Gymnast focusing before vault

Is your perfectionism holding you back?

Perfectionism is a hot topic to explore in sport psychology. When you’re working with athletes that are striving to be the best in the world, how can you tell them that perfectionism isn’t something they should be trying to achieve? Could an athlete’s perfectionist tendencies actually be beneficial? There is a difference between striving for perfection and being a perfectionist. Perfectionists will do everything possible to not fail. If you are a perfectionist, when you don’t reach perfection, you judge yourself harshly for it. Striving for perfection means you will try to do everything you can to succeed. They may sound like the same thing, but there is a world of difference between them.

My own perfectionism reared it’s ugly head and was in fact the catalyst for this post. I recently did some work to my website and somehow ended up with this:

A Screen Shot of a Mistake on Carrie's Website

Why is this happening to me!!??

At the top of my site was a a seemingly permanent sentence that read “Warning: illegal string offset blah blah blah.” It wasn’t something that could be fixed right away and I had a major meltdown thinking about all of the people that would come to my website and see this horrible glaring imperfection right at the top of the screen. What will people think!!? I’ll tell you what they’ll think; they will think I’m a total unprofessional hack! In my mind that sentence read, “Warning: Here is possibly the most ridiculous ‘professional’ you will ever come across in Mental Skills Training.” Harsh – I know. Luckily, my wonderful husband talked me off the ledge and I was actually able to let it go and know that it would be fixed as soon as possible (breathe) and then went and enjoyed a day of snowboarding instead of letting it ruin my trip (and my entire life). So how did I do it? How was I able to go from my perfectionist meltdown to an impervious imperfectionist?

If you really want to stop letting your perfectionism get in your way you need to do these three things:

  1. Stop judging: Stop judging everyone and everything around you – including yourself. Recognize when you are judging yourself and let that judgement go. It will be the most rewarding and liberating thing you will ever do.
  2. Have compassion: Give yourself a break. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You would never think those awful thoughts about anyone else, so stop thinking them about yourself. Give yourself a pat on the back for all of your hard work and efforts. If you’re having a hard time saying something nice, contact me and I will do it for you!
  3. Have a sense of humor: Laughter has an incredible stress-reducing and mood-lifting affect. Cultivate the ability to laugh at yourself; laugh, shake your head, and move on.

Perfectionism will hold you back. It seems like a strange thing to say when referring to an athlete trying to achieve peak performance in sport. But if you are constantly judging yourself, you won’t have the courage and confidence it takes to make the mistakes you need to make in order to improve your performance.

I recently found myself in a space of needing to deliberately work on managing my stress and yoga always felt like a moving meditation for me so I worked up the courage to try out a yoga class at my gym. One of the things I like about the instructor is that she does a great job of helping you to just focus on yourself and be OK with where you are currently at – both mentally and physically. When we are holding a balance pose and someone falls out of the pose, she reminds us to have a sense of humor about it and smile versus getting frustrated and embarrassed about being the only person not standing like a tree (yes – that was me… and yes – I was actually able to smile about it). Because of her words, she helps you to shift your focus from comparing yourself to others to being OK with where you are at in your own practice. In short, she helps you to stop judging where you are or aren’t, have compassion for yourself, and have a sense of humor about the whole thing. It’s only by doing this that you will allow yourself the room to grow and improve as an athlete.

Leave a comment and share how your own perfectionism has helped or hurt your performance.

photo credit: Simon & His Camera via photopin cc