'Cognition' is a word used to denote a thought or belief, and 'restructuring' involves challenging a cognition by looking at the evidence for or against it. The basic idea behind cognitive restructuring is that thoughts themselves are not facts; you need to consider whether the thoughts you are having are true and to consider whether there are any other ways to thinking about a particular situation. At first this can be a real challenge: we often believe what we think and don't question our own thoughts. However, often our thinking is biased, and with perfectionism it can be biased towards thinking too negatively and harshly about yourself.
The last session introduced some thinking patterns which are commonly used when pursuing goals. Click here if you want to download the handout on what these thinking styles are.
All or Nothing
A common 'should' statement would be "I should exercise every day". A should statement turns a goal into a rule.
Focusing on the small mistakes, minor flaws, or weaknesses in yourself or your performance, and not factoring in your strengths or better moments.
Applying standards to yourself which do not hold for others.
Broad sweeping conclusions which become extensively applied, but are based on one or a few experiences. An overgeneralisation might be "I failed at my goal last time so I'm always going to be a failure".
Not all thought types or thinking patterns are mentioned in this program, but this session will introduce one more which is often linked with perfectionism.
Introducing, the All or Nothing mentality.
Other names for this style of thinking include 'black and white' or 'dichotomous' thinking. All or nothing thinking involves judging standards in two categories and viewing things in extremes, for example:
Good or Bad
Failed or Succeeded
Always or Never
Totally or Not at all
People with perfectionism set themselves very rigid and demanding standards by which they measure their success. The problem with this is that by setting rigid rules (e.g. I must have over 80% on all my grades or else I am a failure) a person can become trapped in a cycle of evaluating their goals in this All or Nothing way.
This creates one of two outcomes:
This creates a no-win situation.
Not reaching a certain standard, no matter how close it was to being met, is counted as a complete failure
A certain standard is reached, but then discounted as having set the bar too low.
All or nothing thinking is an important factor that distinguishes healthy goal attainment from unhelpful perfectionism.
If you judge your successes based on All or Nothing thinking it leaves no room for the middle ground. It means that an 'average' performance can only fall into one of two categories: Success or Failure, with no shades of grey.
Example of All or Nothing Thinking
If I do not come first in my competition, I'm not a real athlete.
If I do not look stylish and put together people will think I am lazy and have let myself go
If I do not write an excellent report, then I am a bad employee
If I do not clean everyday, the house will always look dirty
If my child does not excel at school I am a useless parent
If I eat one piece of chocolate my diet is ruined
All or nothing thinking is particularly relevant to perfectionism because much of what keeps perfectionism going involves setting rigid rules and high standards, All or Nothing thinking is then used to evaluate how well these rules are complied with.