Personal Best (PB) Setting & Perfectionism in Learning

This post’s focus is on personal best (PB), setting high standards and how to assist the perfectionist in learning.

Martin & Elliot (2016)

“In a climate of benchmarks, comparisons, accountability, and league tables, it is important to ensure that students are not excluded from access to academic success or denied a sense of academic progress (Anderman, Anderman, Yough, & Gimbert, 2010). Greater attention to individuals’ academic growth may provide a foundation for giving a wide range of students a better sense of their academic progress. PB goals are defined as specific, challenging, competitively self-referenced targets to which students strive to match or exceed a previous best.”

Need to understand the importance of ‘self-based goals’ as part of ones own intrapersonal trajectory and growth goals.

“Achievement goal theory is one perspective relevant to the study of PB goals. At a fundamental level, achievement goal theory is grounded in a distinction between mastery-approach goals focused on understanding, developing skill, or improvement, and performance-approach goals focused on outperforming others or demonstrating comparative competence (Elliot, 2005).”

“PB goals may energize students and, PB goals may create a discrepancy between current and desired attainment, a gap that students are motivated to close” (Martin, 2011).

PB goal setting can thus lead to gains in students’ educational aspirations.

Thuy-vy & Deci (2016)

Study explored a motivational approach to examining individuals’ perfectionistic strivings, using Self Determination Theory.

“Perfectionists are characterized as people who strive for extremely high standards, are obsessively concerned over making mistakes, experience constant self-doubts, tend to be overly organized, often experience high internalized parental expectations, and grow up facing a lot of parental criticisms. Among those components, the element that pertains to perfectionists’ tendency to set high personal standards has recently spurred debates among researchers, mainly around the question of whether setting high standards can be the positive aspect of perfectionism” (Thuy-vy & Deci, 2016).

Thuy-vy & Deci (2016) suggest there is “convergent evidence at both the between-person and the within-person, between-class levels that when students reported low controlled regulation, those who tended to set high standards for themselves reported less anxiety and difficulty in their learning, and more learning progress in their classes than the students who set low standards.”

Generally, high standard perfectionists are likely to internalize and identify with their standards to a certain extent, and those who set high standards were also likely to put more effort into their classes.

Thuy-vy & Deci suggest that “coaches, teachers, or counselors who work with high-standard perfectionists might usefully pay attention to how those perfectionists regulate behaviors intended to meet personal standard. Counseling approaches such as motivational interviewing or mindfulness training can also be used to help perfectionists become less controlled in attempting to attain their standards.”


Setting high standards leads to more mastery goals rather than seeking performance goals. Motivated students are more engaged in the class setting. The questions on perfectionism remain highly debatable in regards to the stress, anxiety, self perception and external motivators. So a balanced work-life approach to learning and development seems to be a healthier approach for motivation and avoiding burn out.

Keywords: perfectionist; self determination theory; motivation; personal best; PB.


Martin, A. J., & Elliot, A. J. (2016). The role of personal best (PB) goal setting in students’ academic achievement gains. Learning and Individual Differences, 45, 222-227.

Thuy-vy, T. N., & Deci, E. L. (2016). Can it be good to set the bar high? The role of motivational regulation in moderating the link from high standards to academic well-being. Learning and Individual Differences, 45, 245-251.

Ross, P. (2017) Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations by Ryan Deci. Nursing Education Network.