Many of the students I’ve encountered in tutoring have hit the perfectionist block and been quite stuck. This tends to happen with high functioning students, in particular, but not exclusively. I’ve tutored & coached a number of them going to Ivy League schools, managing material that is incredibly challenging. But it is almost never a case of the material being the culprit so much as the pressure that the student puts on themselves in their work. With such loud inner negative chatter, it can be quite crippling in these students.
Now during a pandemic, these types have appeared all over, with symptoms that are fairly exaggerated, at least compared to a ‘normal’ baseline. In the absence of more social company, the pandemic has forced a lot more introspection in these students, and therefore more exposure to those internal voices of criticism that are such a challenge to contend with.
Frequently, the way that these students have been able to free themselves from these blockages, in my experience, has been centered around the practice of mindfulness. “Mindfulness” is often conflated with meditation. While meditation is probably the gold standard of mindfulness, the terms are not synonymous. Mindfulness is the practice of reflection with the goal not of not eliminating negative chatter(often the trap in practicing it), but viewing it in one’s own head neutrally and without judgement. This type of neutral self-reflection can occur in meditation practices, or through painting or playing an instrument or any number of quiet thoughtful activity in which the mind bends internal. It is, indeed, a practice, though and takes regularity to be effective. However, as a medicine, I have seen it be life-altering to many.
Sadly, many students are too young and inexperienced to see the value of mindfulness and dismiss it or try it briefly, only to see it as ineffective when it doesn’t work immediately. Under the guidance of a trusted mentor, though, students can eventually be influenced into healthy habits like this one, changing their lives.
That negative voice won’t go anywhere, a lesson especially apparent in this time of increased isolation. But we can learn how to best listen to this voice and how to respond. That can be a liberation that changes everything upon discovery.