Let’s talk about perfectionism

Find things to be thankful for, even in the midst of tough times (3) copy

A big issue, that comes up time and time again, is the perfectionism gremlin. It comes up in any sport I’ve dealt with but also in parenting, lifestyle, finances, spirituality… Even if you haven’t experienced it you’re bound to have seen it in other people. It’s a liar, a dream stealer and it will absolutely kill your motivation.

Motivation Killer #1

One of its modus operandi is to move the goal posts. Take an example from agility: the competitor who says, “I just want a clear round.” But when they do get that clear round, the gremlin says to them, “Yes, you got a clear round but your contacts could have been quicker.”

It happens in dieting as well. You do really well, you’ve had a great week and then there’s a little blip. Up pops the gremlin, “You had that glass of wine.”  It writes off everything that went before. It doesn’t allow for any progress. The only way to get it “right” is to get it perfect, so you’re going to immediately lose the motivation to try because the bar is set too high.

We’re in a culture that encourages instant gratification. If you want something, you can have it NOW but when it comes to health or fitness or competitive goals or dieting, it takes work. It takes time to change our habits, it takes grunt work. That’s tough because we’re not in the habit of working at things because we’ve been trained that things should be easy, available right now, convenient.

Don’t feel bad about this.

It’s just something we have to fight because culturally we’re not being well prepared to hang in there when the going gets tough and perfectionism will take great advantage of this.

Aim for progress not perfection

Perfectionism is very black and white. Anything less than perfection doesn’t count. It doesn’t allow for those areas of grey. So one of the first things we do with that gremlin is remind it that there’s an entire spectrum, much of which is grey! Remind it of those places where actually we are making progress. Aim for progress not perfection. Look for that progress. How are you better than you were last month, last year? Are you paying attention to where you get things right?

Accept that you are in fact human.

You’re going to make mistakes. It’s in the job description! Anything you’ve ever learnt has included making mistakes so everything you’ve learnt has come through you being imperfect. When you were a baby you had to learn to walk. I’m quite sure you don’t remember that but there’ll probably be stories in your family about it. There will have been many falls.

When you were a child you were constantly failing as you learned to walk, to run, to ride a bike, to hold a pen. You were used to screwing up. As an adult you’re still learning, and still making mistakes.

Everything you get good at, you get good at by making mistakes, by tweaking, by learning how did that one get the better of me? How can I do it better next time? Learning, adjusting, growing, making more mistakes. Learning, adjusting, growing, making more mistakes.

Perfectionism will lie to you, it will hide your progress. It will kill your progress because you’ll be afraid to try. You’ll not push yourself as far as you could go if you’re afraid to go too far and get something wrong. As long as perfectionism is holding the reins it’s not going to let you explore your potential.

We need to release ourselves from perfectionism by telling it: you’ve got nothing to say to me because do you know what? I’m human and I’m going to make mistakes but I’m going to do it actively. I’m going to choose, I’m going to make it happen.

Every time you accept your humanity, you note your progress and you cut yourself some slack, you’re weakening perfectionism’s grip on you. 

Embrace imperfection. 

When we DON’T try we’re going to fail by default, whether that’s in our health, fitness, competitiveness etc.  If you don’t take action you’re going to fail because you didn’t try so you might as well try!

Embrace your imperfection as proof that you are growing, that you are getting out there, you’re taking action and you’re growing. It’s the only way. If you find it really hard to let go of this perfectionist streak, to loosen its grip on you and to rewire your brain- look at your approach to other people.

Be intentional about encouraging them, cutting them some slack so where you feel that perfectionism is trying to have a go, to be critical of them (and it’s often where you’d be most critical of yourself) be intentionally gracious to them the way that you would like to be someday to yourself.

Every time you accept your humanity, you note your progress and you cut yourself some slack, you’re weakening perfectionism’s grip on you. 

7 thoughts on “Let’s talk about perfectionism

  1. Kathrine
    Another article were I can say ‘that’s just me’ and that’s another area that I am so thankfully for your help again Kathrine. Pam

  2. This is a great article, especially as our agility fall trial season is getting underway here in my area. Not to mention, my dog is coming off of a second injury and has been rehabbing since Dec. As we go back into the ring to compete later this month, I NEED to think of where we have come from and not what time we have lost.


    • Absolutely, Carol. I’m glad this was pertinent for you. Here’s to a happy healthy fall and a positive return to the ring for you both!

  3. Such a great article, and timely for me since i am going back to compete in agility trials after many months off with no training in the meantime. However….I have always said that perfectionism is not a virtue. It kills self esteem.

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