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.

Intrinsic and Extrinsic Motivations by Ryan & Deci

Reading through education theory a theme that emerges through the literature is that of motivation. Motivation of the learner and also to a lesser extent the teacher. If we think about our motivation as a learner we may want to strive to be the best, obtain a qualification for career development purposes, to learn something or it may be a work requirement. The motivation for education development will likely be different for each person depending on intrinsic and extrinsic factors.

Journal Article

Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary educational psychology, 25(1), 54-67.

“To be motivated, is to be moved to do something”. Motivation varies in terms of the kind of motivation, level of motivation and type of motivation.

Intrinsic Motivation

“Intrinsic motivation remains an important construct, reflecting the natural human propensity to learn and assimilate.”

Intrinsic motivation comes from within the learner, activated by fun, interest and the challenge.   These intrinsic motivations can elicit passions, creativity, and prolonged efforts to learn and explore. Intrinsic is seen as the ‘free choice’ in learning. Feelings of competence provide part of the interpersonal development for intrinsic motivation. It must be remembered that peoples intrinsic motivators vary depending on the task at hand. The motivation is in the relationship between individual and activity.

“Intrinsic motivation results in high-quality learning and creativity.”

Autonomy for self-direction and also positive performance feedback provide opportunities for enhanced intrinsic motivation.

Extrinsic Motivation

Extrinsically motivators can vary between a positive or negative value. External factors which lead to a separable outcome such as grades, rewards, or workplace/peer opinions. These extrinsic factors may deter, cause resentment and disinterest or they may alternatively be accepted of the value of the task and be externally ‘propelled into action’. The student understands the value of the educational purpose.

Self-Determination Theory

The interplay in understanding motivation between these intrinsic forces and the extrinsic motives is part of Self-Determination Theory. The intrinsic and extrinsic motivations include the psychological needs for competence and autonomy.

Nurse Education 

The nurse educator’s focus will likely be on developing the nursing team and also that of personal development. A vocational profession such as nursing may have a culture where educators expectations are that of full commitment and enthusiasm from the learner’s end. As educators we have to question if is this a realistic expectation from learners or is a more business minded approach to nursing and it’s education needed?

Keywords: Motivation; Intrinsic; Extrinsic;  Self-Determination Theory.


Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary educational psychology, 25(1), 54-67.

Gagné, M., & Deci, E. L. (2005). Self‐determination theory and work motivation. Journal of Organizational behavior, 26(4), 331-362.