Psychologists Uncover New Productivity Hack: Chilling Out

Research reveals that perfectionists are more anxious and depressed—and way less efficient

Image via Flickr user Firesam (cc)

Perfectionists get things done, right? They’re more detail-oriented, meticulous, and effective than the rest of us—or so we’ve been led to believe. But new research out of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, published in the open-access online journal PLOS ONE, has upended that longstanding myth: When put to the test, perfectionists don’t actually work harder than the rest of us. They just agonize more internally about the outcome.

For every deadline achieved, what you don’t see in a perfectionist is the complicated critical self-talk that accompanies his or her every move. Rachel Randall, an editor in Ohio who has identified as a perfectionist for as long as she can remember, says, “Perfectionism is an awareness that everything I do is a reflection of me, not just professionally, but as a person.” While her colleagues and boss likely see only the productive side of her that gets things done, internally, she tells herself, “I beat myself up a lot over simple things. Mistakes that anyone could make.”

[quote position="right" is_quote="true"]I overwhelm myself with the need to have everything just right, creating more work for myself.[/quote]

Negative self-talk is a common behavior of perfectionists, according to psychologist Robin Hornstein, Ph.D., of Philadelphia, who says, “Perfectionists have a drive that is beyond most people’s capacity, including their own.” This naturally leads to beliefs such as, “It can be better than this,” “I am not good enough,” “I cannot make this happen,” and “I am bad.” These kinds of thoughts don’t necessarily lead to working harder than others.

The UNC study bears this out. Based on past research that suggests adaptive perfectionism is associated with higher effort, researchers hypothesized that people who self-described as perfectionists would exhibit increased effort on the task. They recruited 111 college students to take the MPS (Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale) and a self-paced task where they received a small cash reward for each correct answer. The participants were hooked up to an electrocardiogram device to test their cardiac activity as they performed their tasks.

What they found was that those who scored highest for perfectionism did not also demonstrate increased cardiac effort in any category. All participants’ heart rates showed similar levels of effort. While it’s hard to make a concrete assessment of this limited test, it does appear to suggest that underneath the façade of working harder, perfectionists are working neither more efficiently nor harder than others.

Hornstein attributes this to the critical thought processes that perfectionists engage in, which can also lead to procrastination. “There is so much pressure that there may be either periods of lethargy or paralysis or rituals that have to be done to get the work done,” says Hornstein.

Marinda Romesser, a professor in Florida, sees her perfectionism as getting in the way of her work. “I overwhelm myself with the need to have everything just right, and don't seem to realize that I am creating more work for myself than what needs to be there.” After she becomes overwhelmed, she says, “then I have a melt down and I shut down.”

Procrastination is familiar to Laurel H., a Washington-based writer and editor, as well.Though she describes herself as a “tenacious worker bee” whose employers are often sorry to see her leave, “if I’m nervous about a work assignment, I tend to procrastinate until I’m close to missing a deadline. I often obsess over tiny details, so almost everything I do takes longer than it should,” she says.

Oscar Bartos, a graphic designer, feels that he is “half-assing it a lot of the time” because “perfectionism, procrastination, and self-doubt are all intertwined.” This has had a big impact on his career in that he feels he has ended up in jobs “that are design-related but require fairly little creativity.”

Underlying this intense need to get everything right—to make sure that others don’t “see” any signs of their perceived failure—all the perfectionists we interviewed also described suffering from anxiety and/or depression, as well. Hornstein says that may be due to the fact that what drives perfectionists “is not coming from an inflated self-esteem. Rather it emerges from a sense of being ‘less than.’”

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]Perfectionism, procrastination, and self-doubt are all intertwined.[/quote]

Though there are probably as many sources of perfectionism as there are perfectionists, Hornstein names family stress; a history of failures that are interpreted as a failure of the self, rather than a failed attempt; and trauma and abuse. Each perfectionist may have a different path to healing. All of our interviewees either have had therapy or currently attend some form of therapy, and several have tried medications. Hornstein recommends trying those approaches, as well as any sort of meditation or spiritual practice that is useful—along with simply replacing negative self-talk with more positive. “If your normal go-to is, ‘I suck at this,’ replace it with ‘I can do this,’ or ‘I can try,’” she says.

While there may be no cure for perfectionism, Randall says she reminds herself “that I’m human and I can and will make mistakes.” Romesser is trying a new anxiety medication and using cognitive behavioral therapy to retrain her brain. Bartos has had some success being “creative on the spot” in more spontaneous situations, and Laurel H. concludes, “I’ve accepted that experiencing failure is part of being alive, but the real turning point was realizing that the fear of failure is worse than failure itself.”


Looking back, the year 1995 seems like such an innocent time. America was in the midst of its longest streak of peace and prosperity. September 11, 2001 was six years away, and the internet didn't seem like much more than a passing fad.

Twenty-four years ago, 18 million U.S. homes had modem-equipped computers, 7 million more than the year before. Most logged in through America Online where they got their email or communicated with random strangers in chat rooms.

According to a Pew Research study that year, only 32% of those who go online say they would miss it "a lot" if no longer available.

Imagine what those poll numbers would look like if the question was asked today.

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"Few see online activities as essential to them, and no single online feature, with the exception of E-Mail, is used with any regularity," the Pew article said. "Consumers have yet to begin purchasing goods and services online, and there is little indication that online news features are changing traditional news consumption patterns."

"Late Night" host David Letterman had Microsoft founder and, at that time the richest man in the world, on his show for an interview in '95 to discuss the "the big new thing."

During the interview Letterman chided Gates about the usefulness of the new technology, comparing it to radio and tape recorders.

Gates seems excited by the internet because it will soon allow people to listen to a baseball game on their computer. To which Letterman smugly replies, "Does radio ring a bell?" to laughter from the crowd.

But Gates presses Letterman saying that the new technology allows you to listen to the game "whenever you want," to which Letterman responds, "Do tape recorders ring a bell?"

Gates then tells Letterman he can keep up with the latest in his favorite hobbies such as cigar smoking or race cars through the internet. Letterman shuts him down saying that he reads about his interests in magazines.

RELATED: Bill Gates has five books he thinks you should read this summer.

The discussion ends with the two laughing over meeting like-minded people in "troubled loner chat room on the internet."

The clip brings to mind a 1994 segment on "The Today Show" where host Bryant Gumbel and Katie Couric have a similar discussion.

"What is internet anyway?" an exasperated Gumball asks. "What do you write to it like mail?"

"It's a computer billboard but it's nationwide and it's several universities all joined together and it's getting bigger and bigger all the time," a producer explains from off-stage.

via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

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The healthcare systems in the United States and the United Kingdom couldn't be more different.

The UK's National Health Service is the largest government-run healthcare system in the world and the US's is largest private sector system.

Almost all essential health services in the UK are free, whereas in America cost can vary wildly based on insurance, co pays and what the hospitals and physicians choose to charge.

A medical bill in the US

One of the largest differences is cost. The average person in the UK spends £2,989 ($3915) per year on healthcare (most of which is collected through taxes), whereas the average American spends around $10,739 a year.

So Americans should obviously be getting better care, right? Well, the average life expectancy in the UK is higher and infant mortality rate is lower than that in the US.

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Plus, in the U.S., only 84% of people are covered by private insurance, Medicare or Medicaid. Sixteen percent of the population are forced to pay out of pocket.

In the UK, everyone is covered unless they are visiting the country or an undocumented resident.

Prescription drugs can cost Americans an arm and a leg, but in the UK, prescriptions or either free or capped at £8.60 ($11.27).

via Wikimedia Commons

The one drawback to the NHS system is responsiveness. In the UK people tend to wait longer for inessential surgeries, doctor's appointments, and in emergency rooms. Whereas, the US is ranked as the most responsive country in the world.

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The New York Times printed a fair evaluation of the UK's system:

The service is known for its simplicity: It is free at the point of use to anyone who needs it. Paperwork is minimal, and most patients never see a bill. … No one needs to delay medical treatment until he or she can afford it, and virtually everyone is covered. …

According to data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, the United States spent 17.2 percent of its economic output on health care in 2016, compared with 9.7 percent in Britain. Yet Britain has a higher life expectancy at birth and lower infant mortality.

Citizens in each country have an interesting perspective on each other's healthcare systems. UK citizens think it's inhumane for Americans have to pay through the nose when they're sick or injured. While Americans are skeptical of socialist medicine.

A reporter from Politics Joe hit the streets of London and asked everyday people what they think Americans pay for healthcare and they were completely shocked.