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Advice for Perfectionists

from Greg Eells, director of counseling at Cornell University

Advice for perfectionists from Greg Eells, director of counseling at Cornell University:

1. Everyone needs a supportive social structure. When you are comforted by others, you experience physical and emotional benefits.

A mere hug can release oxytocin and relieve distress. Allow yourself to be taken care of by friends. If you see them as competitors, it will be hard to feel supported by them. Choose people you trust and, if necessary, shift your perpective, not framing others as rivals.

2. Seek role models who are resilient. Good listeners who, in their better moments, are respectful, patient, humble, and grateful.

3. Reflect on your coping style. Try to focus on what you value rather than on what other people think you should care about. If you set your own priorities, you are less likely to be depressed. Do what is important to you.

4. Your thoughts and emotions are like muscles and joints. Rigidity creates discomfort and suffering. Cultivate cognitive and emotional flexibiilty. Listen for red-flag words like always, never, should, have to, and but, and try alternative ways of thinking.

Be more forgiving. Ordering yourself to stop being a perfectionist will not work.

Although striving for excellence can lead to valuable goals, perfectionism is only one tool, with limited utility. Think of it as a sledgehammer, ineffective and counterproductive when you need to pry open a window.

  Remember that you are not your thoughts. You have your thoughts.

5. Consider the teaching of Buddha: You will not be punished for your anger. You will be punished by your anger.

Emotions are slippery. You cannot control them. So don't keep fighting a fight you can't win. Instead, be willing to accept and experience your emotions, observe them with some detachment, and let them go.

Remind yourself that it is human nature for emotions to spike, making you feel bad, but, like tides, feelings always subside.

When you are going through a rough time - a relationship ends, for example - keep in mind that you have options. You can get drunk. Exercise. Have sex with other people. Some of these choices may help. Some will create more suffering.

6. Look for nuance. It is more accurate than absolutes.

7. Seek a spiritual and moral compass. If you do not have religious beliefs, choose your own meaning and purpose in life.

8. Life requires us to make choices. Many college students feel those choices have been made for them by others - parents, administrators, society.

Make conscious choices about the direction you want to take in your life.

It might be useful to read Man's Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl's 1946 book about surviving Auschwitz. In it, he describes his experience helping other prisoners cope with imprisonment. The work was so rewarding he passed up the chance to escape.

At that moment, he felt enormous power. The concentration camp had become chosen rather than imposed.

 9. Practice mindfulness. Stop for a moment to concentrate intensely on eating, savoring a cup of coffee, breathing deeply, or listening to the cadence of a classmate's snoring in the back of the lecture hall.

10. On that note, do not take yourself too seriously. Laugh at yourself. Permit yourself to join the rest of the world as a perfectly imperfect human. We are inconsistent. We feel joy and sorrow.

And that's OK.