Behaviour and the perfectionism cycle
So far, we have discussed the cognitive aspects of perfectionism and how to challenge them. That is, most of our work has focussed on changing your thinking. However, there comes a point where you need to take action. For example, you can read about how to play the piano and challenge thoughts that act as barriers to this. However, you’ll eventually need to start playing the piano in order to develop and maintain this skill.
The same goes for learning how to manage perfectionism. For the best outcome, you’ll need to take action and maintain the momentum after you have reflected on and challenged your unhelpful thoughts and beliefs. This week is all about learning how to take action that will help you overcome your perfectionism. Reducing the behaviours that maintain your perfectionism is an important next step. As we saw in previous weeks, perfectionistic behaviour plays a key role in keeping perfectionism alive.
To refresh your memory, let’s revisit the model of perfectionism from Week 1:
As you can see, cognitive biases (our unhelpful thinking styles) interact with performance-related behaviour to determine whether or not you meet your high standards. If standards are not met, further counterproductive behaviours occur, which strengthens the perfectionism cycle further. As such, an important way to interrupt this cycle involves changing your behaviour.
Last week, we learnt about how our unhelpful thoughts influence our feelings and behaviours. The feedback loop we discussed also taught us that our perfectionistic behaviours can work to reinforce our unhelpful thoughts and beliefs. Perfectionistic behaviours reinforce our thinking because they don’t give us the chance to test out whether our perfectionistic beliefs are true. So changing our behaviour can have the added benefit of helping us change our thoughts.
For example, Rachel believes that she will make awful mistakes if she doesn’t check her work repeatedly. Rachel therefore checks everything she does over and over again. By doing this, Rachel doesn’t learn that this amount of checking is unnecessary. Rachel could test this out by changing her behaviour and seeing what happens. For example, she might learn that reduced checking does not result in more mistakes.