What Is Perfectionism?

Feeling driven to work hard and do your best are positive characteristics that many athletes share. It’s normal and admirable to have a strong work ethic, and to succeed, athletes need to have a desire to improve. However, there’s a thin line between striving to be your best and striving for perfection.

It might seem like perfectionism is a tool that helps motivate you to work hard, but perfectionism can actually get in the way of your progress. Not to mention, it gets more and more difficult to enjoy your sport when you’re constantly worried about messing up and when you rarely feel like you’re doing well enough. As a result, athletes who are perfectionists might have both low self-confidence and a tough time coping with mistakes. They might doubt themselves and put a lot of pressure on themselves to do well. Additionally, they might place more value on how they think others perceive them than on how they perceive themselves.

 

Symptoms of Perfectionism

 

It’s healthy to want to do well, but if you find yourself dealing with the following symptoms, you might be experiencing perfectionism:

  • Feel like you fail at everything you try
  • Procrastinate – you push off tasks because you’re worried you won’t complete them perfectly
  • Struggle to relax
  • Find it difficult to open up and share your thoughts / feelings
  • Feel the need to control everything in your environment, including your friendships/relationships
  • Become obsessed with rules, lists, sports, and school, OR you become extremely apathetic, meaning you no longer care about your commitments

Causes of Perfectionism

 

It’s not always clear what causes someone’s perfectionism. Often, it’s a combination of factors that contribute to someone feeling like they need to be perfect. Athletes in particular are subject to perfectionism because they’re often in environments that put a lot of pressure on them and hold them to high standards. Athletes’ personality types are also prone to perfectionism because they tend to be motivated and a bit stubborn. Understandably, they don’t like to fall short. It’s often the combination of underlying personality traits and the competitive nature of sports environments that brings out the perfectionism in athletes.

 

Treatment for Perfectionism

 

The very nature of perfectionism can keep a lot of athletes from changing their perfectionistic thought patterns. As a perfectionist, it might sound like the end of the world to share your thoughts and feelings with someone else. It might feel like you’re putting yourself at risk for being perceived as “not perfect.” In reality, vulnerability can help you reshape how you view yourself. Finding someone to confide in is a great first step. You can also practice a number of tools and techniques on your own to help you deal with perfectionism. Some of these tools include positive self-talk and relaxation techniques.

If you’re interested in meeting with a professional, look for someone who specializes in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). CBT is often an effective treatment for athletes who are goal-oriented.

 

Thomas Smalley Stretching an Athlete
Cali Werner running a marathon