• Emma Chow

How to Better Manage Your Perfectionism

Whenever we take a step back to evaluate and correct our mistakes, we are utilizing our abstract error detection.¹ This process is crucial to one's performance because it allows us to correct our mistakes. Whether it occurs immediately or in the future, the recognition of one's error is necessary for improvement.

However, we all have a different tolerance when it comes to our mistakes. While it can be beneficial for some, it can be disturbing for others. Those with low error tolerance usually exhibit perfectionistic traits.²

Error detection was first coined in 1971. It was used to describe the neural process that either reacts exclusively or selectively. The reaction to the error detection and the physiological phenomenon is a reflection of the error detection activity.³

Gaudreau and Thompson created a model of personality and individual differences. According to this model, there are 2 sub-traits of perfectionism:

Personal Standards Perfectionism (PSP)

Having a high PSP indicates an individual who has intrinsic motivations. They are motivated to perform well and set high oriented goals because of an internal criteria set upon themselves.

Evaluative Concerns Perfectionism (ECP)

Having a high ECP suggests a character who values the opinion of others. However, the anticipated judgment will inevitably affect the way these individuals perceive their experience.

Gaudreau and Thompson's model also suggested 4 subgroups of perfectionism:

  1. Low ECP + low PSP: These are non-perfectionists. Having a low ECP indicates a character that does not place a high value on the opinions of others. And a low PSP suggests reasonable standards are placed upon oneself.

  2. High ECP + low PSP: These individuals are pure ECP. A high ECP with a low PSP may indicate an individual who is extremely concerned with the opinions of others. While also having a low motivation to improve their own character.

  3. Low ECP + high PSP: These individuals are pure PSP. These individuals do not seek validation from external sources. Rather, their biggest critic and motivation are the expectations they've set for themselves.

  4. High ECP + high PSP: These are mixed perfectionists. These individuals worry about a combination of external and internal judgment.

Compared to those with low ECP, participants with high ECP are better at correcting their mistakes after the error was brought to their attention.
Illustration by Nadia Mokadem

Researchers from New York wanted to explore the positive relationship between ECP and error positivity (Pe). Error positivity is the awareness of one's personal errors. Within this study, they gathered 43 participants and had them complete a variety of error awareness tasks.

Compared to those with low ECP, participants with high ECP are better at correcting their mistakes after the error was brought to their attention. This indicates a positive correlation between ECP and the amount of error awareness (Pe).

They also discovered that when multitasking, there was a higher level of error awareness for individuals with high ECP and low PSP.These are individuals that worry about being negatively evaluated (high ECP). Yet, they simultaneously have a low motivation to improve their performance (low PSP). The worry from external judgement and lack of self confidence in their ability to improve can explain why there was a higher level of awareness.

Researchers from the Institute of the Human Brain of the Russian Academy of Sciences explored the relationship between high and low levels of PSP. They discovered that those who have high PSP had a higher error awareness. They also had better accuracy not repeating their mistakes compared to those with low PSP.

Similarly to those with high PSP, participants with high ECP demonstrated a better performance after the error was brought to their attention.This discovery further supports the findings of Drizinsky et al's study.

This raises the question of whether individuals with high ECP and PSP are better are detecting errors. But further research and studies will need to be conducted to explore the relationship.

But, what are some ways perfectionism can be managed?

Evaluate Your Standards

Have you ever worked on a project for hours when it had already reached the standard long before? Take some time to assess the standards you are placing upon yourself. We don't have to complete every task with exceeding efforts if it is not needed. Rather than it being perfect, sometimes having something be 'good enough' is enough.

Get Some New Perspective

Asking a friend or colleague to look over your work could offer a different perspective. Talking about perfectionistic tendencies can also help you organize your thoughts. Speaking one's thoughts aloud allows an easier time to identify the triggers and patterns. Sometimes, our initial opinion or reaction to something isn't always accurate. Seeking a different perspective can help you get a bigger picture of the situation.

Shift Your Mindset About Imperfections

This can be a difficult and long process but learning to change your mindset about imperfections could help you achieve more. The worry that perfectionistic individuals experience often stems from insecurities. This can lead to an avoidance behavior of things we are fearful of not performing adequately. When we recognize that completing the task is more important than perfecting the task, it could relieve a lot of pressure.


  1. Drizinsky, J., Zülch, J., Gibbons, H., & Stahl, J. (2016). How personal standards perfectionism and evaluative concerns perfectionism affect the error positivity and post-error behavior with varying stimulus visibility. Cognitive, Affective and Behavioral Neuroscience, 16(5), 876-887. doi:http://dx.doi.org.ezaccess.libraries.psu.edu/10.3758/s13415-016-0438-z

  2. Ibid.

  3. Bechtereva, N., Shemyakina, N., Starchenko, M., Danko, S., & Medvedev, S. (2005, September 16). Error detection mechanisms of the brain: Background and prospects. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 58(2-3), 227-234. Retrieved November 07, 2020, from https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0167876005001789

  4. Ibid.

  5. Ibid.

  6. Ibid.

  7. Ibid.

  8. Stahl, J., Acharki, M., Kresimon, M., Völler, F., & Gibbons, H. (2015). Perfect error processing: Perfectionism-related variations in action monitoring and error processing mechanisms. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 97(153-162). doi:10.1016/j.ijpsycho.2015.06.002

  9. Ibid.