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The Perfectionist Mentality is FAR from Perfect
The Perfectionist Mentality is FAR from Perfect

CST AdminJul 29, 2016 984 Comments

There are two very important things to realize when it comes to perfection; perfection is not possible to sustain and perfection is not necessary for success.

I have had the great pleasure of being a part of multiple World Series (not to mention Super-Bowls, National Championships and Olympic gold medals) and not once have I witnessed perfection. To be honest, I haven't even been close to witnessing perfection. It is fact, you can be the best in the world and NOT be perfect.

When a person learns to emphasize improvement over perfection, progress accelerates. The perfectionist mentality can be incredibly counterproductive because perfectionists typically get focused on being perfect, realize it's not possible then become discouraged and quit trying all together. Athletes quite commonly have characteristics of the perfectionist mentality. I define the perfectionist mentality as the tendency to set an incredibly high standard for oneself without recognizing improvement. In addition, perfectionists tend to beat themselves up when coming up short of their over-inflated expectations.

Most athletes I coach are very quick to be able to list the mistakes they made during a game or training session, but have to search much harder to list the successes. Athletes come to me with a desire to learn to let go of bad plays faster so that they do not spend so much time beating themselves up. The time spent dwelling on the negative and shortcomings as an athlete is time NOT spent focusing on the next play or the ways to improve. This consequence of the perfectionism, however, is nothing compared to what it does to an athlete’s self-confidence.

Self-confidence is the number one predictor of performance. If you feel good about your ability to achieve something, chances are that you will be successful. If you are doubtful about your ability to achieve something, chances are VERY high that you will fail. The perfectionist mentality wreaks havoc on one’s self-confidence, and in turn, one’s performance.

Here’s why: Research has identified something called expectancy theory. Expectancy theory basically states that whatever a person focuses on expands. In essence, allowing yourself to focus on what you did poorly actually causes you to do more things poorly. Many people believe that beating themselves up for not accomplishing more will help to motivate them to perform better in the future.

However, the research is just too strong to ignore. The negative self talk associated with perfectionism does not cause improved performance. In fact, it’s incredibly counter-productive. However, focusing on what strengths you want to have and specifically what it will take on your part to get those strengths is a tremendous help. In doing so, you can actually cause yourself to become more successful, not to mention experience a much more enjoyable life.

The real key to using the "improvement mentality" as an advantage is to first be aware of the thoughts in your head. When you find yourself focusing on where you fall short, make it a point to answer the following solution-focused question: What is one thing I can do that could make my current situation better?

You don’t have to make your current situation perfect, but do identify one thing that will make it even just a little bit better. The real trick is to become relentless with this process. By relentless, I mean that within 60 seconds of having any thought focused on what you are unhappy or dissatisfied with, re-direct your thoughts to solutions by answering the above question.

For most individuals, especially the perfectionists, it is a very foreign process to replace problem-focused thoughts with solution-focused thinking. For this reason, you must train your brain to develop this type of thinking. A method of training your brain to develop a relentless solution focus is to answer the following three questions at some point each day:

1. What three things did I do well today?

2. What one thing do I want to improve on tomorrow?

3. What is one thing I can do differently that could make the above mentioned improvement?

By making the commitment to answer these 3 questions daily, and to answer the “What is 1 thing I can do that could make my current situation better?” question whenever negative thinking occurs, you will literally train your brain to replace the perfectionist mentality with the improvement mindset. Remember, that which you focus on expands, and if you are constantly focusing on solutions, your success will grow.


[Editor's Note: Dr. Selk's first book, 10-Minute Toughness , is on pace to be one of the best-selling sport psychology books of all time and was instrumental in inspiring Pat to further refine CST's performance-based training methodology. The book is the first of its kind in that it teaches individuals exactly what to do to be mentally prepared for competition and sports, and it does so in a very user-friendly manner (PS - You can download 3 free worksheets here that accompany the book).

Dr. Jason Selk
Director of Sport Psychology
Enhanced Performance, Inc
7700 Bonhomme, Suite 575
St Louis, Missouri 63105


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