Today’s Topic’s: Perfectionism and Competing
Welcome to Q&A with Coach Rebecca. I’m here to give you the tools to improve your performance under pressure and to have more fun doing what you love. I do this two ways. The first is through one-on-one coaching. We have a whole team of coaches who all want to help athletes through Skype and FaceTime to overcome whatever is getting in the way of their success. You can always schedule a free consultation coaching session with me or any of other coaches here.
The second way is through the PerformHappy Community, an online training center that houses online courses and a community of sport parents and athletes who are overcoming mental blocks, building confidence, and finding their flow. You can find more information about that at PerformHappy.com.
Perfectionism & Competition
We have two questions today from members of the Perform Happy Community. One of them is about perfectionism and the other is about your kid not feeling ready to compete when competition season is here. What do you do? I’ll read the questions and then I’ll give you my two cents.
The first question is from Laurie. She is talking about how her daughter skipped her first gymnastics meet this weekend because they’re working through some mental blocks. She’s working on rebuilding confidence and they took the pressure off. They still went and watched her teammates, which is awesome.
It’s so helpful if you’re feeling benched or sidelined that you’re there, a part of the team, supporting your teammates, going to dinner after, doing some of those fun things. She says,
Q: Obviously, I don’t want her beating herself up, but she seemed completely unaffected by it, like didn’t care. Then last night before bed, she was so sad and said she wasn’t going to be ready by the next meet, which was a month away. I’m so lost that I don’t know how to handle it anymore. One minute I think I know but the next, I have no idea.
Well, this speaks to sport parents. One minute you’re thinking, “I’m really doing a great job parenting this kid.” Then the next, “Oh my gosh. I’m really screwing up. I must have said the wrong thing. Where did I go wrong?”
You’re doing a good job, mom. Don’t worry about it. Of course, she goes and sees a meet and then goes home and says, “I don’t think I’m going to have my skill. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
What Can You Control?
When you’re in a situation where there are things out of your control, like, “Will she overcome her mental block in time?” You, mom, can’t control that and, honestly, neither can your daughter. She can’t go, “Okay, I need to get over it in six weeks so here we go.”
It would be really nice if it worked that way. It would be great if you could just say, “All right. Six weeks to overcome this mental block. Here’s our plan. Ready, boom, boom, boom. Done.”
Make A List
I would love that, believe me. To some extent, you can but then, of course, your brain is your brain. If your brain isn’t ready, your brain isn’t ready. You can’t force it. Focus on what you can control. I recommend helping her write out a list of “What can I control?:”
- What I try
- My attitude.
- That I show up to practice every day
- That I go to bed early enough that I have enough energy the next day to push through fear and be a little uncomfortable
- The way that I fuel my body
- My effort.
I can control all these things but I can’t control whether or not I’m going to be able to be perfect at this meet.
What Can’t You Control?
You also want to look at what you can’t control. Sometimes it’s interesting what kids write down on that list. They might write things down like, “My thoughts,” which is kind of a gray area. I can get into that on a different day, but you can control your thoughts. You have to have the right tools for it. Help her figure out, “What can I control? What can I not control?” “How do we focus all of our energy on the controllables?”
Controllables vs. Let-go-ables
When we tear up that other list of, I call them “let-go-ables,” the things you can’t control. You tear it up, and you throw it in the garbage.
Once that list is gone, you focus on the controllables. You’re going to go to practice tomorrow and you’re going to do this, this, and this. That’s all we’re going to worry about. We’re not going to worrying about a month from now right now. We’re just going to be focused on today.
Then, if we get to a month from now and you don’t have that skill, we’re going to cross that bridge when we get there.
A Goal Calendar
The next step is to start a goal calendar. There’s a way that I like to do this in my fear course that’s really specific. In short, you take a calendar and write down, “Here’s my goal. By one month, I’m doing this skill on this event.”
Then, you reverse engineer it. You back it up and go, “If I’m going to get there by then, the week before I’m going to have to do this. The week before, I’m going to have this. Then the week before, that means today, I have to do this.”
This will really give your athlete a feeling of control. They come up with their own steps and their own calendar. Then, they will feel like, “Okay. I’m just going to try to do this little step today. Tomorrow I have to do this one, and the day after, I have to do this one.” They may not perfectly hit every single one, but at least it can lay out a concept of what might work.
Three and four go together: be realistic and be optimistic. You can flip flop those however you want.
Being realistic, you want to look at the situation and say, “Okay, what’s the worst that could happen?” The worst that could happen is you don’t do it.
You can’t compete, you scratch that event, or you modify your routine and have a low start value. Figure out what’s the worst that could happen if you’re not ready. Next, you plan for it. Often times, it’s the mystery of what could go wrong that is actually worse. If you tell yourself, “Well, this is what could go wrong and this is how we’re going to handle it if it does,” you have a plan.
We don’t have to be so scared of that because even if it all goes wrong, then this is how we’re going to deal. We’re going to cheer on your teammates. We’re going to go to ice cream, compete three events, or whatever it is, you figure it out with yourself, with your coach, and with your parents. Figure out what’s the plan for worst case and then you don’t have to totally dread that because at least you know you’ll be able to not die.
Then, be optimistic. What’s the best that could happen? That’s what we’re aiming for. That’s what’s on your goal calendar and what you’re getting excited about. That’s what you’re working toward. “I’m going to do it. I want to compete that meet.”
You know if you don’t get there in time, you’re going to be okay, but let’s try and get there. Put all the effort possible in because if it’s possible, go get it. You’re going to have to really believe that it’s possible and get up and go.
Discuss Options Together
Parents, help your kid talk options. Figure out what’s the worst, what’s the best. How can you get to the best case scenario? What are we going to do if we’re at worst case scenario when that month comes up? Ultimately, the most important thing is to let her be in charge. Let her decide her goals and decide what’s possible.
Let Your Athlete Decide
Don’t give her any ideas on the worst-case scenario. Believe me, they’ve got their own. You are just the sounding board that’s saying, “Oh, okay. That’s interesting. What do you think? Oh, that would be a good plan. Sure, we could do that.”
Don’t do this for them. Just give them a space to do it themselves. That’s if your kid is feeling insecure about their ability to compete.
Now, I’m going to move on to perfectionism. I had a mom reach out to me who asked,
Q: Can you talk about perfectionism and mental blocks? The coach made a comment about how my daughter thinks everything needs to be perfect and doesn’t accept anything less.
Oh my gosh. A perfectionist gymnast? No way!
I also fell into that category. I call myself a recovering perfectionist now because I’m working through that. Most kids who are attracted to an individual sport that’s based on 10 out of 10 scoring is going to be a perfectionist. They don’t want to get up on a beam and fall off. They want to make it perfect.
Perfectionists want everyone to love them. It’s going to be amazing when they get those medals. That’s great because that helps motivate them and pay attention to detail.
If you are a perfectionist, it helps you show up to those hard practices when you’re tired and you don’t want to. Your mindset is, “Darn it, I want to beat that girl and I want to look good and I want my coach to like me, so I will show up bleeding, bruised, or otherwise. I will keep working because I want to be perfect.”
From Perfect to Excellent
Here’s what needs to shift. It needs to go from perfect to excellent. We’re humans and humans are going to make mistakes. I don’t think, and I could be wrong, but I don’t think anyone has ever gotten 10 out of 10 on all four events.
Athletes get excited about a 9.7, 9.8, and a 9.9, but people don’t get all 10s. That’s just the way it goes. You’re human, you’re going to make mistakes, and there are things outside of your control like the equipment or the mood that the judge is going to be in. You could do a perfect routine and then the judge is in a bad mood, which could affect your score.
Excellent is Reasonable
Perfect just isn’t a reasonable expectation, but excellent is. If you make a mistake, you can still point your arrow toward perfect in the way of excellent. You’ve already blown perfect, so are you going to give up or are you going to keep trying for excellence? Finish well. Finish strong. Keep moving. Or will your attitude be, since it wasn’t perfect, what’s the point? That’s what you want to watch out for.
I’m guilty of once I know I’m not going to win, I don’t want to play the game. You miss out on so many opportunities to live your life and have experiences if you don’t want to play any game you’re not going to win. There’s a really important part of trying and failing, trying and failing, and improving. Trying and failing a little bit less, succeeding a little more than failing. That whole process really builds us into resilient human beings.
Perfectionism is Fear
Perfectionism is basically fear. That’s the short of it. Perfectionists are driven by fear – fear of failure, fear of mistakes, fear of letting people down, fear of falling short. As a perfectionist, you find yourself not wanting to set goals because you don’t want to not reach them. You never want to set a big goal because it would be terrifying. What if you set this big goal and then you don’t reach it? What if you fail?
You’re basically a horrible person, which is insane, right? That’s what we do as perfectionists. We think that we are our achievements. “If I don’t achieve, then I’m no good.” That is not a good place to be, in this fragile ego standpoint. You end up falling apart every time you make a mistake, instead of going, “Okay. Learned from that. Move on.” Those are the resilient people, the ones who make it far in sport.
Then there are people who fall apart every time they make a mistake or fall apart in advance because they’re afraid of making mistakes, which makes them make mistakes and it becomes this self-fulfilling prophecy. That makes them tense, which then sets them up for injury. It’s a whole, yucky cycle.
The first thing you do to get over perfectionism is legalize failure. Like I said before, you figure out the worst that could happen. What if you fail? What will you do? How will you bounce back quickly? What will you do to get yourself back on track as quickly as possible? Guess what? Your competitors are going to fail, too.
If they freak out and fall apart and you don’t, you get up and keep going, you are going to get it. It’s not because you were perfect, it’s because everyone else fell apart because they were trying to be and you just kept moving. You just tortoised your way through it.
Instead of being afraid of all of those mistakes, you have to be able to be realistic. You’re going to make mistakes. Identify what those potential mistakes are. What are you afraid will go wrong? Have a plan for it.
Plans are awesome because then you don’t have to fear. It gives you this sense of control. If you do fall, what will you do to finish up your routine strong? Something that can actually start rewiring your brain in a permanent way is reflecting. It’s a practice of actually sitting down after each practice and writing what went well.
How Can You Improve?
Perfectionists, it’s really hard for us to see what went well, especially if it felt bad. “Nothing went well. That was horrible.” First, you have to stop and think about three things at least that went well. “My hair was good and I tried.” Even if you’re rolling your eyes at yourself while you’re writing down what went well, do it anyway.
Then, the second thing is to see what could have gone better. Of course, you perfectionists are going to say, “This was bad and blah, blah, blah.” You can only write down three. Even if you had the very, very best competition ever, you’re going to have room for improvement. You always want to seek out room for improvement. You have three good things, three not-so-good things. Then, the most important thing is three things you learned, three lessons.
My guess is you’re probably going to notice that those places where you fell short, those “failures”, is where you’re going to learn. “I learned I can’t overthink it before I go. I learned that I have to stop and slow down and don’t rush it. I learned that if I don’t focus on my legs, I’m going to fall.”
Whatever it is that you learn then turns those failures into valuable experiences that make your next competition better. Then you don’t have to fear the failure because you’re going to make mistakes.
Learn from your Mistakes
As long as you are paying enough attention, you learn from your mistakes and next time you improve. That’s what you’re looking for. If every competition throughout the season you improve, then you’re winning, whether or not you’re “winning.” That’s what it should be. If the first meet of the season, you totally fall apart, it’s fine. It happens. Next one, you get a little better. Next one, a little better, and so on.
You might have some setbacks, but you learn from them and you keep going. Have a plan for what could go wrong. Accept mistakes. Legalize failure. Just know you’re not perfect, but you’re going to be excellent as long as you can bounce back quickly and not have your whole ego destroyed anytime you make a mistake. This all or nothing thinking, it really doesn’t help.
Another thing that I wanted to mention about the perfectionism and mental block connection is I did a whole training on breaking the fear cycle. You come up with your routines for bouncing back after setbacks. I talk a lot about perfectionism and you can watch the replay of that free training here. That’s the fear cycle training.
It’s a 45 minute or hour-long training where I go into depth on the perfectionism and some ideas on getting over mental blocks and building confidence. If you want more, download that, then send me your questions, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
I will see you guys again next week. Thanks for joining me.