SJPC summer student article review: "Perfectionists tend to procrastinate: York U. psychologist"

Tessa Murray • Oct 01, 2019


MacLean's magazine recently published an article entitled: "Perfectionists tend to procrastinate: York U. psychologist," outlining research by York University psychologist and Canada Research Chair Gordon Flett. According to Flett, students are more likely to procrastinate when they feel others are expecting them to be perfect. In this research, he found that procrastinators tend to have negative thoughts and put a disproportionate amount of attention perfectionism, fear to fail and guilt. Therefore, Flett provided some suggestions on ways for students, like me, to move past the negativity and become high achievers.

1. "Aim for excellence, not perfection"

Flett distinguishes between the importance of striving for excellence versus perfection, stating "students should work strenuously - but not obsessively - in order to achieve their goals." He states that "[their] goals should focus on excellence and doing well rather than being flawless," and that "the focus should be on learning effective and adaptive ways to learn new material and developing good study skills."

2. "Don't get bogged down with external expectations"

In other words - don't worry too much about what other people think of you! People who strive for perfection often end up procrastinating because of fears that they won't be able to live up to what other people expect of them.

3. "Learn to muzzle that negative inner voice"

As students, we often experience stress. And according to Flett, that stress is magnified if we are constantly putting pressure on ourselves to be perfect - whether that is on assignments, essays, tests (Flett, 2012). He has demonstrated that students often ruminate about their procrastination and have thoughts such as "why didn't I start earlier?" or "next time will be different." (I can certainly attest to having some of these thoughts as a second-year university student!) He suggested that students learn to fight against these thoughts, particularly since such thinking patterns can be associated to depression, anxiety as well as lack of conscientiousness, and avoidance.

4. "Get help if you need it"

He proclaims that "the biggest problem is that perfectionistic procrastinators do no seek help, whether it is for assistance with their learning style or for their psychological issues." This reluctance to seek help might be present for a variety of reasons - sometimes students don't want to admit that they're struggling because of the need to seem perfect or to live up to those external expectations. If you are struggling with this, it is important to know that there is help available.