Perfectionism and failure, how to escape the cycle?

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NogginHeadFace
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29 Jan 2021, 4:28 pm

Hello, I am here to ask for advice (for which you will receive no reward besides my joy) from humans with all levels of knowledge about things.

I would label myself as a perpetually disappointed perfectionist. Perhaps this is a cover for deeper issues, but I cannot share my life story right now so this will do for the purposes of this post. I will 'aim' for the highest success. I will set those sights in my head. Trouble is, this isn't always possible. It isn't even often possible. And so when this inevitable fall from mindless blind grace eventually occurs, I become sad. This causes me to stop putting effort into what I was doing.

If this were behaviour was simply limited to my hobbies, this would not be a major problem. But, this behaviour is largely present in my university study habits. I will begin a period of study thinking that I can achieve greatness, and then put effort into that, and then when it becomes apparent that this will not occur, whether that be due to lower marks or a breakdown that causes a several-day stoppage of work, I begin to realise my plan is not on, and I begin to lose motivation to continue, and then I stop. Except this time, I still need to complete the work. It is required of me, and while my aspirations of greatness are gone, I would still prefer to pass than to fail. And so I put just enough work in to pass.

I think a large reason why this is the case is that I can only draw respectable amounts motivation for my studies (or anything) if I believe I can do something really great. When this day dream is ripped from my imagination, my motivation disappears along with it as well.

I am asking for advice on this specific point. What methods do you think I could use, in order to increase my levels of motivation for completing work that I perceive will be moderately competent. Not special, not just passable, but competent. Thank you.


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30 Jan 2021, 4:46 pm

On thing that helps is to acknowledge that perfection doesn't exist. By all means strive to be the best you can be, but don't be afraid of failure. It's trying your hardest that counts.


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30 Jan 2021, 5:12 pm

"Your work does not need to be perfect; it only needs to be better than anyone else's work."

Once I had this revelation, all the pressure came off.  I no longer had to score 100% on every single exam (only to hate myself for scoring 99% or less); I only had to score among the highest in the class.  And when "The Curve" showed that 45% correct produced C-grade results, I only had to achieve 75% or better to receive an "A".

The whole idea came to me after I first heard the phrase: "You do not have to be faster than the bear; you only need to be faster than the slowest person running with you."


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NogginHeadFace
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31 Jan 2021, 12:00 am

NaturalEntity wrote:
On thing that helps is to acknowledge that perfection doesn't exist. By all means strive to be the best you can be, but don't be afraid of failure. It's trying your hardest that counts.


Thank you for the reply.

I was unintentionally misleading when I used the term perfectionism. That would imply that I believed that there was some potential perfection out there waiting. I agree that true perfection is impossible (or rather, so improbable it is simply not worth thinking about). If I could rephrase my goal in terms of my studies, I would say my goal is to produce a level of work that was notably impressive relative to my peers. Once this goal is unattainable, my motivation disappears. It is at this moment that I struggle to motivate myself to be the best I can be. This exact struggle is what is at the core of my problem, why I made this post, and something that I would very much like if you were to explain how you overcome this hurdle/any ideas you have about it.

I also don't see how being afraid of failure in terms of academic studies is a bad thing. There are definite and lasting consequences of failing in academics, and so it is wise to avoid such failures. I agree this does not cover all of life, most social encounters are improved and enriched by taking actions which will come with a risk of failure, although this failure is perhaps of a different kind to what you were using. If you wish to expand on this, I would be happy to read what you meant by this, but it is alright if you cannot be bothered.


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NogginHeadFace
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31 Jan 2021, 1:42 am

Fnord wrote:
"Your work does not need to be perfect; it only needs to be better than anyone else's work."

Once I had this revelation, all the pressure came off.  I no longer had to score 100% on every single exam (only to hate myself for scoring 99% or less); I only had to score among the highest in the class.  And when "The Curve" showed that 45% correct produced C-grade results, I only had to achieve 75% or better to receive an "A".

The whole idea came to me after I first heard the phrase: "You do not have to be faster than the bear; you only need to be faster than the slowest person running with you."


Thank you for the reply.

I believe you have two different meanings in your quotes, and it is confusing trying to sum up the meaning of the comment while this confusion remains within me. From the first quote, it seems that being better than everyone else is the desired state. Whereas in the second, it seems that the desired state is merely to have not failed. Forgive me if I am misinterpreting these quotes. I do feel negatively about the state of merely passing being a desirable one, and also, I believe that desiring the state of constantly being better than anyone else is set up to fail in the same fashion as perfectionism, and also that this state will likely be at odds with the motto of co-operation that many unis and businesses (I assume) will have, making it not so pragmatic. I would say that those states of mind are comparable to the two states of mind that I discerned in my opening post (perfectionist and lets-just-pass states) as states I would like to avoid. If you think there is a reason why I should adopt those states, or rather that these are definitely different states with distinct advantages, please let me know, I would be happy to reply.

My apologies if I appear rude, it is not my intention.


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Jiheisho
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31 Jan 2021, 12:40 pm

You are a student. Why do you expect to excel? The point is to learn and develop the skills. And maybe that is your block--you are focusing on the results not the process. Focus on developing the skills. At the beginning, it is hard. There is so much to learn.

It is actually a bad sign if you give up because you can't succeed. That is going to limit you through your life. In my studies, I have sometimes repeated the assignment simply to develop the skills. Just because you have completed something, does not mean you have learnt something to the point of understanding. If it is hard, then push a bit more. The difficultly really represents how much you know.

Make your goal learning the skills, not the completion of an assignment.



theprisoner
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31 Jan 2021, 12:52 pm

how to escape the cycle? you could drop out take lots of mind expanding drugs. do you want to be don't that hamster in a cage, eternally, chasing that validation, from people who couldn't care whether you live or die, and just see you as a replaceable part, cog in a machine, not even , human.


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31 Jan 2021, 2:09 pm

^ ^ not sure how that is helpful...



theprisoner
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31 Jan 2021, 2:19 pm

That's what they said to 'ol Timmy leary. Squares couldn't understand he was just trying to be helpful. He's dead now.


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NogginHeadFace
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31 Jan 2021, 7:07 pm

Jiheisho wrote:
You are a student. Why do you expect to excel? The point is to learn and develop the skills. And maybe that is your block--you are focusing on the results not the process. Focus on developing the skills. At the beginning, it is hard. There is so much to learn.

It is actually a bad sign if you give up because you can't succeed. That is going to limit you through your life. In my studies, I have sometimes repeated the assignment simply to develop the skills. Just because you have completed something, does not mean you have learnt something to the point of understanding. If it is hard, then push a bit more. The difficultly really represents how much you know.

Make your goal learning the skills, not the completion of an assignment.


An interesting take on what should be motivating me. So I should not be mainly motivated by results in of themselves, but rather by my subjective view on how valuable the skills I have learned are. I should be motivated by wanting to obtain more valuable skills.

I believe this technique is very applicable in hobbies. I have less belief on its success as the main source of motivation in a system that has definite objective markers as to my success or failure that will be less biased (and therefore less likely to be incorrect) than my own subjective opinion. By relying on results for motivation, I give myself a reliable point of reference to base my success off of.

I understand this is not meant to be a binary thing, that by focussing on developing skills over getting results, it should not entail that i should not aim to get results. However, I find I am much more efficient at achieving a goal if there is an objective system such that I can measure if I had/had not reached my goal. I am sorry if this appears dismissive of your comment, I merely think that I am not suited to either dismissing results or attempting to dual-wield motivation sources.


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31 Jan 2021, 7:08 pm

...Please don't do drugs.

When I'm stuck with what to write for an essay, I write whatever comes to mind and if I'm stuck I write BATTLESHIP in all caps as a filler word and then come back to that section later. I like this method, since otherwise I can get caught up on the wording and then end up avoiding it completely. Besides, I find it amusing because when I do find something to replace the filler I can think ha I sank your battleship, take that writer's block. It becomes a game, which helps to motivate me.

I struggle with procrastination a lot and I have a habit of avoiding hard tasks that seem daunting. However, sometimes tasks that seem next to impossible aren't as big as we think they are. You've probably heard this before, but there is some truth to it. I know that when I'm struggling, I sit on my bed and open my notebook. Then I ask myself to describe what the problem is. I push aside the thoughts of "you're so behind that's why" or "you're not going to get this" and I think "no, what's the actual problem? What part am I avoiding? How can I break this down?" it usually comes down to 'I don't understand this concept and at this point I'm too afraid to ask'. So then I ask what I do know. Pushing aside any thoughts of 'you know nothing, duh' and searching for the basics. When I strip down the concept to the very basics of basics, what is it about and / or what does it do? Then I have something to build from.

Life is a lot of things simultaneously; a chaotic mess and yet predictable. Sometimes the most impactful things happen completely by accident. I know that I've had ideas that started off as a joke or just occurred from experimentation which ended up working out. Personally I like to pretend that I'm one-upping a vague personification of perfectionism that is trying to keep me from progressing. I know I've fixed stubborn code errors and remarked "Ha, take that, in your face life " when on my own before. :lol: Granted, that statement is quite nonsensical but it does seem to keep my spirits up.

When you break down procrastination, it is an anxiety that you'll never reach your ambition. So, as a response to this worry, you avoid the task out of the logic of 'well, I can't fail if I never try!'

But you have. You let that jerk win. And you know what? That jerk shouldn't win. Give yourself some rest, take regular breaks, hydrate, learn, and show them up. You got this far, they're not gonna stop you now.


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NogginHeadFace
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31 Jan 2021, 7:25 pm

theprisoner wrote:
how to escape the cycle? you could drop out take lots of mind expanding drugs. do you want to be don't that hamster in a cage, eternally, chasing that validation, from people who couldn't care whether you live or die, and just see you as a replaceable part, cog in a machine, not even , human.


I am unsure if you genuinely believe that this advice will help me, or if you are just saying it for kicks. Either way, your justification for me taking drugs is that current society is inhumane to its inhabitants. I do not believe this is proper justification. I believe you are attempting to suggest that to become more human I should take lots of drugs. I believe that this path leads down to addiction, which is, in my opinion, the purest form of the inhumane trappings of any society. To become more human you must attempt to avoid these mind-altering drugs, and learn that it is with a clearer mind and a healthier body (and a fuller wallet) that we are able to form more lasting bonds with our peers and achieve the personal goals that we will can take pride in during our dying days.

What I was asking in this post, is that after it becomes clear that our initial goals, the kind of goals we used to hold dear, become corrupt, gone, disappear. When we realise that the dreams of yesterday will never be realised, how then can we keep pushing ourselves forwards, not in pursuit of what we could have had, but in pursuit of another, less objectively impressive, but still somewhat impressive, goal. If you have answers to this question I would be glad to read them.


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theprisoner
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31 Jan 2021, 7:48 pm

I think now is time to recollect on the immortal words of intellectual giant (okay maybe not) poet Noel galagher said it best:

Quote:
Maybe I will never be
All the things that I wanna be
Now is not the time to cry
Now's the time to find out why
I think you're the same as me
We see things they'll never see
You and I are gonna live forever


And i'm, not saying all drugs are good. As with everything in life, you have to discriminate. But for your information, you walking around with class a drug in your nogginheadface at all times, we're all walking chemical factories.


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31 Jan 2021, 7:50 pm

theprisoner wrote:
... I'm, not saying all drugs are good. As with everything in life, you have to discriminate. But for your information, you walking around with class a drug in your nogginheadface at all times, we're all walking chemical factories.
The fact that our bodies produce endorphins does not justify the use of manufactured Class-A pharmaceuticals.


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NogginHeadFace
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31 Jan 2021, 8:02 pm

Lost_dragon wrote:
...Please don't do drugs.

When I'm stuck with what to write for an essay, I write whatever comes to mind and if I'm stuck I write BATTLESHIP in all caps as a filler word and then come back to that section later. I like this method, since otherwise I can get caught up on the wording and then end up avoiding it completely. Besides, I find it amusing because when I do find something to replace the filler I can think ha I sank your battleship, take that writer's block. It becomes a game, which helps to motivate me.

I struggle with procrastination a lot and I have a habit of avoiding hard tasks that seem daunting. However, sometimes tasks that seem next to impossible aren't as big as we think they are. You've probably heard this before, but there is some truth to it. I know that when I'm struggling, I sit on my bed and open my notebook. Then I ask myself to describe what the problem is. I push aside the thoughts of "you're so behind that's why" or "you're not going to get this" and I think "no, what's the actual problem? What part am I avoiding? How can I break this down?" it usually comes down to 'I don't understand this concept and at this point I'm too afraid to ask'. So then I ask what I do know. Pushing aside any thoughts of 'you know nothing, duh' and searching for the basics. When I strip down the concept to the very basics of basics, what is it about and / or what does it do? Then I have something to build from.

Life is a lot of things simultaneously; a chaotic mess and yet predictable. Sometimes the most impactful things happen completely by accident. I know that I've had ideas that started off as a joke or just occurred from experimentation which ended up working out. Personally I like to pretend that I'm one-upping a vague personification of perfectionism that is trying to keep me from progressing. I know I've fixed stubborn code errors and remarked "Ha, take that, in your face life " when on my own before. :lol: Granted, that statement is quite nonsensical but it does seem to keep my spirits up.

When you break down procrastination, it is an anxiety that you'll never reach your ambition. So, as a response to this worry, you avoid the task out of the logic of 'well, I can't fail if I never try!'

But you have. You let that jerk win. And you know what? That jerk shouldn't win. Give yourself some rest, take regular breaks, hydrate, learn, and show them up. You got this far, they're not gonna stop you now.



Thank you for the advice.

You are correct that I had heard it before, but I think it is useful to repeat. Considering a task to be too daunting has been a kickstarter as to me dropping my high expectations artificially low, which leads me into disappointment of far larger magnitude than what I should be feeling, which helps amplify the negative effects of this cycle. I currently have, tacked onto my wall, a list of problems I currently need to resolve, which by themselves are daunting to me, and beside them on the wall another piece of paper, with basic instructions of the steps I need to take in order to resolve those problems. I would be wise to learn to more automatically adopt this problem-solving method in my academics, and day-to-day life as well.

I do think that your nonsensical statement has some sense in that it is good to add humour into potentially stressful situations in order to support the mind against the effects of stress. I used to do this more often a few years ago, but I have certainly reduced the quantity of irreverent personal humour in my studies in more recent times. I may try to introduce further levity in order to aid revision.

As for aggression towards the personification of my negative traits, I find myself tending to avoid situations like that. I think that perceiving my negative traits as separate to who I am results in further mental instability, and given that I enjoy having mental stability, I will avoid that stuff.

I will, however, ensure that i write BATTLESHIP down whenever I reach a mental block, and then sink the word as soon as I have persevered through.


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31 Jan 2021, 8:14 pm

Fnord wrote:
The fact that our bodies produce endorphins does not justify the use of manufactured Class-A pharmaceuticals.[/color]


The point is the fact that you carry DMT on you at all times technically makes you Class-A criminal.


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