The Quest for Perfection

Striving for perfection has plagued many people. Recently a parent wrote to me the following: “My oldest son is very good at math but resistant to practicing his language arts. The source of his problem seems to be that he feels he is not ‘the best’ or ‘perfect’ in this area. I explained to him that he needed to allow himself to learn using an example of how I would need to learn if I wanted to fly an airplane. While I will continue these efforts at home, I would like to also send him to a tutor who employs your techniques. Do you have a list of tutors or teachers who use your methods?”

My Response about Perfection

I do not have a list of tutors; however, a tutor does not need to know the Discipline Without Stress approach.

Emphasize the following two thoughts to your son.

First, no one can be perfect and learn at the same time. We’ve all heard the expression, “Practice makes perfect.” It’s something many teachers and parents have touted to children for decades. However, the problem with that thinking is that perfection is often not possible. And striving for something unattainable sets people up for failure.

Of course, this does not mean we shouldn’t have high standards for ourselves and others. Therefore, think about it like this: Pursuing perfection focuses at looking for what’s WRONG. On the other hand, pursuing high standards and excellence focuses on what’s RIGHT. Most humans in most endeavors will fulfill their responsibilities more effectively when asked, “Are you satisfied with your work?” rather than “Is what you have done perfect?”

Second, a person’s self-talk is the most important factor in success. A victim’s self-talk will be something like, “I’M NOT SURE IF I CAN DO IT.” The successful person’s self-talk is, “HOW CAN I DO IT?”

Teach your son that negative thoughts need not be his reality. He can dismiss the negative thoughts, or even better, turn them around into positive comments. So a phrase like, “I’m not good at language arts,” becomes, “I’m improving my language arts skills every day.” Encourage him to always think, “How can I turn that negative thought around so that it will not affect me in a negative way?”

Ultimately, some people need to believe in someone else’s faith in them before their own faith kicks in. So keep asking your son questions that prompt him to reflect on his successes. The successes can be in any area. His positive self-talk will transfer to his language arts concern.


How have you helped children (or yourself) overcome the burden of perfectionism? Please share your comments on the Without Stress Facebook page.