We often hear people describe themselves as being “perfectionists” as if it’s a good thing — something everyone should strive to be if they want to be successful. Often kids pick up on this moniker as they think success comes from being “perfect,” but in reality perfectionism actually holds people back and often leads to increased stress and frustration. Think about it for a moment – in the eyes of the self-proclaimed “perfectionist,” anything less than perfect is unacceptable and viewed as a failure! Sport psychologists discourage young athletes from engaging in perfectionist thinking, and often view it as a major barrier to building mental toughness.
Perfectionist thinking is actually a form of dichotomous thinking, where everything in the world is good or bad, black or white. Perfectionists often set high goals for themselves (a good thing), but when they fail to live up to their goals, even if they’re really close, they then consider the experience a failure. It is in this moment of not quite reaching those “perfect” standards where the perfectionist loses sight of all the good he or she has accomplished and instead focuses exclusively of not reaching those “perfect” goals. This perceived failure, of course, leads to more personal distress, frustration, and sometimes even anger.
While it sounds cool to call yourself a “perfectionist,” it’s actually one of the worst things you can do. None of us are perfect, and setting the bar to a perfect standard is only setting yourself up for a lot of anxiety and frustration. When I work with athletes, especially young athletes, I instead encourage them to strive for excellence. Using this approach, excellence can be defined allowing for subtle mistakes, off-days, and even losing (so long as learning occurs with the loss). While it might only seem like a small word change going from “perfectionist” to excellence, it’s actually an entirely different paradigm that is based in reality and more likely to lead to success.
Learn from the best
Young athletes need to learn as much as they can about successful athletes, especially when it comes to their attitude, work ethic, and how they deal with losses and adversity. Successful athletes, like successful people, allow for bad days but learn from them – and “build a better mouse trap” the next day.
The good thing about perfectionism is that it is a self-proclaimed label that the user can eliminate as quickly as he assigned it to himself. Don’t want to be a perfectionist anymore? Great, stop calling yourself one! Remind kids that by eliminating this title it does not mean you stop trying or write off all future goals, but instead implies that you will continue to strive to be the best by actually using stress, frustration, and adversity as teaching tools for even more future success. Interestingly, this one simple change can, and often does, lead to more happiness and you guessed it — more success, too.
Teach your young athlete about excellence by visiting our peak performance shop to help athletes succeed on the field – and in life!