Executive functions encompass a set of cognitive skills that enable individuals to manage and regulate their thoughts, actions, and emotions effectively.

Individuals grappling with executive function challenges often encounter difficulties with disorganization, procrastination, forgetfulness, and an inability to follow through with plans.

Your brain is an Orchestra

Imagine your brain as an orchestra, and the executive functions as the conductor sitting at the very front of the brain (behind your forehead). Just as a conductor directs and coordinates every musician in an orchestra to play harmoniously together, your executive functions oversee and manage various mental processes in your brain.

The conductor (executive functions) decides which instruments (cognitive skills) need to play at what time, sets the tempo, and ensures that every section of the orchestra follows the musical score (your goals or tasks).

When the conductor is skilled and in sync with the orchestra, the music flows smoothly. Similarly, when your executive functions are working well, you can manage your time effectively, solve problems efficiently, control your actions and emotions, and switch between tasks seamlessly.

However, if the conductor is struggling or absent, the orchestra may become disorganized, playing out of tune, missing cues, and generally sounding awful. Similarly, when your executive functions are impaired or challenged, you might become disorganised, make errors, feel overwhelmed and dysregulated leading to a sense of chaos or inefficiency in your daily life.

Types of Executive Functions

– Planning and Organization:

Planning involves setting goals, outlining the steps needed to achieve them, and prioritizing tasks based on urgency or importance. On the other hand, organization involves approaching tasks and information systematically. We all have different internal organizational systems that dictate our thoughts (e.g., using weekdays to conceptualise time), belongings (e.g., organizing clothes by season or colour) and actions (e.g., internalized habits as to how to greet others depending on how well you know them). When we don’t, things feel chaotic and random.

– Self-Monitoring:

Self-monitoring involves assessing one’s performance and progress toward goals. We need to constantly monitor what has just been accomplished and what comes next. For example, if completing a recipe, you need to know what you have done previously to know what step you need to do next.

– Initiation and Task Completion:

Initiation refers to the ability to muster appropriate abilities to motivate oneself to begin a task. In other words, the opposite of procrastination. Then, as the task nears completion, you nedd to evaluate your final output against the initial goal. This evaluation stage involves assessing your performance and identify areas for improvement.

– Flexibility and Adaptation:

To be successful, we need to adjust or adapt our behaviour and output based on changing circumstances or unforeseen obstacles. Cognitive flexibility is therefore the ability to inhibit a previous set of behaviours and then shift strategies or problem-solve in real-time.

– Emotional Regulation:

Emotional regulation involves managing emotions effectively to navigate challenges and maintain focus. Although frustration, stress, and boredom are normal we need to overcome these rather than be consumed by our feelings. Emotional regulation involves acknowledging our emotions and using coping strategies to enable us to accomplish what we need to do.

What can I do about it?

There are several strategies that you can use to accommodate for and to develop your executive functions. Practical ways to do this includes:

  • Keep Consistent Routines: Consistency reduces mental load. Develop and stick to routines for daily tasks (for example morning routines, nighttime routines) so that you can have more mental energy and bandwidth for more demanding tasks in your day.
  • To-Do Lists and Planners: Create lists of daily or weekly tasks and allocate specific time slots for each task. Use tools like to-do lists, calendars, and planners.
  • Prioritize: Learn to prioritize your tasks based on timing, urgency, importance, and other factors. Adjust your priorities to changing situations.
  • Keep a tidy and organized space: A cluttered environment adds to your mental load. Regularly plan a time to declutter one part of your home. Make sure that the belongings that you frequently use are always kept in places that makes sense of its use.
  • Set Reminders and Alarms: Use technology to set reminders or alarms to prompt task initiation or transitions between activities.
  • Mindfulness: Practice mindfulness techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, or mindfulness-based exercises to slow down and enhance self-monitoring and regulation.
  • Stop-Think-Go Method: Before taking action, take a moment to pause, assess what needs to be done, consider potential challenges, and then proceed with a clear plan of action.
  • Do One Task at a Time: Multitasking is a myth. Do one task at a time and shut off any distractions.
  • Breaking Down Tasks: Break down complex tasks or information into smaller, more manageable chunks to prevent overwhelm and facilitate better understanding.
  • Visual Aids: Use visual aids, such as color-coding, visual routines, or step-by-step, to enhance organization and memory for next steps.
  • Accountability: Engage with a teacher, family member, trusted friend, or colleague, who can offer support, encouragement, and help maintain accountability for task completion.
  • Rewards and Reinforcements: Setting specific deadlines and goals and rewarding oneself upon task completion can also reinforce positive behavior.
  • Pacing: Taking regular scheduled breaks throughout the day and during tasks can reduce burnout, distractibility and feeling overwhelmed. Many individuals also use the Pomodoro to maximize productivity.
  • Keep a journal: Organize your thoughts and ideas in a journal. Make notes of your feelings, needs and emotions.
  • Work with a therapist or psychologist: Learn to attend to your body cues and emotions. Learn tools to regulate your emotions and make choices/decisions based on your priorities and values.

Remember that just as a conductor guides the orchestra to create beautiful music, strong executive functions orchestrate your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours enabling you to navigate life’s challenges more smoothly.

Get Help: Neuropsychology Intervention

Are you ready to take the next step in supporting your executive functions? Dr. Leon is an experienced neuropsychologist. Explore our online neuropsychological intervention services today and discover the transformative impact they can have on your life.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why are Executive Functions important?

Poor executive functioning can manifest itself in interpersonal relationships, work environments, and academic pursuits, impeding success and causing frustration. Developing solid strategies to enhance these abilities can improve performance and well-being.

Do I have executive functioning difficulties?

If you find yourself having the following problems, you might have poor executive functioning:

  • Having a messy home and often misplacing or losing your belongings?
  • Always arriving late and disorganized to meetings/events/activities?
  • Feeling easily overwhelmed by daily tasks at school or at work?
  • Feeling like you can’t juggle different aspects of your life?
  • Frequently avoiding making plans in advance and just ‘winging it’?
  • Procrastinating or giving up easily on almost everything?
  • Moving from one task/activity/idea/project to another without finishing anything?
  • Easily frustrated, stressed or bored by daily tasks?

Are executive functions related to ADHD?

Although executive dysfunction is not a criteria for diagnosis, it is widely recognized that many individuals with ADHD have trouble with executive functions. Those with mental health and cognitive disorders can also experience significant difficulties with executive functioning skills. But more importantly, anyone can benefit from the suggestions in this article, whether to support difficulties or to increase their performance.

Is it possible to have difficulty in one area of executive functions but not another?

Executive functions is a broad umbrella term that encompasses several related but distinct cognitive processes. You can certainly have an isolated deficit in one or two areas, but not in others. This being said, individuals with significant deficits in excutive functions tend to have deficits in almost all areas.

Executive functions encompass a set of mental skills that facilitate goal-directed behavior, including abilities like planning, organization, problem-solving, and self-control. Executive functions are the brain’s orchestra conductor which can make beautiful music when coordinated but make things sound chaotic when not. When our conductor is struggling, we need to use external strategies to help us manage tasks, adapt to new situations, and achieve long-term goals in both academic and everyday settings.

dr. stephanie leon online child psychologist neuropsychologist in ontario quebec

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online psychology and neuropsychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.

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Imagine that your brain’s capacity to pay attention is like a camping headlight. When you’re focused, that headlight shines bright on what you’re doing. But for some people, this headlight flickers or doesn’t stay on one thing for long. In other words, inattention is difficulty keeping that mental headlight steady and on the task at hand.

Inattention can also be conceptualized as a filter problem. You brain needs to ignore and suppress thousands of pieces of information (called stimuli) throughout the day, from how clothes feels on your skin to the buzzing of lights, to be able to selectively attend to what is needed in the moment. In those with inattention, the filter is too loose and lets too many irrelevant pieces of information pass through which are then distracting.

Causes of inattention

Inattention is a cognitive process that is very vulnerable to internal and external conditions. This means that our ability to focus and filter out irrelevant information will vary depending on our needs, mood, health, and events around us. We are more likely to have trouble focusing if we are:

  • Tired
  • Hungry
  • Too hot or too cold
  • Anxious, worried or stressed
  • Down, sad or depressed
  • In pain
  • Have hormonal fluctuations (for example, during pregnancy, menopause and andropause)

These factors are normal and reversible. However, some individual’s attention is impaired due to neurodevelopmental factors (most common being ADHD) or aquired factors (e.g., brain injury, dementia, and chronic conditions like diabetes). In these cases, inattention is something the person struggles with on a daily basis and significantly impacts their day to day life.

What inattention looks like in everyday life

Common problems that individuals with inattention encounter include:

  • Forgetfulness: Frequently forget meetings, appointments, important tasks, loses belongings, or has trouble remembering what was said or what they just did. Note that forgetfulness related to inattention is different from a true memory problem.
  • Taking a long time to complete tasks: Because they are often distracted those with inattention have trouble completing tasks and may need more time to finish what is asked of them.
  • Avoiding tasks requiring sustained attention: They might avoid activities that need longer focus, like studying for exams or reading lengthy texts. On the contrary, they might move from one activity (project, task, idea) to another very quickly.
  • Daydreaming: They might tend to get lost in their thoughts, thinking about something else than what is being discussed in conversation.
  • Making careless mistakes: Rush through work or overlook details due to a lack of attention to instructions, rather than because they are truly not able to complete the task.
  • Difficulty doing what is asked: Struggling to follow multi-step instructions which leads to asking the same questions repeatedly, feeling overwhelmed and looking disorganized.

Because of their difficulties completing tasks, individuals with inattention are often labelled as ”lazy” or ”oppositional”. On the contrary, many individuals with inattention have to work twice as hard as others to complete tasks and should take pride in their achievements even if it took them longer or if they had to take a longer path to get to their end goal.

In therapy, addressing inattention often involves cognitive and behavioral strategies to improve focus, attention, and organizational skills. Therapists may employ techniques such as mindfulness training, behavior modification, and coaching on time management to help individuals manage and reduce inattentive symptoms. Additionally, therapy can provide a supportive environment to explore underlying issues contributing to inattention and develop personalized strategies to enhance concentration and overall functioning.

At the Leon Psychology Clinic our skilled therapists and psychologists are ready to help you are your child improve focus and well-being.

Frequently Asked Questions

I am a teacher or daycare provider, what can I do to help children with inattention in class?

  1. Preferential Seating: The child’s seat should be located in such a way to minimize distractions. Usually near the teacher and away from doors and windows is preferred.
  2. Shared Attention: Ensure that you have the child’s attention before providing instructions by making eye contact and/or positioning yourself at eye level.
  3. Clear and Visual Instructions: When providing instructions, make sure they are short, simple, and clear. Supplement instructions with pictures, graphs, and key words.
  4. Repetition and Reminders: Instructions will need to be repeated and the child with benefit from reminders to reinforce learning. Provide these in a neutral tone.
  5. Access to a Quiet Room: Allow the child to complete lengthy assignments and exams in a room free of distractions, such as a quiet room or resource room.
  6. Movement: Some children and teens may use movement or other self-stimulation to improve their focus. This might include doodling, using fidgets, humming, etc. If it is unintrusive to other students, allow the student to use this strategy.
  7. Noise-Cancelling Headphones: Permit the use of noise-cancelling headphones to reduce noise distractibility during individual work.
  8. Access to Recorded Materials: Provide access to recorded lectures, outlines, notes from peers/ teachers, or tools like a smartpen (e.g., LiveScribe) to review missed information.
  9. Use Engaging or Multimodal Learning Approaches: Provide highly engaging and varied learning approaches such as auditory, visual, and hands-on activities to maintain focus.
  10. Positive Reinforcement: Providing incentives, such as additional time on a preferred activity or special permission, can help increase motivation on non-preferred tasks.

I am a parent of an inattentive child, what strategies can I use at home?

  1. Shared Attention: Avoid giving instructions from across the room or while they are actively engrossed on a task. Make sure you are near them and making eye contact.
  2. Clear and Visual Instructions: Provide one instruction at a time. Make sure each instruction is short, simple and in words the child can understand. Refer to pictures or graphs to aid in task completion for routine tasks.
  3. Repetition and Reminders: Instructions and expectations will need to be repeated often. Reminders will be necessary to reinforce learning. Provide these in a neutral, non-judgemental tone.
  4. Frequent Check-ins: You will need to include more check-ins to make sure your child is on the right path when completing a task.
  5. Positive Reinforcement: Offer praise, encouragement, and rewards for efforts (not just accomplishments) to help boost the child’s motivation and self-esteem. Incentives, such as additional time on a preferred activity or special permission, can help increase motivation on tasks that are long and arduous.
  6. Dedicated and Quiet Workspace: Set up a quiet workspace for your child at home away from the busy areas of your home (for example facing a blank wall, not near the TV). Noise-cancelling headphones can help with auditory distractions.
  7. Limit Screen Time: Although excessive screen time does not cause inattention, it can contribute to distractibility and being unmotivated to work on difficult tasks. Set reasonable limits on screen time and encourage breaks from electronic devices.
  8. Encourage Physical Activity: Incorporate regular physical activities or exercise into the child’s routine. Exercise can help reduce restlessness and improve focus.
  9. Practice sleep hygiene: Make sure your child or teen goes to bed within the same 30-minute window of time every night. Shut off electronics 1 hour before bed.
  10. Healthy Eating: Make sure your child has a balanced diet. Breakfast appears to be the most important meal in terms of cognitive abilities and some research suggests that a high protein breakfast (e.g., eggs or meat) is best for attention and learning in children.

Does everyone who have inattention have ADHD?

No. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – including inattentive type, hyperactive type and combined type – is a neurodevelopmental disorder. Meaning that it arises due to brain differences that occur in the perinatal or early childhood period. Most often, the brain develops differently because of the person’s genes and gene interaction with the environment. For this reason, you might hear of terms such as neurodiversity or neuroatypicality when discussing ADHD. If inattention is present after this early period in the brain development, it is typically acquired (for example due to a medical condition, or head injury) or can arise as a response to stress, trauma, and mental health disorders. Although experts are divided on this issue, this is not true ADHD. Aquired or later life inattention symptoms can nevertheless significantly impact functioning and deserve to be treated with the same tools as those available for ADHD.

Inattention refers to the difficulty in maintaining focus, staying on task, or being easily distracted, often leading to trouble completing assignments or following instructions. It can manifest as a core symptom in conditions like attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) but may also occur independently due to various factors such as stress, fatigue, or health conditions.

dr. stephanie leon online child psychologist neuropsychologist in ontario quebec

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon provides online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.



“I’m not a perfectionist. If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.” – Margaret Atwood

We can all agree that issues like depression or anxiety are problematic. But perfection is trickier—mainly because so many people seem to achieve it all around us every day. 

If you’re like most people, you spend hours each day scrolling through curated snapshots of people’s most perfectly curated moments. It makes you wonder: perfectionist tendencies can’t really be so terrible for you, can they? Actually, they can. 

Let’s get clear on what perfectionism is, how you can spot it, and what you can do to address it. Here’s what you need to know. 

What Is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is a personality trait that goes beyond setting high standards for oneself; it’s an intense drive to meet these standards, often tying one’s self-worth to them. And while many conflate perfection with excellence, there’s a stark difference between the two. 

Excellence is a commendable pursuit of being above average, fostering personal growth. Conversely, perfectionism sets the bar so high that anything less than perfect becomes intolerable, even breeding feelings of inferiority or self-loathing. 

There are three subtypes of perfectionism. 

1) Self-Oriented Perfectionism

Self-oriented perfectionism is best understood as an internal pressure to be flawless. Those who exhibit this trait set sky-high standards for themselves accompanied by a severe sense of self-criticism and negative self-talk. 

Failing to meet personal standards, especially in critical situations, can lead to a barrage of self-deprecating thoughts like, “What were you thinking, you idiot?” or “How could you make such a mistake? You’re a failure!” 

A striking example of self-oriented perfectionism at work was during the 2008 Miami Open. In a moment of intense self-frustration, competitor Mikhail Youzhny hit himself violently with his racquet after missing a shot. 

2) Socially Prescribed Perfectionism

Socially prescribed perfectionism stems from the belief that society expects you to be flawless. These perfectionists are likely to experience daily feelings of inferiority, shame, and resentment. 

One study highlights a 40% increase in socially prescribed perfectionism since the 1980s, particularly among young adults. This is no doubt thanks to the unyielding barrage of “perfect” lives on social media coupled with mounting pressures to achieve in work and school. 

Socially prescribed perfectionism is particularly alarming due to its strong correlation with negative mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety.

3) Other-Oriented Perfectionism

Other-oriented perfectionism involves projecting one’s own perfectionistic tendencies onto others. A classic example is what’s commonly referred to as tiger parenting, where parents set exceedingly high expectations for their children. 

People with this trait can be outspoken about their expectations and quick to point out when things deviate from their envisioned plan. It’s akin to what Freud described as “projection,” where one’s internal drive for perfection is externalized. 

A notable figure often associated with this trait is Steve Jobs, whose impossible standards were not just for himself but also for those around him.

What Are The Signs of Perfectionism?

While often masked as a commendable trait, perfectionism can manifest in various behaviors that might hinder personal growth and well-being. Recognizing these perfectionist habits is the first step towards understanding and managing this complex trait. 

  • Procrastination – Delaying tasks for fear of not achieving perfection and then spending excessive time on the task once started. 
  • Difficulty Recognizing When To Stop – Continuously adjusting or redoing tasks in pursuit of the “perfect” result.
  • Avoidance – Avoiding new experiences or challenges due to fear of not being perfect.
  • Overreaction To Mistakes – Magnifying the significance of errors, leading to excessive self-criticism or guilt.
  • Not Giving Your Best Effort – Withholding effort in challenging situations to protect one’s image.
  • Excessive Self-Criticism – Harshly judging oneself for not meeting high standards.
  • High Sensitivity To Criticism – Perceiving feedback or constructive criticism as a personal attack.
  • All-Or-Nothing Thinking – Viewing situations in black and white, with no middle ground.


One of the paradoxical signs of perfectionist thinking is procrastination. While perfectionists are often seen as diligent and hardworking, the intense fear of not meeting their own high standards can lead them to delay or even avoid tasks. 

This avoidance is not due to laziness but rather an overwhelming fear of potential failure or criticism.


The fear of imperfection can be so intense that it deters perfectionists from trying new things altogether. They might avoid new experiences, tasks, or challenges because the uncertainty of the outcome feels threatening. 

Overreaction to Mistakes

Everyone makes mistakes, but even minor errors can feel catastrophic for perfectionists. They tend to magnify the significance of their mistakes, leading to excessive self-criticism, guilt, and even shame. This heightened sensitivity can hinder their ability to bounce back from setbacks.

What Are The Risks Of Perfectionism?

Literature and cinema have long highlighted the risks of unchecked perfectionism. Just look at Gatsby’s obsession with an idealized past or the haunting narratives of films like “Black Swan” and “The Prestige,” and you’ll see that perfectionist thinking comes with an immense cost. 

Some documented risks of perfectionism include: 

  • Damaged Self-Esteem – Continually failing to meet one’s own lofty and unrealistic expectations can chip away at one’s self-esteem. Perfectionists often experience large fluctuations in self-esteem tied to their perceived sense of accomplishment. 
  • Frequent Frustration – The constant chase for perfection often leads to recurring feelings of disappointment and frustration. Rarely do perfectionists feel good about their accomplishments.
  • Poor Performance – The paralyzing fear of imperfection can result in avoiding tasks, leading to extreme procrastination and, eventually, poor work or school performance. Avoidance can also show up in other areas of performance such as in athletes, parental roles, and relationships.
  • Diminishing Productivity – Ironically, while perfectionists are known for their hard work, they often push themselves to the brink of diminishing returns. Their lives can feel like an endless race on a relentless treadmill.
  • Depression & Anxiety – One study focused on college students demonstrated that both adaptive and maladaptive forms of perfectionism are linked to increased symptoms of depression and anxiety. The act of rumination, or continuously mulling over distress, was identified as a significant factor in this relationship.

How To Overcome Perfectionism?

Overcoming perfectionism isn’t just about letting go; it’s about embracing a new way of thinking. Here are some tips for addressing perfectionism head-on. 

  1. Awareness Of Procrastination 

Identifying procrastination patterns is the first step to addressing underlying fears and taking proactive steps to move forward. Try to recognize when you’re delaying tasks out of fear of imperfection. 

  1. Monitoring Your Critical Voice

Tune into your inner dialogue. If you find yourself constantly self-criticizing or setting unrealistic standards, challenge those thoughts. Replace them with more balanced and compassionate self-talk. Try a mantra like, “everybody makes mistakes, I’m no different.” 

  1. Tolerating Mistakes

Understand that mistakes are a natural part of growth and learning. Instead of dwelling on errors, focus on the lessons they offer. Accept failures as stepping stones to success. Over time, you’ll retrain your brain to have a growth mindset rather than an all-or-nothing mindset. 

  1. Engaging In Self-Care

Perfectionists are notorious for working late nights, skipping meals, and putting their basic needs aside to achieve their goals. Whether it’s taking breaks, engaging in hobbies, or simply getting adequate sleep, combat the stresses of perfectionism by making time for self-care. 

  1. Embracing Mindfulness

Focusing on the ‘now’ lets you let go of past mistakes and future anxieties, allowing you to approach tasks with a clear mind. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and deep breathing exercises, can help ground you in the present moment and let go of the fear of failure. 

Does Psychotherapy Help Treat Perfectionism?

Psychotherapy is a valuable tool in addressing and managing perfectionistic tendencies. If you or a loved one is experiencing the debilitating effects of perfectionism, here are two forms of psychotherapy that may be able to help. 

Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT) 

CBT helps individuals identify the patterns of their perfectionistic thoughts, beliefs, and behaviors. Once these patterns are recognized, CBT techniques assist in challenging and reframing these often irrational beliefs. 

For instance, the belief that “anything less than perfect is a failure” can be restructured to “doing my best is good enough.”

CBT also introduces behavioral strategies to break the cycle of perfectionistic actions. This might include setting realistic goals, practicing self-compassion, or confronting rather than avoiding tasks that trigger perfectionistic tendencies.

Family Therapy 

Perfectionism in young people can sometimes have its roots in family dynamics. Family therapy delves into these origins, exploring patterns, expectations, and interactions that might contribute to an individual’s perfectionistic behaviors.

This collective approach ensures that the family becomes a supportive environment, promoting healthier beliefs and behaviors. Family therapy can also equip family members with communication tools to express their expectations in more constructive ways, reducing pressures that might feed into perfectionistic tendencies.

Through Leon Psychology Clinic’s virtual psychotherapy services, our clinical psychologists can work together to unravel the layers of perfectionism. You can access perfectionism therapy with licensed mental health professionals from the comfort of your home with the convenience of fully virtual sessions. 

Explore online adult psychotherapy services and online adolescent psychotherapy services and start your journey toward overcoming perfectionism today. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the difference between OCD and perfectionism? 

While both Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and perfectionism involve intense desires for order and precision, they stem from different motivations and manifest differently:

  • OCD is a mental health disorder characterized by unwanted repetitive thoughts (obsessions) and behaviors (compulsions) that individuals feel driven to perform. The compulsions are often carried out to alleviate the distress caused by the obsessions. For example, someone with OCD might repeatedly check if the door is locked due to an irrational fear of a break-in.
  • Perfectionism, on the other hand, is a personality trait where individuals set excessively high standards for themselves. The drive to achieve these standards is often tied to their self-esteem. A perfectionist might re-read an email multiple times before sending to ensure it’s “just right,” not necessarily due to a specific fear but because they want it to be perfect.

What are the signs and symptoms of a perfectionist? 

Perfectionists often exhibit a range of behaviors and thought patterns, including:

  • Procrastination: Delaying tasks due to fear of not doing them perfectly.
  • Reluctance to Delegate: Believing that only they can do tasks to the required standard.
  • High Sensitivity to Criticism: Taking feedback personally or viewing it as a direct attack on their abilities.
  • All-or-Nothing Thinking: Viewing situations in black and white, with no middle ground.
  • Excessive Self-Criticism: Engaging in harsh self-judgment when standards aren’t met.
  • Avoidance: Steering clear of new challenges or experiences due to fear of not being perfect.

Are there any helpful affirmations for perfectionists? 

Affirmations can be a powerful tool for reshaping thought patterns. Here are some affirmations tailored for perfectionists:

  • “I am enough just as I am.”
  • “Progress is more important than perfection.”
  • “I release the need for approval and embrace my authentic self.”
  • “Mistakes are a natural part of growth and learning.”
  • “I am worthy of love and acceptance, regardless of my achievements.”
  • “I choose to focus on my strengths and celebrate my victories, no matter how small.”
  • “Perfection is not the path to happiness; being true to myself is.”

Can children and adolescents show perfectionism traits too? 

Yes. Perfectionism can start early but is usually most recognizable in pre-teen and teenage years. Children and teens with parents who have perfectionistic traits themselves or who are very focused on performance (usually academic or in sports) are most likely to develop and show these traits early.

Perfectionism can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and a fear of failure, impacting mental well-being and hindering productivity. Seeking support through therapy, practicing self-compassion, and setting realistic goals rather than pursuing flawless outcomes can help manage perfectionism, fostering a healthier mindset and promoting personal growth.

dr. stephanie leon online child psychologist neuropsychologist in ontario quebec

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.

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​​Unlock the secrets to better sleep hygiene. Overcome daytime sleepiness, lack of focus, and low productivity at work with these effective tips.


You might be intimately familiar with the effects of a poor night’s sleep, but you might not know just how important sleep is to your wellbeing. In this blog post, we’ll explore practical strategies to establish a solid sleep routine and create a sleep-friendly environment. 

Here’s what you need to know about promoting positive sleep hygiene. 

What Is Sleep Hygiene? 

Sleep hygiene refers to a set of healthy sleeping habits that enables you to fall asleep more quickly and can enhance sleep duration and quality. 

Poor Sleep and Insomnia

Many individuals have experienced periods of poor sleep (or acute insomnia) as a result of stress or significant changes. These tend to be situational and will resolve within a few days or a couple of weeks. 

However, some individuals have long-term (chronic) or recurrent insomnia that lasts for more than a month. Chronic or recurrent insomnia can be secondary to a medical condition or medication (in which case it should be discussed with your primary health care provider) or can be due to bad sleeping habits.

The Side Effects Of Poor Sleep In Adults

If you suffer from sleepless nights, you may have noticed some less than ideal side-effects. Research shows that not getting enough sleep can cause:

  • Daytime sleepiness
  • Increased irritability, mood swings, anxiety and depression symptoms
  • Reduced cognitive functioning (memory, attention, learning)
  • Physical health problems (weakened immune function, obesity)
  • Increased risk of accidents
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Decline in work productivity
  • Higher susceptibility to illnesses and infections
  • Impaired decision-making and problem-solving abilities

8 Ways To Establish Good Sleep Hygiene

Consistency and routine are key in establishing sleep hygiene. Here are recommendations to help you get better sleep:

  1. Maintain a consistent sleep schedule. 

Maintaining a consistent bedtime and wake up time is a key factor in promoting healthy sleep habits. Our bodies have a natural internal clock, known as the circadian rhythm, which regulates our sleep-wake cycle. 

When we establish a regular sleep routine and stick to it, we help synchronize this internal clock, making it easier for us to fall asleep and wake up at the desired times.

To optimize the effectiveness of a consistent bedtime and wake up time, aim for a window of around 30 minutes. Yes, even on weekends.

  1. Get plenty of exercise during the day. 

Between work and other responsibilities, many adults don’t get sufficient regular physical activity. Make sure you engage in physical activity (getting out of breath) at least 15 minutes per day.

  1. Spend time outside. 

Incorporating outdoor time into your daily routine can have a positive impact on your sleep hygiene. Aim for at least 15 minutes of outdoor time each day, preferably during daylight hours. This exposure to sunlight during the day helps reinforce our natural circadian rhythm, making it easier for our bodies to distinguish between day and night.

Even on cloudy or snowy days, sunlight still filters through the clouds and provides beneficial rays. When we spend time outdoors, our eyes receive natural light, which stimulates the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that promotes wakefulness and positive mood. 

So whether it’s a walk in the park, gardening, shoveling snow or participating in outdoor sports or activities, spend time outside and soak up the natural light!

  1. Bedtime should be boring! 

Creating a relaxing bedtime routine is crucial in preparing your body and mind for sleep. The concept of “bedtime should be boring” emphasizes the need to avoid stimulating or exciting activities close to bedtime (with the exception of sex), as they can interfere with the natural transition to sleep.

  1. Never underestimate the sleeping environment. 

Creating a dark, cool and soothing sleep environment is crucial for promoting quality sleep. Removing sources of light, particularly electronics, can help create a conducive atmosphere.

It is important to prioritize a dark and cool setting, with blackout curtains and turning down the thermostat for example, to help signal to the body that it’s time for rest, improving their sleep quality.

  1. Night wakings. 

If you are unable to fall asleep at bedtime or during the night for more than 45 minutes, you are encouraged to get up, stretch or do something boring until you feel sufficiently sleepy again. No electronics! Lights should remain dimmed.

  1. Relaxation techniques. 

Learn and practice relaxation strategies to help reduce tension before sleep, such as meditation, mindfulness exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation.

  1. Address mental health issues. 

Anxiety and depression are known to interfere with sleep, make sure these are being addressed in adult psychotherapy.

Things To Avoid For Healthy Sleep Hygiene 

  1. Caffeine in the afternoon or later. Be aware that caffeine is present in coffee and tea but also in sodas and chocolate.
  2. Smoking, alcohol and drugs. All of these can disrupt sleep and should be avoided altogether. 
  3. Going to bed with a full stomach. Digestion and having to use the washroom can disrupt your sleep. Late night snacking might be a cue that the body is tired rather than hungry.
  4. High intensity exercise or hot baths right before bed. Research shows that the body temperature must be cool to feel comfortable falling asleep. However, light exercise and a warm shower or bath right before bedtime can help some individuals relax. Experiment with what works best for you.
  5. Electronics at least 30 minutes before bed. This includes the computer, tablet, phone, and TV. If listening to music, make sure not to look at the screen. 
  6. Checking the time, as this may create more anxiety. Make sure your alarm clock face is turned away so you are not constantly checking the time. 
  7. Sleep trackers should be used with caution. For some individuals sleep trackers can create more anxiety as they become overly focused on not having spent sufficient time in deep sleep. Focusing on ”feeling refreshed” might be a better metric.

If Ongoing Sleep Issues Persist

Of note, if you continue to have difficulty with sleep despite implementing the above suggestions, you should talk to your family doctor to rule-out medical issues, such as obstructive sleep apnea. Your family doctor can also recommend supplements to help with sleep (like melatonin or magnesium) if needed.

Psychotherapy for Sleep Issues: Adult Psychotherapy 

If you’re struggling with specific sleep issues or need personalized guidance in forming effective bedtime routines for you, the Leon Psychology Clinic can help. Each session includes expert advice and tailored strategies to address your unique needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

How much sleep do adults need? 

Sleep needs can vary a lot between individuals and you are encouraged to trial different sleep lengths to find the right one for you. This being said, most adults need on average 7 hours of sleep per night. There is some evidence that women need more sleep on average then men.

Should you nap during the day? 

Long naps and late afternoon/evening naps are discouraged as they impact your night sleep quality. Short ‘‘power’’ naps of 15-20 minutes can be restorative. If you find yourself taking frequent hour-long naps your night sleep probably needs to be improved.

Is there such a thing as too much sleep? 

Yes! There is strong evidence that too much sleep can have negative effects on your health. If you find yourself regularly sleeping 11 hours or more (not because of shift work), then you should contact your family doctor to rule-out a physical issue. Excessive sleep can also occur due to depression or can be a maladaptive coping mechanism.

How can I create a sleep-friendly environment in my bedroom? 

To create a sleep-friendly environment, ensure the bedroom is dark, quiet, and at a comfortable temperature. Remove or minimize sources of light, use blackout curtains or blinds, and consider using white noise machines to block out disruptive sounds. Keep the bedroom free from electronics and ensure a comfortable mattress and bedding. Keep the temperature cool.

Good sleep hygiene is crucial for overall health, impacting cognitive function, mood regulation, and immune system functioning. Establishing consistent sleep patterns, creating a comfortable sleep environment, and practicing relaxation techniques can contribute significantly to quality sleep, promoting better physical and mental health.

Dr. Stephanie Leon

Dr. Leon is a clinical psychologist and neuropsychologist practicing in the province of Ontario and Quebec. She works with children, teens, and their parents to address emotional, behavioural, and cognitive difficulties. Dr. Leon offers online psychology services through the Leon Psychology Clinic.

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