All perfectionism is not created equally. Let me say that again, all perfectionism is not created equally. Some call perfectionism “The Athlete’s Achilles Heel” however statements like this do not speak of the whole picture. While some forms of perfectionism can be the Achilles heel for some athletes, other forms of perfectionism can provide for highly positive consequences.
Research has hypothesized that there is actually two forms of perfectionism, maladaptive and adaptive. Maladaptive perfectionism is the setting of high standards while focusing on mistakes made and the evaluation of others leading to over-training, poor performance and burnout. Adaptive perfectionism is also the setting of high standards while minimizing the focus on mistakes and the opinions of others. Adaptive perfectionism has been associated with higher performance and improvements in learning while having more adaptive goals.
As noted in the Foundation of Sports and Exercise Psychology:
- Perfectionist standards do not automatically undermine performance and with the right goal focus, can lead to optimal performance.
- Perfectionistic standards become debilitating when their attainment is needed for self-validation
- Perfectionism is thought to be especially negative in times of failure
- Perfectionist are at a greater risk if they have poor coping skills.
- Perfectionistic demands emanate from with individuals themselves or from others
- A relationship exists between a child’s level of perfectionism and his / her parents level of perfectionism. Children who’s parents model their own perfectionism or provide conditional approval of the child’s attempts of achievement are more likely to have perfectionistic tendencies.
Adaptive perfectionism has been linked to approach achievement goals. Approach goals focus on achieve competence and mastery (process goals) whereas maladaptive perfectionism has been linked to avoidance achievement goals. Avoidance achievement goals focus on avoiding incompetence. For example, Adaptive perfectionist focus on improving their process goals (e.g. running gate) to be able to improve their performance by being more efficient whereas maladaptive perfectionist want to improve their process goals so they don’t run slower than they did before or to ensure they are not beat by someone. Adaptive perfectionism is the positive approach to focusing on mastery of their skills in order to improve their performance whereas maladaptive perfectionism is associated with a negative mindset like the fear of failure and negative reactions when not performing perfectly.
- Appreciates accomplishments
- Have fun, enjoy the process
- Focus on process goals (process oriented)
- Motivated to succeed
- Work on bettering your best
- Mistakes are going to happen, learn from them
- Doing your best is good enough.
- Success judged upon your personal ability to learn new skills and mastery
- Positive mindset
- Seems like Work
- Values some, if not all, accomplishments as not valulable due to some internalized belief.
- Motivated to not lose to others (avoidance)
- Unhappy, never good enough
- Not Hopeful
- Fear of failure
- Mistakes are not acceptable
- Success judged by comparing themselves to others
- Avoid challenging goals yet adopt easier or extremely difficult goals, This drives a sense of certainty. Easy goals will be achieved and extremely hard goals will not be met. Oftentimes, there is a backup plan as one prepares to fail
- Focus on mistakes
- Outcome performance oriented
The key to improved performance in the mind of a perfectionist is to be adaptive. Maladaptive perfectionism can be overcome by evaluating your internal belief structure.
Here is one way to work from maladaptive to adaptive perfectionism-
Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the middle. On the left side, write down things like your self-talk (what you say to yourself), write down the beliefs you have about yourself and your ability to perform. Now, on the right side, debate each and every point you made on the left. What you will find, if you focus and look deep enough is that the thoughts on the left are irrational beliefs whereas the points on the right are true rational beliefs. When you focus on the rational points, you will make positive steps towards becoming adaptive. The point is to see things as they really are and not as you see them now. Focus on improving each day, focus on processes, accepting that as long as you gave it your all, it was good enough. And, judge yourself only against yourself, not others.
If you are unable to transition yourself to becoming adaptive and you are ready to gain the mental edge, give me a call at 502-771-0721 or email me at craigwillard@U-Discovered.com