Chasing perfection with Dr Jane McNicholas

Dr Jane McNicholas, the creator of our upcoming Series, 'Ease Perfectionism', tells us about her love of psychology and the price of perfectionism...

Hi Jane! Tell us more about yourself and what drew you to psychology in the first place?

The first person to plant the “psychology” seed for me was my mother. She and I would often play that game of guessing other people’s stories when out and about, and at the time I think she noticed my genuine curiosity for wanting to understand other people’s histories and situations. When my mother suggested that I become a psychologist, I thought, “Why not? If nothing else it will be an incredibly interesting learning process.” What a learning process it has turned out to be!

As a young graduate, I was incredibly interested in Forensic Psychology and completed a masters in this area, subsequently realising that perhaps I had pigeonholed myself a bit too soon. I went on to study clinical psychology and adored the broad range of both client groups and theoretical approaches that were taught and utilised in this field. Since then I have worked across the private and public sectors in the UK and Ireland and thoroughly enjoy the diversity of this work.

Can you tell us anything about the Series?

I remember once having a conversation with a psychology colleague where we both shared our belief that despite the enormous diversity in the world, the principles of good mental health are universal, and if we can share with people these basic principles, then we have achieved our goal. This is why I have really enjoyed creating this series on Perfectionism for Unmind. The more that we allow ourselves to pause and really “notice” the drivers behind our behaviours and thoughts, the more we make informed choices about how we respond to the world and prioritise what is important to us. In creating this series, I was drawn to some basic principles of CBT whereby one slows down and starts to question the automatic and repetitive ideas that tend to populate our thinking. Learning to examine the underlying beliefs that drive perfectionistic behaviour is an incredibly valuable skill, and is a skill that if practised regularly can be used in so many areas of our lives.

What makes this topic important in your mind?

Working increasingly with adolescents and young adults I cannot help but notice the increasing demands that are placed on young people to perform and outperform throughout a period in their lives when they should be encouraged to explore, experiment, and take risks. My heart sinks when I hear about schools where the average grade is an A*! It has worried me for some time that these expectations placed on young people drive perfectionism, as the message being internalised is that nothing short of perfect will do. Unfortunately, this is also the message conveyed through social media; no one ever tweets or Instagrams their attempts and failures, only their successes. What I have always believed is that we learn the most about ourselves; our strengths, our weaknesses, our support networks, our goals, and our expectations in those times where we inevitably fall short of perfect. This, for me, is a much more exciting and refreshing place to live from.

Please share your number one tip or idea when it comes to perfectionism.

Always ask yourself for whom this is important? We often aim for perfection believing that other people expect this from us. They don’t!
Experiment with achieving “good enough”. What does that feel like?

Finally, tell us something interesting about yourself!

Despite living in London, I start every day in France! My husband is French, and he very patiently supports me in my learning of the language, and I can assure you this is a process that has been anything but perfect! I’m not sure I’ll ever lose the West of Ireland accent (but maybe that’s ok!)

Thanks, Jane!

Jane's next Unmind Series will be looking at the science behind addiction and unhealthy habits and how to overcome them. Find out more about Jane on her Linkedin page.

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