Release Yourself from Perfection’s Grip

Did you see the recent Associated Press article about Barbra Streisand’s new album, Release Me?   It seems that during the heyday of her recording career, if she made a mistake or found a single problem while recording a song, she’d toss the whole thing.  Because of this perfectionism, she ended up with a whole case full of unreleased material.   “If I didn’t like that one word, I wouldn’t release the record,” the 70-year-old Streisand said in a recent interview.    Now that she’s decided to share these songs with the world, she was asked how she feels about finally releasing them—some from the 60′s, 70′s, and 80′s.  Her answer?  “Liberating.

AP:  What would you say to Barbra back then?

Streisand:  Be easier on yourself.

Right now, you might be thinking, ‘Well, her perfectionism has certainly gotten her to where she is today!’ and I would have to agree.  Not all aspects of striving to be perfect are harmful to performers.  We might even consider that there are two types of perfectionists.   Excellenists (my word) derive pleasure from their pursuit of excellence (near-perfectness) through realistic, attainable goals without compromising their self-esteem.  Perfectionists feel ‘less than‘ most of the time from their constant pursuit of the unrealistic and unattainable outcome—perfection.  The excellenist is her own best friend and champion, but the perfectionist is her own worst critic.  A big difference between these two is in the meaning they give to mistakes.  Those who strive for excellence can learn from their mistakes and use them as incentive to work harder.  Perfectionists, however, consider their mistakes as signs of personal defect.   The reason perfectionism is such a burden for performers is the anxiety they feel about potential failure and, more importantly, what that failure says about them as a musician or performer.

Which category do you think Streisand would fit in?   Before you answer consider…

This isn’t pick on Barbra day, but I’m sure you may have heard of her now famous 1967 performance in New York’s Central Park.  She describes it as  a pivotal moment in her singing career.   In front of 135,000 people, “I forgot the words to three of my songs. And that was it for me. I never sang professionally, meaning where I charged for the tickets, … for 27 years.

Although Barbra held herself to an incredible standard, it was at what cost?  Twenty-seven years?  As we’ve identified before, there are many perfectionist tendencies that are good—ability and desire to work hard and be diligent about reaching goals.  To illustrate, think of someone who is productive, even highly productive and then, someone who is a workaholic.  What’s the difference between these two?  When the goals you have set for yourself are unreasonable or unattainable (“I can’t make any mistakes today.”  “I must win or at least place in this competition, or …”) and when, as a result, your self-worth hangs in the balance, these behaviors have gone way past the tendency stage and have taken you into full-blown perfectionism.  

Perfectionists often find themselves thinking with an all-or-nothing attitude or mindset.  This kind of black and white thinking can give us a false sense of control over life’s uncertainties but at the cost of narrowing our vision and creating insecurity.  It also leads to other characteristics that perfectionists share—fear of failure and procrastination.

The next time you begin to judge yourself or your performing for not being better, look for that black or white thought:  that your performance (or you) is either good or bad or right or wrong.  (This seldom is really true.)   Identify the dualistic thought, take five minutes to respond differently.   Some replacement thoughts:

I trust myself and my preparation, period.

I give up the need to be right. 

Although I continue to strive for excellence, I accept myself and my performance today.

I recommend keeping track of your thoughts by writing them down.  There’s nothing like seeing your thoughts in print.  It can become much more clear that some of your goals or expectations are unrealistically high and that no one—not even you—could possibly perform up to them.   Also consider the following:

Perfectionistic, or all-or-nothing, thinking, is the ultimate saboteur for you and your performing.  It sets you up from the very beginning.  It sets you up to fail.

Start measuring your success by how you proceed in spite of your all-or-nothing or analyzing, critical voice.

Do you dust yourself off and start again?

Or do you just give up and say, “I’m no good.  I  just can’t seem to do this right.”

As soon as you begin to embrace mistakes as your most reliable teachers—as sign posts you need to show you the next step on your path—you will have released at least one finger-hold of perfection’s grip.  In order to fully release yourself, you will need to become open to uncertainty and more comfortable with your ability to get better instead of your need to be good RIGHT NOW.

Back to Barbra…  She has revealed that the fear of disappointing her audience puts her under great pressure when she performs live and admits that she hates having to live up to demanding expectations.

“I love singing when it’s me and the music alone… I love singing with an orchestra and there’s nobody judging it,” the Daily Express quoted her as telling Oprah Winfrey. “When you come out and perform in front of people, it’s pressure… I don’t want to disappoint anybody.”

Let’s learn our lesson from Barbra and realize that you and she, both, have a choice in all of this.  You don’t have to live up to anyone’s expectations.  You don’t have to impress anyone or fear that you will disappoint them either.  You don’t have to accept that it is pressure to perform in front of people.  All you do need to do is to musically and mentally prepare, trust that preparation, and let it be just you and the music. 



Want to learn more about how to develop your own unique pre-performance routine to combat perfectionism and other roadblocks to optimal performing?  Then, check out The Relaxed Musician Program:  Mental Preparation for Confident Performances, A 14-Day Plan   Download Day 1 workbook and audio to see how the program can work for you.  With purchase, you will receive 2 great bonuses—Your Pre-Performance Checklist and the e-book, Letting Go of the Need to be Perfect!

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