Imperfect perfectionism

Imperfect perfectionism

Do you notice that you want to make progress with your assignments or dissertation but wonder if your work is good enough? Are you dissatisfied with your work? Do you worry about feedback? 

It is common to experience these feelings when we care about doing well in our work.

Sometimes, these feelings may be due to wanting to avoid mistakes, but as these happen, we lose motivation and wonder if our work will ever be good enough. As a result, we can experience more pressure (and stress symptoms) and take longer to do things preventing us from meeting deadlines. 

Here are a few strategies to make progress:

Reframe negative thoughts: Notice when you have negative thoughts about your work, yourself, or anticipate negative outcomes. Then ask yourself: “Is this thought helpful?” and then ask: “what one thing can I do now to move forward?”

Expect that it may take time to achieve results. Several trials and errors may be necessary to understand a concept or result in an experiment.

If it does not work on the first attempt, it does not mean you cannot get a positive result later (Dweck, 2006).

Focus on making progress: often, we have a definite idea of how things should be, pursuing unrealistic standards. We do not realise that our expectations add pressure and paradoxically prevent us from doing good work. Instead, focus on making progress and working on what supports your goals. 

Reframe fear of failure: Because we care to do good work, we worry about mistakes. We may believe that we should not make mistakes and view them as a sign of our lack of ability. Instead, view errors and setbacks as part of the learning process, and with practice, we can master new knowledge and develop new skills (Ben-Shahar, 2009).

Practise self-compassion: It is about being aware that you are human and that sometimes mistakes can happen. Treat yourself with kindness, like you would behave towards your best friend. (Gilbert, 2010). 

Take a moment to pause and redirect your attention to the present moment. It will help to ground yourself, reset and find balance.  

Give yourself time to restore your energy. It also provides you with an opportunity to step back from your work. This way, when you return to it, you can look at it with fresh eyes. Often, just a few minutes can allow you to notice what you can edit or correct to get unstuck.

For more information check this blog post and this one

“The perfect is the enemy of the good.” (Voltaire)


Ben-Shahar, T. (2009) The Pursuit of Perfect. How to stop chasing perfection and start living
             a richer, happier life. USA: McGraw-Hill.

Dweck, C. S. (2006) Mindset. How you can fulfil your potential. New York: Balantine books.

Gilbert, P. (2010) The compassionate mind. London: Constable & Robinson, Ltd.

Restoring balance and building confidence

Restoring balance and building confidence

We hear that we need to be confident to do well in this world. But how do we know when we are confident? We can recognise this feeling when we feel good because we achieved something important to us, something that was difficult and took effort.

Confidence is the degree to which we believe our actions will achieve a positive outcome. It is believing that we are capable and can persevere with our efforts. It is dynamic, and it fluctuates depending on what is happening in our day and how we react to events (Harris, 2010).

However, life brings challenges and sometimes these can trigger a range of emotions that can affect how confident we feel to face events. When facing uncertainty, unfamiliar situations, or worrying about possible negative consequences, we may feel our confidence decreases as we are unsure how to respond to the situation. We may doubt our ability to do it well.

Sometimes, we may react by distracting ourselves from the challenge to avoid uncomfortable feelings. Sometimes, we may experience fear and wonder what to do to protect ourselves.

It is normal to feel vulnerable, and we may tend to avoid distressing thoughts and feelings, but suppressing them will only make it more stressful. Instead, it is best to acknowledge our feelings with curiosity and without judgment.

We all have these experiences from time to time (Harris, 2010). When dealing with a challenging situation, rather than judging ourselves because we are finding it so hard or questioning our ability, it is best to pay attention to step back to gain perspective.

As we give ourselves a bit of space and time to understand what is happening, we can get in touch with what matters. David (2017) describes it as listening to our courage that can manifest in a whisper that tells us that we are capable even when we have doubts or feel fear. When we are honest with ourselves and have the courage to feel our feelings with compassion, we can restore balance and a sense of confidence in our ability to deal with the challenge.  

Tips to boost confidence:

Being authentic: It is good to reconnect with our values to remind ourselves of what is meaningful, what matters to us. We are more likely to experience a sense of inner balance when we are in harmony with our beliefs, and our behaviour is consistent (Joseph, 2016).

Developing emotional agility: Adopting a flexible and understanding attitude enable us to tolerate discomfort and manage our feelings. It also allows us to deal with uncertainty and adjust when change happens (David, 2017).

Developing self-compassion: It is normal to have questions, self-doubt, and feel vulnerable at times. As we develop our self-awareness, we can manage our reactions in constructive ways.

Remembering that we are human beings – we get tired can be upset or frustrated. It is helpful to keep an open mind and check our assumptions. It will allow us to gain perspective and explore options to deal with challenges. As we practice applying these strategies, we can strengthen our sense of self-efficacy, boost our confidence and strengthen our belief in our ability to deal with challenges.

For more information check this blog post and this one


David, S. (2016) Emotional agility. Get unstuck, embrace change, and thrive in work and
 Great Britain: Penguin Life.

Gilbert, P. & Choden, (2013) Mindful compassion. Using the power of mindfulness and
            compassion to transform our lives.
 Great Britain: Robinson

Harris, R. (2011) The confidence gap. From fear to freedom. London: Constable & Robinson,

Why do we procrastinate, and what can we do to get work done?

Why do we procrastinate, and what can we do to get work done?

We delay getting our work done, not because of laziness, but because we are affected by the present bias. It refers to our human tendency to prefer what is comfortable and move away from what is difficult. So, although we know we have an assignment to work on, we get distracted by something that feels easier to do.

Researchers describe procrastination as a mood management strategy ( Steel, 2011). It feels uncomfortable when we are working on a difficult task and are unsure about what to do. We feel challenged by it – “What if we cannot do it well? What if we fail? 

The paradox is that we know that delaying our work is going against our best interests. We know that we care about our work and want to do well, but we feel that we are not ready and do not trust ourselves to do it well.

We need to learn to tolerate the uncertainty of how things will work out and develop the habit of persevering with our work. As we notice progress, it will boost our confidence in our skills to get things done (Ellenhorn, 2020).

Strategies to make progress

Develop the habit of starting: Instead of viewing the task as something you must do, reframe it as something you choose to do because you want to increase your knowledge and develop your skills.

Reframe how you think about the task: When the task is difficult, change your perspective and view hard work as a sign that it is a challenge and requires more effort to learn to build your knowledge.

Be curious: It is easier to get started when we want to do things for personal interest. Be curious about the subject – when we view a task as something we want to learn, we are more likely to find it motivating.

Avoid comparing with others: We are all unique individuals with different experiences, skills, and background knowledge. Focus on your personal development and learning new skills.

Create reminders: Identifying cues or prompts to remind us of our decision to get things done help to persevere with our efforts.

When we have prompts in our environment, they make us aware of what we have decided to do. For example, if we want to start going out for walks, we can leave our trainers by the front door, or a note in a visible place reminding us of that project we want to finish.

For more information and strategies to understand and manage procrastination check
this blog post and this one


Duckworth, A. (2016) Grit. The Power of Passion and Perseverance. London: Vermillion.

Ellenhorn, R. (2020) How we change (and ten reasons why we don’t). Great Britain: Piatkus

McGonigal,, K. (2012) The Willpower Instinct. How self-control works. Why it matters, and what you can do about it. New York: Penguin Books.

Steel, P. (2011) The procrastination equation. How to stop putting things off and start getting things done.  Harlow: Prentice Hall Life (Pearson)

Young, S. (2017). Stick with it. The science of lasting behaviour. London: Penguin Life.

Be well and do well: Benefits of self-care

Be well and do well: Benefits of self-care

At this time of term most are busy managing a demanding workload. It is a good time to remind ourselves of the benefit of looking after ourselves so that we can do well and keep well.

This week is University Mental Health day (4.3.21), and the university has organised activities to celebrate this event. The purpose is to raise awareness of the challenges of mental health problems, increase our understanding, and remind ourselves of the importance of maintaining healthy habits to feel well and do well.  You can also check Student Services blog for links to resources. 
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Unmotivated? Find out how to renew your enthusiasm

Unmotivated? Find out how to renew your enthusiasm

Are you noticing that you do not feel motivated to sit down and start or continue your studies? Are your assignments accumulating? Are you feeling frustrated and concerned about deadlines?

It is not uncommon in the middle of the academic year to feel less motivated. It can be frustrating and worrying to notice deadlines approaching fast, and although you want to do well academically, it is hard to persevere with the work.
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How to build confidence in an uncertain world

How to build confidence in an uncertain world

As our world continues to be affected  by Covid-19, we are experiencing ongoing uncertainty. It is changing the way we live and how we work.

We now need to take care of our health and our wellbeing.  We can start by giving ourselves time to restore energy, to focus on what is meaningful and nurture our relationships with the people around us. 

Often,  when living with uncertainty, we can experience more worry thoughts, self-doubt and even question our ability to manage challenges. We often hear people say all we need is to have confidence – to believe in ourselves – and we can achieve anything we want to do.
Read more

Studying at home during coronavirus (Part 2)

Studying at home during coronavirus     (Part 2)

Is it difficult to maintain your motivation to study?

Before lockdown, we normally had to travel to the university. In that time, we were able to transition from our home non-work mindset into our work mindset. 

As we start to turn our home/accommodation into our workspace, we may find that it is not easy to get into our work mindset. To do this, we need to create new cues in our environment to remind us of when it is work time, and when it is time to switch to our non-work time. 
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Reducing the impact of Coronavirus on your existing mental health difficulties

Reducing the impact of Coronavirus on your existing mental health difficulties

By Lizzie Stevenson (Mental Health Advisor)

If you are already struggling with anxiety or depression, you may be worried about how Coronavirus will affect you.

You may be worried about the uncertainty of things at the moment, or about how the possible impact to your everyday routine will impact your mental health.  
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Introduction to Mindfulness: Part 1

Introduction to Mindfulness: Part 1

By Lizzie Stevenson (Mental Health Advisor)

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness is a topic which has become very popular over recent years, and which you may already be somewhat familiar with.

Understanding the theory behind mindfulness can be helpful, however it is the doing of the practices themselves that will show you the benefits.
Therefore, after you finish reading this you can listen to a recorded mindfulness practice that you can find on the Life Tools Blackboard course.

Before we get into the nitty gritty of what mindfulness is, briefly put, mindfulness is the opposite of mindlessness: it is about an awareness of what’s going on, both outside in your environment and inside through your internal experience.

Research has demonstrated that regular mindfulness practice has many benefits including managing stress, thinking more clearly, improving memory and helping with emotional resilience.  So, you can see how this technique can be particularly useful to do well in your studies.

Definitions of Mindfulness

The Oxford Dictionary (2015) describes mindfulness as:

A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

Jon Kabat-Zinn is a professor of Medicine in the USA. He founded an 8-week course called ‘Mindfulness Based Stress reduction’ in the 1970s. A metaphor he used to describe mindfulness which I find sums it up well is:

The thoughts in your mind are like a waterfall filled mostly with thoughts of ‘me, me, me’. In this metaphor mindfulness allows you to step away from the current of the gushing waterfall and observe the contents of your thoughts in the waterfall non-judgmentally, from a distance.

It is not trying to stop or change the water as it flows, nor is it getting swept away by the torrent of water caught up in our thoughts. It is being aware of the water, watching and observing it from a distance.

What mindfulness is not

Despite many proven benefits of mindfulness, people are often wary when they hear that term. Therefore it is helpful to talk about what mindfulness is not.

People often think that mindfulness is about emptying the mind completely – a hard task. This is also not true. Mind wandering is very normal, our minds naturally get us tied up in knots over all sorts of things. Mindfulness is about noticing when our minds are doing this – and gently pulling our attention back to focus.

Another common misconception about mindfulness is that it takes a long time to do, and it requires lots of practice.

Whilst this is somewhat true in that mindfulness is an exercise that requires practice, a few minutes spent practising mindfulness can save you hours of wasted time fretting and worrying. And it is something that you can do in an informal way and incorporate into your every-day routine.

Mindfulness is also not about adopting a passive view of life, stopping us from striving or achieving things. It is about having an awareness of ourselves that can help us choose our goals. And it allows us to find the best path towards reaching these.

Mindfulness is also not a religion. Whilst it is true that many religions have used meditation for spiritual purposes, you don’t have to be religious to practice mindfulness.

How does it work? The Mind-body connection

The mind and body are connected. When we sense a threat, our body reacts and tenses up- ready to fight or run away. This ‘fight or flight’ response happens unconsciously and is quite simplistic.

It does not differentiate between an external threat, like a tiger roaming around campus, and an internal threat – like a bad memory or a worry. Both create the same reaction in our bodies.

This means that when a threat is sensed by the brain the body tenses up to fight or run. This then tells our brain that there is a threat, so it sends messages to the body to tense up further, forming a vicious cycle.

Our body changes and react based on our thoughts. A difficult memory can make us feel stressed in the present, that then manifests in our body, which then signals to our brain that there is a threat.

Stress itself is a normal emotion and sometimes in can come and go easily. However, sometimes we can get stuck in a pattern of stress which is hard to get out of. We may then start wondering why we feel so stressed, and our brain will bring up other worries increasing tension. This can then send us into a spiral that can happen in an instant, before we are even aware of it.

We can’t stop random thoughts appearing that may trigger unhappy memories or stress, but we can use mindfulness to help stop what happens next.

To notice these negative thoughts or feelings, accept them without judgement. Then, shift your attention away from them. This will stop the spiralling of negative thoughts preventing a vicious cycle.

Benefits of Mindfulness

There has been a lot of research into mindfulness and evidence has shown multiple benefits. A few of the main proven benefits of regular mindfulness practice include:

  • Reduced anxiety, stress, depression, exhaustion and irritability.
  • Improved memory and reaction times (great for students preparing for exams!)
  • A reduction in pain and quality of life for suffers of conditions such as fibromyalgia, chronic pain and IBS.
  • Reduction in self- destructive or addictive behaviour – including excessive alcohol intake.

For more information on the benefits of mindfulness see


Kabat-Zinn, J. (1994) Wherever you go, there you are. New York: Hyperion

Siegel, D., (2007) The mindful brain: reflection and attunement in the cultivation of well-being. New York: Norton

Williams, M., Penman, D., (2011) Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world. London: Piatkus

Hanson R. (2009) Buddha’s Brain –The practical Neuroscience of happiness, love and wisdom. Oakland: New Harbinger Publications.



New Year’s resolutions

New Year’s resolutions

Making change happen

Most people use the start of a new year to review how things have gone in the past year. Then, they look ahead to decide what they want to change. Why is this time so significant for change?

Starting a new calendar year can feel like starting on a fresh new page. A new beginning invites us to reflect on how things are going and to consider how we would like things to be. 
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