Learning to live with imperfection

3 minute read

Can AI help perfectionists accept that near enough can be good enough?

Your Back Page scribbler is not a perfectionist.

Decades in the journalism business has taught him to value of the wisdom of French writer Voltaire who aphorised: perfect is the enemy of good.

For starters, back in the day when print publishing was still king, missing deadlines in the pursuit of perfection could be an expensive and career-limiting exercise.

And while it could be argued that perfectionism is a desirable thing in some fields of endeavour – airline pilot, surgeon, bomb disabling – the trait is becoming increasingly prevalent among young people, prompting Australian researchers to examine the effectiveness of current interventions and to explore possible new treatments.

A team from Flinders University has published a pilot study in the March edition of the journal, Internet Interventions, which looks at “the perceptions and acceptability of guidance using artificial intelligence in internet cognitive behaviour therapy for perfectionism in young people”.

The study defined perfectionism as “the relentless pursuit of impeccability, setting excessively high standards and an unwavering desire to achieve them”, adding that the trait could become “overwhelming and crippling” in some young people, leading to “self-criticism, stress, procrastination and poor mental health”.

“It’s a cause for concern when we start to see perfectionism emerge in childhood,” one of the study authors, Professor Tracey Wade, told media. “Therefore, it’s crucial to identify it early and introduce interventions that are effective.”

In the study, the Flinders team first asked young people about their perceptions of AI and then co-designed AI tools to help provide guidance through a CBT program. They found the benefits of the AI guidance included “ease of access, low cost, lack of stigma and benefits for individuals with social anxiety”.

This has prompted the team to begin a new study that will involve both parents and children aged seven to 12 and examine how perfectionism-related challenges affect their quality of life.

The pilot program will examine the feasibility and effectiveness of a new intervention where parents deliver cognitive behaviour therapy for perfectionism (GP-CBT-P) to their child, with the help of a guide.

Folks interested in being a part of this program should email maya.jabs@flinders.edu.au.

And, fingers crossed, the outcomes will go some way to reducing the impact of excessive perfectionism on children’s and their parents’ lives.

Not get rid of it completely. Just cut it back a bit. It just has to be somewhat more effective. It doesn’t have to be perfect!   

Send imperfect story tips to cate@medicalrepublic.com.au

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