When I was growing up, we had a giant pink eraser printed with the words,
“I never make BIG MISTEAKS!”
Obviously, it was a joke, but there are some people who would not find this funny at all. For some students, learning is so full of potholes that every little mistake they make is a REALLY BIG DEAL!
Recently a young adult student, Sam, shared with me that for him, everything has to be completely 100% right or it becomes a major roadblock for him and he gets confused and has to start all over. You can imagine how challenging and time consuming this is for him at work and in his college classes.
In order to function and learn easily and efficiently, there are numerous underlying processing skills (such as memory, attention, auditory and visual processing, processing speed, and reasoning) that need to be working efficiently. The stronger these underlying skills are, the more flexible and balanced we can be.
When any of these underlying skills are not working efficiently, it causes little glitches in our thinking that get in our way and slow us down. The more areas of weakness or inefficiency that there are, the more out of control we feel.
The more out of control we feel, the more rigid we become, clinging to ways of doing things that have worked for us in the past and being less willing to try something new or look at things in a different way.
Sam has many areas of weakness in his underlying skills, as well as a few areas of real strength which he relies on religiously. He is very smart and quite articulate, but he is also very set in his ways. He has learned ways to function, and even though most of those ways are not very efficient (such as reading a chapter 6 times in order to understand it), he is reluctant to make any changes.
Sam says that he is a perfectionist. Many of our students are initially described by their parents as being perfectionists. Being perfect is pretty hard. It’s a big responsibility and hard to live up to. Therefore, many of our little perfectionists also tend to “beat themselves up” and have meltdowns over homework.
There is a solution. Perfectionism is often a coping strategy for dealing with weak underlying learning/processing skills. It serves student in a number of different ways:
- An excuse not to do something – “I know I can’t do it perfectly so I won’t do it at all.”
- Understand and control environment – “If I always do it exactly this way, then I feel secure, I know what to expect.”
- Feeling competent – I don’t want people to think I can’t do it so I have to do it perfectly.
- Have unreasonable, perfectionist expectations for others – This allows the person to turn the attention off of himself and onto the other person’s lack of competence / to blame others for not doing it right.
People develop coping strategies because they need them. We know that underlying learning processing skills can be developed. Once they are, and students have more efficient tools to think and learn with, we help them to put aside their perfectionism and coping strategies that they no longer need.
Doing your best is great. Having to be perfect is not.
Sometimes is really is OK to make MISTEAKS!
Do you know someone who is a perfectionist? Does it seem to be related to learning challenges?
JOIN US for an information meeting to better understand why smart children can struggle in school and what can be done to permanently change/correct that. Go to www.learningdisability.com for info and RSVP.