Are you a perfectionist? Chances are that if you are a high performer, whether in sport, business, law, the performing arts, or any other performance context, you likely view yourself as a perfectionist or have perfectionistic tendencies.
Though we often give perfectionism a negative connotation, perfectionism just like any personality characteristic can have both good and bad qualities. On the "good" side, striving to be perfect (or a better way of framing it would be striving for excellence) and continuously pursuing growth is often essential in the pursuit of success, greatness, and big goals. However, on the flip side as a perfectionist you likely hold yourself to very high standards and constantly reinforce that whatever you are doing or have achieved is not good enough...and you also likely take that a step further and reinforce whether you realize it or not that you're not good enough.
So perfectionism isn't just a characteristic we can have, more importantly, it's a mindset that can be a truly formidable obstacle.
Mindset = established set of attitudes or beliefs
When you have a perfectionistic mindset, your beliefs about your actions, your achievements, and yourself as a whole are always being called into question. You have high standards, and/or have high standards for others or think they also have high standards for you, and thus you're always measuring yourself up against those standards. Since being perfect is in most contexts and situations completely impossible, you develop and reinforce the belief that you're never good enough and that whatever good things you've done or have accomplished don't matter. This then becomes a need you constantly strive to get met as well as a limiting belief with many challenging consequences to things like your confidence, motivation, focus, ability to lead or be a good teammate, and ultimately your performance.
Our attitudes and beliefs are extremely powerful (for example, see the fascinating research being done on the power of mindsets) and often are developed without us being truly aware of it. But this is something we can take control of. You can train your mind to reframe your perfectionistic mindset and choose one that is going to better support your pursuit of excellence. Maybe that means striving to be gritty or brave or resilient or whatever other word or phrase best captures the attitude or belief you want/need to have about yourself, your actions, and your achievements.
You don't have to stop striving to be better, but you could likely benefit from changing the perspective that needing to be better means that you're not good enough. And focusing on being perfect is probably not the most important attitude or belief that is going to help you grow and reach your goals.
What mindset will you train yourself to have?
If you've read my bio you know that I grew up riding horses. And for many years, my parents and I owned and lived on a farm.
When we had our farm, one of the things we made sure to do was build paddocks (fenced in areas) for the horses. With the exception of some places that still have wild horses, you see these fences on every farm because the horses need to be able to spend time each day outside, free to roam. Given no opportunity to go outside and they are just being restricted and controlled all the time. Allowed to go outside, but without these fences, they could go anywhere and that might lead to trouble.
The fences provide them with both guidance and freedom. Some horses like a lot of freedom, they'll go to the very far end of the paddock alone. Other horses prefer to stay near the others or at the point closest to the barn. The ones that like a lot of freedom sometimes manage to break out of their paddocks (we had one horse that was a master of jumping out...it really did seem like he enjoyed that act of rebellion each day!).
This popped into my head recently as a great analogy for how to lead a team or company with a well-defined culture and environment, but also allow for the autonomy that is needed in order to create engagement, leverage everyone's strengths and capabilities, and enable the individuals and group as a whole to thrive, evolve, and perform effectively.
Often I see leaders struggle with this. They think their options are black and white. Their tendency is to either take too much control (yes sometimes they micromanage because they have a high need for control, but often it is out of a well-intended desire to help the group go in the right direction particularly when the stakes are high) or provide too little or no guidance (not because they don't care, but because they want their athletes or employees to have the autonomy and ability to step up and lead themselves).
When leaders provide too little guidance, there is likely to be: