Students who tend to be perfectionists, like those who exhibit learned helplessness, are motivated by an aversion to failure. Research suggests a continuum of perfectionist tendencies, ranging from healthy to dysfunctional (Christopher, 2010). While a healthy dose of perfectionism can drive individuals towards great accomplishments, dysfunctional perfectionists set unrealistic goals, are overly sensitive to critique, and can become paralyzed by their fear of failure.
Many of the approaches to reducing students' tendencies towards perfectionism are similar to those designed to help students who show learned helplessness and self-handicapping.
- Help students set challenging, yet achievable goals. Realistic goal setting is important to cultivate for all students; perfectionist students need positive support while developing this skill.
- Focus evaluative feedback on the product, rather than the person. Remind perfectionists that feedback is an important tool in the quest for mastery. Ask them to use the feedback to set goals for future performance. See also “Supporting the need for competence.”
- When students are devastated by a less than perfect performance, encourage them to list as many positive aspects of the performance as they can. Help them see that 'less than perfect' does not equal 'failure.'
(University of Texas at Austin Counseling and Mental Health Center, 2012).