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Simple Strategies to Manage Your Inner Perfectionist

Approximate reading time: 5 minutes.

It's no secret that education is a high-pressure field. Educators and school leaders tend to be perfectionists because they care about their students and want to help them. It might seem like the future of the world is resting on your shoulders at times. That's a big responsibility, and you probably feel like you have to be perfect to meet it.

At heart, everyone knows that perfection isn't possible. Teachers and school leaders are only human. There are times when they make mistakes or give less than 100% effort to a task. The good news is that imperfection isn't failure. You can be an asset to your school without being faultless. Being able to confront your inner perfectionist and grow from your mistakes is a strength.

The connection between perfectionism and mental health

a road sign that says wisdom perfectionism.

The National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) conducted a survey assessing educator mental health between December 2021 and January 2022. A staggering 91% of school staff reported that their job had negatively affected their mental health in the 12 months prior to the survey.

Your Welbee toolkit includes resources to help you deal with anxiety and recognise depression. Learning how to manage your inner perfectionist is important too. When you break the cycle of perfectionism, you free yourself from unrealistic expectations and standards. It's great for your wellbeing and empowers you to try new approaches and methods as an educator.

Giving your best by giving up perfectionism

Making commitments to improve personal health and happiness can be hard for teachers. Educators are selfless, and they want to give their students the best classroom experience possible. Too often, striving for classroom perfection leaves education staff burnt out. It's important to have high standards and work diligently to meet student needs, but it's also essential to be kind to yourself.

You show up and support your students. You are a good teacher because you aren't perfect. All education staff and leaders want their students to be well-prepared in school and life. Strong lesson planning and engaging classroom activities can help you accomplish those goals, but it's okay if things aren't flawless. Making mistakes as an educator can actually help your students and colleagues learn. It also reveals opportunities to hone your skills and grow as an educator.     

Strategies to manage your inner perfectionist

According to a recent study, 68% of education staff have considered leaving their jobs because of an overwhelming workload. Due to their nature, teaching jobs do carry significant work demands. Making unrealistic demands of yourself only makes that load heavier.

Learning strategies to cope with perfectionism can help improve teacher wellbeing and empower school leaders to better support staff. Of course, it's important to get help with your wellbeing if your feelings of depression, anxiety, or perfectionism have become overwhelming or unmanageable. 

Look past black-and-white thinking

Perfectionism is characterised by black-and-white thinking, or the tendency to see things as all or nothing. When perfectionists adopt this all-or-nothing attitude, they find that they've failed and get discouraged.     

Education staff can resist all-or-nothing tendencies by practising dialectical thinking instead. Dialectical thinking is seeing and accepting things from different perspectives. Educators who think in black and white tend to say things like, "My lesson didn't go well, and I've failed my students."

Teachers who practise dialectical thinking take an optimistic approach instead. They say things like, "My lesson didn't go as planned, but my students were still engaged and learned the material."  

School leaders can support education staff wellbeing and their own mental health by encouraging teachers to adopt a growth mindset. This type of mindset insulates staff against perfectionism and helps them develop greater resilience.

Talk back to your inner critic

Almost everyone has a voice in their head that criticises their work, appearance, and decision-making skills. This voice is known as your 'inner critic'. Turning down the volume on your inner critic can help you let go of perfectionism.  

Education staff encourage their students to focus on the positive and try again when they get something wrong. It's time to practise that same compassion with yourself. Remind yourself that you deserve to be an educator and are doing your best for your students. The more you talk back to your inner critic, the less it will bother you.  

School leaders can benefit from talking back to their inner critics too. Headmasters and school leaders face immense pressure, and they tend to be very hard on themselves. Take time to jot down your professional accomplishments and remind your inner critic that you are qualified for your position.

Chant a calming mantra

A mantra is a phrase or sound that you chant repeatedly. You can say a mantra out loud, or you can keep it to yourself. Mantras have been shown to help calm the brain so that you can stop perfectionist thinking before it starts.

Education staff can use positive affirmations as mantras. You can use a simple phrase like "I am a good teacher" or "My lesson plan is good enough" to get your brain back on track when perfectionism sneaks in.

School leaders can consider introducing a new mantra (or motto) to their staff for the school year or term. Examples include "progress not perfection" and "see the good."   

Practise compassion with yourself

Both education staff and school leaders benefit from practising compassion with themselves. We know it's hard, but it's essential to accept your shortfallings. Instead of beating yourself up when something doesn't go well, quickly identify what you'll do instead next time and let it go. Focus on forgiving yourself and growing as an educator instead of berating yourself. 

Managing your inner perfectionist can be challenging. Why not sign up for your free Welbee Wellbeing toolkit today? You'll find tons of resources, videos, and courses to boost education staff wellbeing in your toolkit.   

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