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Are you a Perfectionist?

  • Do you feel that what you accomplish is never good enough?
  • Do you often put off handing in completed assignments or projects because they are not quite right?
  • Do you feel that you must give 100 percent or more on everything you do or else you will be a failure?
  • Do you feel you must be the best - student - athlete - friend?
  • Are you often critical of yourself or others?

Perfectionism is not the search for excellence, it is the search for the unobtainable. It goes beyond doing your very best. Perfectionism is not a healthy pursuit of excellence. The healthy striver has drive, while the Perfectionist is driven. One definition states a Perfectionist as "a person having a disposition which regards anything short of perfect as being unacceptable."

For example, a Perfectionist student may hand in a paper a week late or not at all, rather than hand it in on time with imperfect structure.

A Perfectionist worker may spend so much time agonising over some insignificant detail that a critical project misses its deadline.

A Perfectionist student may find it very hard to begin a task because all aspects of the task should and must be done very well.

How perfectionists think

Perfectionism is based on the belief that unless I am perfect I am not good enough… I am not OK. Perfectionists use other people's apparent shortcomings to enhance their own feelings of self-worth when they compare themselves with 'flawed' or 'lesser' or 'imperfect' others.

By needing to be seen as perfect, Perfectionists may set themselves up for continuous rejection, self-put downs and deny themselves peace of mind. Even when Perfectionists do achieve, their methods often deprive them of the very love and acceptance they want so badly.

A number of negative thoughts, feelings and beliefs may be associated with Perfectionism.

What to do about perfectionism

  • Set realistic and reachable goals based on your own wants and needs, and what you have accomplished in the past.
  • Set subsequent goals in a sequential manner, so that as you reach one goal, you set your next achievable goal.
  • Focus on the activity of "doing", not just the end result or achievement. Aim for 90 percent or 80 percent or even less. Your world will not end when you are not perfect!
  • Use feelings of anxiety and depression as opportunities to ask yourself "What am I afraid of?" and "What is the worst thing that can happen if I don’t do this task perfectly?" Almost always the answer will make you smile at your Perfectionism.
  • Recognise that many positive things can only be learned by making mistakes. When you make a mistake, ask yourself "What can I learn from this experience?"
  • Avoid all-or-nothing thinking in relation to your goals. Prioritise your tasks and give less effort to those tasks having less importance.

Perceptual differences between Perfectionists and Realists


Unreasonable goals Realistic goals
Can’t feel satisfied Can reward self
Compares self negatively with others Recognises own positive uniqueness
Cannot discuss own mistakes comfortably Accepts errors as a part of life's lessons
Excessive, often chronic fear of failure Accepts failure as a part of learning
Uses others' standards for success Goals derived from self awareness
Focuses only on the outcome Enjoys the "journey"
Emphasises keeping life under control Emphasises keeping life in balance
Feels devalued unless performing well Accepts self as valuable, not perfect


Once you have tried these suggestions, you are likely to realise that Perfectionism is neither a helpful or necessary influence in your life. There are alternative ways to think that are more beneficial. Not only are you likely to achieve more without your Perfectionism, but you will feel better in the process.

Excellence and Perfection

  • Excellence is the willingness to be wrong - Perfection is being right
  • Excellence is risk - Perfection is fear
  • Excellence is powerful - Perfection is anger and frustration
  • Excellence is spontaneous - Perfection is conformity
  • Excellence is accepting - Perfection is judgement
  • Excellence is giving - Perfection is taking
  • Excellence is confidence - Perfection is doubt
  • Excellence is flowing - Perfection is pressure
  • Excellence is journey - Perfection is destination
  • Excellence is surrender - Perfection is consuming
  • Excellence is trust - Perfection is selfishness

In order to strive for excellence you certainly don't have to be perfect - do you?

From Dick Hubbard (Businessman and former Massey graduate)

Where to from here?

If you would like to make an appointment to see a counsellor to learn more about this topic please contact the counselling service on your campus.  Distance students can contact any one of the campuses.

Please tell the receptionist if you need an urgent appointment.

Albany: Health and Counselling Centre Monday to Friday 8.30 am - 5.00 pm. Telephone (09) 213 6700.

Manawatu: Student Counselling Service, Turitea Campus, Monday to Friday 8.30 am - 5.00 pm (8.30 - 4.30 during semester breaks). Telephone (06) 350-5533.

Wellington: Student Counselling Service, The Student Services Trust @ Wellington, Monday to Friday 8.30 am - 4.30 pm. Telephone (04) 801-2542.

Massey Contact Centre Mon - Fri 8:30am to 4:30pm 0800 MASSEY (+64 6 350 5701) TXT 5222 Web chat Staff Alumni News Māori @ Massey