Often at my practice I hear athletes claim (boast?) of being “perfectionists,” which, ironically, is one of the biggest reasons why they struggle with mental toughness and reaching their full athletic potential (AHPS). I’m sure you know somebody like this — or maybe you yourself claim to be a “perfectionist” — but have you ever really thought about what you are saying, as well as how this mindset actually hinders athletic development more than enhances it?
Think about the root of the word perfectionist for a moment – essentially what this implies is that anything less than perfect is unacceptable and, unfortunately, viewed as a failure. While it may sound impressive to call yourself a perfectionist, what you are actually doing is raising the bar so high that it is virtually impossible to ever truly be successful. The other thing you are doing is adding a very unnecessary and debilitating variable to the equation — anxiety! You see, sport psychology studies show that anxiety increases dramatically as we try to be perfect, and when this occurs the nervous physical energy experienced (i.e. rapid heart rate, shallow breathing, tense and tight muscles, etc.) actually disrupts the mind-body synchrony needed for successful sport movements.
So what should you do if you are a perfectionist? Stop being a perfectionist and instead strive for excellence! In fact, I would argue that human resiliency is far more important to success than trying to be perfect – and I can prove this by inviting you to read an autobiography of anyone you admire or look up to. If you do this, you will soon learn that the person you find successful has had to endure countless examples of stress, adversity, frustration, and failure along the way to greatness (Michael Jordan getting cut from his HS basketball team comes to mind as a perfect example).
If you are a parent or coach, be sure to help kids understand that failure is a part of life, and while it doesn’t mean they should love to fail, it does imply that the sooner kids come to realize things won’t always go perfectly, the sooner they will galvanize their resiliency skills.
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