PhD, resulting inevitably in making mistakes.
Try first before you can do it
It is only by allowing yourself to try things before you can actually do them – which means space to learn – that you will be able to take steps and learn.
Give yourself space
What could you do to make sure you give yourself the space to learn
- It really isn’t a crime to make a mistake. Nobody expects you to do everything well in one go. Yes, maybe you are that person, so please try to be a bit more kind to yourself.
- Trial and error are both parts of the whole game. You probably know the story of Oprah Winfrey who had been rejected as a presenter and how Michael Jordan was banned from the basketball team at school. Obviously this all wasn’t really a problem, you sometimes need to fall. The trick is to stand up and try again.
- Have a look at what you have achieved already. Being a PhD student you are rather unique. Only 6,6 people out of 1.000 achieved a PhD. Just realizing how much you already have achieved by being at the stage you are now, is incredible.
- Focus on the things that go well. Of course, there will always be loads of things that don’t go right. From an evolutionary point of view, it is important to look at this as well. The consequence of this way of thinking is that you forget to look at the things that do go well. Now and then, just focus on all your big and little successes in the last period, it will give you such a better feel.
Dr. Brené Brown
Dr. Brené Brown, if you like, is an expert in perfectionism. Or better said: in the feeling of vulnerability that is lying underneath perfectionism. In another blog, I shared her most viewed TED talk. I really invite you to watch this talk again, I suspect you will have a different view on perfectionism and vulnerability.