The perfectionism barrier

Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing. Harriet Braiker

In our Artist’s Way group today we talked about perfectionism and how it can block us artistically.

This can be extended to our students as well.  How often have we seen students really struggle with their research paper topics or their writing? (or their singing, sports playing, etc. etc.)  Could it be that sometimes that sense of what “it should be” is preventing them from moving forward?

How do we move forward when we are blocked?  And how can we apply that knowledge to help our students move forward?

I think first, understanding this might be a problem is part of it.  Too often, when students are “stuck,” people think they are simply procrastinating.  Granted, sometimes they are.  But sometimes they are truly frustrated, don’t know where to start, don’t know what to do next.   And sometimes that’s because they think everyone else knows what to do “perfectly” and they are just the only clueless one.

How do we support them, teach them to be charitable to themselves and their own best supporter?  How do we help them stop comparing themselves to others and to just give themselves a chance?

Perhaps that is a tall order, but I think it’s worth considering when we approach students who are starting a complex writing assignment or research paper.  I’ve written before about scaffolding our students during research assignments. I think one of the keys to helping students is understanding what some of their obstacles might be.

As we all know, we are our own worst critics.   Since we are evaluating student work, how do we also convey to them that everyone is a learner, that it’s a process, that we don’t expect perfection but growth, and that it’s in the trying that the learning happens?   That the process is sometimes as important as the product?  That’s a tough task in the age of standardized testing, college admittance pressures, etc.   Yet, looking beyond those immediate pressures, and helping students become real “learners” is a significantly important part of what we do.

I also think those of us who work with teachers or provide training have to remember that teachers are students too–and often were students accustomed to doing well in school.  So when they face new technologies or the idea of changing their teaching, it may be accompanied by feelings of being “imperfect” and faulty because they are comparing themselves to others(or to you as the presenter).

What are your strategies for helping move students(or teachers) move forward and to help them be supportive of their own learning process rather than self-critical?   How does your approach demonstrate the value of the learning process over the product?

As Wayne Dyer says, “Everything is perfect in the universe — even your desire to improve it.

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