Lies of Perfectionism, Part 1

Many of you may have seen the recent psychological thriller, The Black Swan.  In this fictional portrayal of perfectionism, Nina, a promising ballerina, pushes herself beyond the bounds of her mental and physical health to be perfect.  It is very tiring, discouraging, and often destructive to continually attempt to impress others, avoid making mistakes, and perform perfectly all the time.   Perfectionism has a certain attraction for some of us.  It just seems to suck us in and seduce us into actually believing we can achieve it.    Why?

Those of us with perfectionist tendencies probably perceived very early in life that we were valued primarily for what we achieved or accomplished rather than for ourselves.  As a result we learned to value ourselves for the quality of what we produced and on others’ approval.  This lesson and the behavior it causes leads to performance anxiety and other related fears.

Let’s look at some of the lies perfectionism whispers in our ears.  These lies instill in us an attitude of fear—fear of failure, fear of making mistakes, fear of disapproval—and a rigid attitude of either/or thinking (“Either I make it to the finals or I’m no good.”) and language peppered with “shoulds” (“I should be better by now.”) and “musts” (“I have to win.” or  “I must not make mistakes.”).

When we recognize that we are actually thinking and believing these lies, we can examine at the facts—the reality behind the lies—and take the first step to crawl out from under the crushing burden of perfectionism.

Lie #1:  “I can achieve perfection.”

First and foremost, we keep thinking that we can achieve that perfect performance, avoid all mistakes, and therefore, impress everyone so they will accept us and always like us.  In fact, perfection is a myth.   It is definitely time for new behaviors and thought patterns and a new goal.  If not perfection, then what?  Excellence?

Lie #2: “My performing has to be perfect to be acceptable.”

Refer to the above.  If we accept that perfection is a myth, then we must come to terms with the fact that we need a new goal for our performances and that we can be accepted no matter how we perform.  We can now loudly proclaim:  “I will perform to the best of my ability for TODAY!”

Lie #3: “It is terrible if I make a mistake.”

Let’s first talk about that “if.”  WHEN you make a mistake it is not and will not be terrible.  Making mistakes can be a clear sign that you are learning and that you are challenging yourself.  We need to get to the point that we can recognize that mistakes or setbacks can point us in the next direction.  Mistakes are, if we choose to see them this way, tools for learning.

Lie #4: “If I am perfect, then people will love me, love my performing, and accept me.”

Looking for acceptance from outside sources will not end well.  If you didn’t perform another note—didn’t play or sing another concert or audition, you would still  be valuable and worthy of love and acceptance.  Your performing is something you do—not who you are.  Differentiating this will save hours, and in some cases, years of heartache and trouble.  The fact is:  “Although I continue to strive to improve and be the best I can be, I am acceptable just the way I am.”

Lie #5: “If I mess up, it will be awful—I will be embarrassed and others will be upset with me and reject me.”

We never plan to make mistakes or have memory slips and it is usually not a pleasant experience when we do, but it is part of performing.  In fact, it is a necessary part of the learning process.  Once we accept that we can use these experiences to refine our skills and shape our abilities, we will be a much healthier and happier performer.

Perfectionism is a symptom of a belief system we accepted years ago.  We keep feeding that system when we continually repeat these lies to ourselves.  By recognizing and accepting the facts instead, you can take the first step in breaking the cycle of perfectionism and start enjoying the process and your performing even more!

Next time we will discuss five more facts behind the lies perfectionism tries to tell us.   In the meantime, let me know how YOU experience and deal with perfectionism in your own performing?

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