How to Overcome Perfectionism in Sports
It's natural for you to want to perform your best each and every day. But what happens when this desire to play well turns into a need to be perfect? That's where we see perfectionism form in sports.
As an athlete, when you're a perfectionist, while this may seem like a good quality to have because it pushes you to keep getting better, it is more likely than not actually holding you back.
This is because of the negative impact perfectionism has on your mind. Which is why it's important for you to work on overcoming perfectionism in sports. And is exactly what you'll learn how to do by the end of this article.
What is Perfectionism?
Perfectionism is defined as the need to be and appear perfect. However, striving for perfection is not the same as striving to be your best. One reason for this is perfection is not attainable due to the continual possibility of achieving more.
So, by aiming for perfection you are setting yourself up to be a failure in your own mind.
Each day you leave practice or a game and you feel like you weren't good enough. What's going to happen if this keeps occurring over the course of a season or many years?
Well, working as a mental performance coach, I've seen perfectionism lead athletes to have lower confidence, and in some cases lose the love for their game.
Because if every day you feel like you weren't perfect, that can take a toll on your mind and not to mention your motivation. Eventually you may feel like giving up.
So instead of being a perfectionist and demanding this unattainable version of perfection, you want to change how you view your game and the level of expectations you set.
But first, let's take a look at 10 signs of perfectionism in sports so you can get a better idea of if you are really a perfectionist athlete or not.
Are You a Perfectionist?
It can be difficult for you to identify yourself as a perfectionist because you may only see it as having a strong ambition to be your best. However, as previously described, when this type of ambition is taken to the extreme, it can actually hold you back within your sport.
10 Ways to Recognize Perfectionism
- You are extremely hard on yourself.
- You get depressed when you fall short of perfection.
- You set extremely high standards for yourself.
- Plagued by guilt.
- Success is never enough.
- You are prone to procrastination.
- You are constantly looking for mistakes.
- You never feel perfect.
- You cannot allow yourself to celebrate success.
- You avoid taking on a new challenge.
"Perfectionism is defined as the need to be and appear perfect. Striving for perfection is not the same as striving to be your best."
3 Tools to Overcome Perfectionism in Sports
Tool #1: Focus on the Positives
One of the main reason’s perfectionism leads to depression, anxiety, and other terrible ways of thinking is due to a constant focus on the negatives.
As a perfectionist, you will always look for ways to improve, and in order to do that you must find faults within yourself and your game.
By constantly looking for negatives as an athlete, you will be sure to find more and more of them. This can then make it seem like you have little to no positives whatsoever. And you have nothing good going for you in terms of your sport.
So, the best way to combat negative thinking is to first focus on the positives. No matter what you do, when evaluating yourself, always look for the positives first.
Only after you’ve outlined what you did well should you allow yourself to start to examine the mistakes you made during practice or a game.
And I can promise you, no matter how lousy you think your performance was, there are always positive aspects to be found.
A good habit I have found when working on training your brain to focus on the positives rather than the negatives is list making.
After a game or a practice, list out as many positive aspects as you can think of.
No matter how big or small they may seem, list them out. After a while of doing this you will begin to realize your brain does not automatically start criticizing you.
Instead, you will start to see more of the positives first, and then be able to objectively look at the areas you can improve upon.
Tool #2: Alter Your Self-Talk
The second tool focuses on the conversation that goes on inside your head. As a perfectionist, it is likely that your internal dialogue is a negative one.
You continually degrade yourself with sayings such as, “I’m not good enough”, “I am a failure”, “I suck”, etc. So, in learning to overcome perfectionism as an athlete, it is important that you focus on shifting your internal dialogue to a more positive one.
Now, you may be wondering how this can be done because it feels like your brain is wired to feed you negative thoughts. The reality is your brain is trained to do that, but you are the one who trained it.
This is great news because if you trained your brain to automatically think negatively, then you can retrain it to think positively.
A self-talk routine is one of the best ways to do this. Write down a list of positive phrases about yourself. They can be anything that makes you feel empowered, confident, and like the person you want to be.
Then, start writing them down every morning and reading them back to yourself out loud. After doing this for a while you will begin to see more positive thoughts coming to your mind.
The most difficult part of reframing your self-talk is being aware of it in the moment where you feel like a failure. When you are just beginning to work on affirmations, you will need to try your best to be aware of when you are talking down to yourself.
And trust me, the last thing you will want to do in that moment is say a positive phrase, because honestly, the negative ones feel good in a sick way. But just force yourself to, and the positive self-talk will begin to overcome the negative talk.
Tool #3: Learn to Enjoy the Process
Learning to enjoy the process is honestly one of the best skills you can learn. If you talk to anyone who has achieved success, they will tell you that one success only makes you hungrier for another.
So, as a perfectionist athlete this means you will never be satisfied and you’ll always be telling yourself you can do better. The only way to overcome that thinking is to be less end goal oriented and start to enjoy the process along the way.
To enjoy the process, you need to become process oriented. That means you set a desired goal for yourself once, and then focus on the daily process of getting there.
As long as you continually focus on the end result, you will not be putting as much effort into the process.
This will actually hinder your chances of attaining success. So, slow down and learn to enjoy the process, and the outcome will take care of itself.
It’s natural for you as an athlete to develop perfectionism because you want to become the best you can be. But what can happen when you demand perfection from yourself is you never actually feel perfect.
This is because perfection is not actually possible. There’s always more you can do. So you’re left feeling not good enough.
Over time this will lower your confidence, and in some cases cause you to lose the love for your game!
To overcome perfectionism as an athlete you want to focus more on what you did well, alter your self-talk, and become more process-oriented.
Now, if you’re interested in a more personalized approach to overcoming perfectionism as an athlete, then you need one-on-one mental performance coaching.
To learn more about mental coaching and to see how you can get started, please fill out the form below.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
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Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.
Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.eli's story
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