mental health & wellness, work & vocation

More on Stress: A Couple Tools to Combat Perfectionism

After the “Race to Nowhere” screening that I mentioned the other day, a Q&A session was held featuring a pre-doctoral intern at the William & Mary Counseling Center and 2 professors at the William & Mary School of Education. The Counseling Center intern, defining and describing perfectionism, said that he often asks students: “Would you hold your friends to the same standard that you’re holding yourself to?”

As soon as he said that, I started shaking my head. Because the answer is no. His clients probably wouldn’t hold their friends to the same standard that they hold themselves to. Unfortunately, neither would I.

That idea of thinking about what you would expect from your friends fosters perspective-taking.

The cool thing is we can practice perspective-taking on our own by giving ourselves statements or (better I think) questions that challenge our negative self-talk and encourage positive self-talk. Here’s a couple ways I like to do that:

  1. When I’m troubled, particularly when I want advice and can’t get it (at least not right away), I sometimes ask myself: “Hey, Self, what would you say to a  friend/student/small group member  if they came to you with this problem?” I care about and want to help my friends/students/small group members (perhaps more than I care about and want to help myself…which, yes, has been a hard realization and one that I’m working on). So, when they come to me with problems, I often tell them, as someone once helpfully told me: “above all, take care of yourself.” Sometimes I then try to help them figure out how they can take care of themselves (e.g. sleep more, drop that activity, talk to this professor). Thus, by asking myself what I would hypothetically tell them, I force myself to value taking care of myself and to start figuring out specific ways to do that.
  2. When something happens that seems like a big deal at the time but actually maybe isn’t, I sometimes tell myself: “This is NOT a big deal.” Except that typing that sentence does not do it justice, because you have to say it in a sassy voice with a sassy hand motion. While volunteering in an urban elementary school, a fellow volunteer saw a kindergarten student whining about something petty and saw the school principal handle the situation by telling the kid in a sassy voice with a sassy hand motion: “This is NOT a big deal.” Now, maybe I’m just overly gentle…but I wouldn’t think to tell that to a kindergartener. But she did. And it worked. And, lo and behold, we’re all just giant kindergarteners and need to be told (or tell ourselves) sometimes: “This is NOT a big deal.”   

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