Mindfulness and Perfectionism

By Anna Handorf
Discussions
2012, Vol. 8 No. 2 | pg. 4/4 |

Discussion

A significant change in STAI-S and PANAS Negative affect scores was found from preto post (Figure 1 & 2). Both state anxiety and negative affect decreased after the mindfulness paradigm practice. However, no significant change in PANAS Positive affect score was found from preto post (Figure 2), meaning that there was neither an increase nor a decrease in positive affect after participating in either mindfulness paradigm. While there were decreases in both state anxiety and negative affect, perfectionism and paradigm were not significant predictors of pre-post change in either variable. This indicates that anxiety and negative affect decrease to similar degrees regardless of participants’ perfectionism level or the paradigm to which the participants were randomly assigned (present moment joy or mindfulness meditation).

While mindfulness meditation focuses solely on Awareness of Breath breathing, the present moment joy focus training also included diaphragmatic breathing as part of the intervention. It was expected that the present moment joy condition would raise positive affect; however, because positive affect did not show a significant pre-post change, it may be concluded that the breathing techniques in both conditions were the main contributors to the decrease in anxiety and negative affect. Furthermore, heightened awareness has been associated with decreases in negative affect while focusing on positive aspects of the self (Cardaciotto et al, 2008). Because mindfulness involves both awareness and acceptance, and acceptance can be difficult to achieve, especially for individuals high in perfectionism, individuals trying to achieve mindfulness for the first time may be more successful at achieving the awareness component than the acceptance component. Thus, individuals in the present moment joy focus training may have experienced the decreases in negative affect while focusing on the positive aspects of life as described by Cardaciotto et al. Even though mindfulness has been associated with increased positive affect (Davidson et al, 2003), if individuals were not completely familiar with the practice of mindfulness, they may not have experienced the increased positive affect that should typically be expected.

Figure 1

Figure 2

One possible explanation for finding no correlation between perfectionism and pre-post change in anxiety and negative affect is that the population used in the current study did not have individually significant perfectionists. However, other studies that have used the Frost Multidimensional Perfectionism Scale have average total-perfectionism scores similar to the score in the present study. The average total perfectionism score for participants in the present study is 85.56±16.58 and other studies have average total perfectionism scores of 86.9 and 86.2 (Cox & Enns, 2008); 83.5 (OCD), 83.8 (PDA), and 66.5 (Control) (Frost & Steketee, 1997); 87 (Buhlmann, Etcoff & Wilheim, 2003). Thus, the sample of undergraduate students in the present study’s population has individuals that can be considered high in perfectionism.

Perfectionism may not have played a role in predicting post-scores because this study only examined participant’s first attempt at either present moment joy focus or mindfulness meditation. Perfectionist individuals may have been focusing on understanding and mastering the technique rather than worrying about perfecting it. If a study examined a population of individuals practicing these techniques over a longer period of time, perfectionism may become a better predictor of pre-post change. In all but one study, which specifically examined the effects of short-term meditation training, the reviewed studies that examined the effects of mindfulness meditation on the mind and body used individuals that had practiced mindfulness for at least four weeks (Greeson, 2008). However, most of the studies examined populations that were learning mindfulness techniques for at least 8 weeks. In particular, one study found that more time spent on formal meditation practices yielded increased mindfulness at the end of 8 weeks (Carmody & Baer, 2008). The study that examined short-term meditation effects examined a population of participants that had mindfulness training every day for five days (Tang et al, 2007). As illustrated by these studies, it generally takes weeks of practice in order to achieve the positive effects of a mindfulness perspective. Furthermore, as suggested previously, individuals high in perfectionism may struggle to achieve mindfulness. Thus, it may take individuals high in perfectionism longer than non-perfectionist individuals to fully understand mindfulness and reach the point where they will be fully affected by mindfulness techniques.

Another possible explanation for Perfectionism not showing any affect preto postis that therapies and techniques may not benefit perfectionist individuals. Some individuals high in perfectionism may be able to view the mindfulness techniques as ways to overcome the demands for perfectionism and embrace merely striving for perfectionism, but other individuals high in perfectionism may transfer their energy toward achieving perfect acceptance in the mindfulness realm (Lundh, 2004). Striving for perfect acceptance during mindfulness may override the anticipated changes because the individual is not truly embracing the mindfulness perspective.

In addition to only looking at the pre-post changes on the first day individuals learned the stress reducing technique, another limitation of the present study is that participants were not necessarily high in anxiety. Prior to being invited to participate in the present study, individuals took a screener study that categorized individuals into different categories based on their levels of worry. While mindfulness has been shown to reduce anxiety (Davidson et al, 2003), if individuals were not clinically anxious, these effects may not be as significant. While only high worriers were invited to participate in the present study, they might not have been clinically anxious individuals, which may have affected the state anxiety and the way that the mindfulness techniques reduced their anxiety.


Acknowledgements

I would like to thank Jessica Nasser for allowing me to work with her on this study and providing me the opportunity to share the data collection sample. Additionally, I would like to thank Dr. Amy Przeworski for her guidance and advice throughout the entire process and for commenting on the manuscript.


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