Sunday, November 14, 2010

Dealing With Perfectionism

I hit the wall this week. Had a crying spell in class, which is always embarrassing. None of the guys cry. lol. Had a talk with Ben, a brown belt at our school who used to be one of my instructors at Summerlin. Without even realizing that what he was saying was having an impact, he straightened me out.

But I wish I didn't need straightening out so often.

Practicing Jiu-jitsu is like standing in front of a mirror that shows you every strength and weakness of your character. Take me for example. Jiu-jitsu has taught me that one of my strengths is determination. When I see a challenge, I want to get through it no matter how hard it is or how long it takes. But, on the other hand, Jiu-jitsu has shown me that I am a perfectionist and that sometimes I am the one putting unnecessary challenges in my own path.

I did a brief google search and found this Check List for parents to see if their kids struggle with perfectionism in sports:

Here are the top eight signs of perfectionists. They:
1. Generally perform better in practice than game situations.
2. Want to excel badly, which makes them anxious and afraid of failing.
3. Are afraid of making mistakes.
4. Worry too much about what other people think about them.
5. Try too hard to ensure their performance is “perfect.”
6. View performance as either good or bad, with no middle ground.
7. Harbor unrealistic or very strict expectations about their performance.
8. Are fearful of letting others down if they make mistakes.

I can check off every single one of those items. The question I have is, should I try to change this aspect of my personality and is that even possible? I think it is ironic that I feel like I have to "fix" this part of me, since that feeling is very possibly related to this whole perfectionist thing in the first place! LOL

The negative aspects of being a perfectionist affect more than just my Jiu-jistu performance. I psych myself out in a lot of things. At my job, in relationships, with my body image, on big projects that I undertake. A lot of people might be tempted to say, "Just relax. Don't put so much pressure on yourself." But that's kind of like telling my dog, "Don't chase that squirrel." Anyone who has the same personality as me will know that it is not that easy. You can't just flip a switch and stop thinking this way.

Like everything else, it takes time.

Here is where being a Youth Minister comes in handy. I know how to change destructive habits. I TEACH on how to change destructive habits. lol It is a process that happens step by step and begins with identifying and getting to the root of harmful attitudes.

For example, I know that I shouldn't go to extremes when trying to change my perfectionist habit. Being a perfectionist isn't all horrible. For one thing, my personality drives me to succeed. That's not a bad thing. Also, my personality drives me to not only succeed, but to do things well. Also not a bad thing. Perfectionism becomes only a problem when I take it to extremes and put unrealistic expectations on myself.

So what can I do? To answer that question, I thought about what I would say to one of my youth struggling with this same thing. Here is what I came up with:

1. Realize that your performance doesn't determine your worth. My family and friends are not going to love me any more or less because I win every tournament I enter. They will be happy for me and maybe they will admire it. But my worth to them does not rest in what I do, but who I am.

2. Accept that you are imperfect. This may seem like a no-brainer, but for me it is a big deal. Logically, I know I am not perfect. But then why do I set expectations as if I should be? I have to understand that I am not perfect and that this is OK! That doesn't mean that I don't try to improve. It just means that I accept the fact that I have strengths and weaknesses just like everyone else and that this is ok.

3. Set realistic goals. Self-explanatory.

4. Make your own decisions. Part of being a perfectionist is wanting badly to please others. For me, this translates to anxiety over how other people perceive my performance. In Jiu-jitsu, I am constantly looking for re-affirmation from my coaches and friends. I ask for lots of advice. I worry about whether or not they are upset or disappointed in me. In this case, what I would tell my youth is that they need to decide what their own goals are, not look to everyone else to make those decisions for them. And then they need to be able to stand on their own convictions and not be slaves to what everyone else thinks about them. Simple, right? In theory yes. In practice? Heck no.

5. View mistakes in a positive light, instead of tearing yourself apart. There is a difference between making a mistake and being a jerk. If I am a jerk and I punch someone in the face, then I should feel guilty about it. If I make a mistake and i don't execute a sweep correctly, I didn't do anything morally wrong. I just have things to improve on with that sweep. I think people who struggle with perfectionism connect their success to their worth in character. This is not healthy. Having good character does not mean you don't make mistakes. Having good character means that you do your best and admit when you make mistakes.

In jiu-jitsu, I have been learning to let my mistakes be more like mini-lessons. I pick one from each class, for example, a failed sweep, and try to figure out why it didn't work. I refuse to beat myself up about it but instead turn my attention to figuring out what I can do next time to make the sweep work.

6. Don't back down from challenges. Perfectionists like to hide from major challenges because we fear failing. That is why, in my opinion, it is so important to meet those challenges head on. The reason is, you will fail sometimes and then you will realize that failure is not the end of the world! :)

Anyways, that is my long-winded, pep talk for myself. I go around and around with this, but over the last year and a half, I have seen a lot of improvement in changing my self-destructive attitude. The reason why I know I am getting better at it is that, even though I still struggle with it, I don't beat myself up. It took me 28 years to get this way. It will take me a while to learn to handle stress in a more healthy way.


Zen Mojo said...

...all of your "list" points are great - you have really thought about it. I think #s 1-4 are things you have to "realize" or "understand," they are hard to work on externally.

I think 5 and 6 can be worked on a little more actively. In any activity (from jiu jitsu to painting to programming) there are mistakes along the way, but mistakes aren't bad they are LEARNING opportunities.

I try new things rolling all the time and get absolutely wrecked, but that is okay because I am learning and getting a little bit better at whatever technique each time.

One of my daughter's is a very good artist but she would get so frustrated that she couldn't sit down and draw a perfect horse or human face the first time. I worked a lot with her on the concept of "learners" and "keepers."

Without the "learners" along the way any activity would lose its appeal and value. Imagine how boring it would be if you could just walk up to a piano and play a perfect sonata without ever practicing.

Work on making "learning" part of your acceptable pattern of doing a good job.

As for #6, you can start out by trying a few new things that you are not heavily invested in (or that you can do in private) and PLAY. For example, if you don't bake, make a cake and throw flour everywhere, make weird designs with your frosting, or do something else silly. Learn to enjoy the ride as much if not more than the destination.

Then try and have the same attitude of having FUN instead of WINNING to things that are more important to you. When you start to play the game of life to have fun instead of win all sorts of changes can happen.

Take if from me, after all I'm perfect ;-). said...

Great post, Allie. A lot for me to keep in mind as we start a new week of training. I was so frustrated last week because I was tapped out several times.

Georgette said...

Holy cow, such a well-timed post. Really hit home for me (another perfectionist, I allow my worries of letting teammates down and being a boring training partner for them to make me into a major PITA to train with! talk about counterproductive!) And let's not even get into how much I love/hate competing...

Thanks for the breakdown, really well done. I will be repeating some of these lessons to myself tonight :)

Liam H Wandi said...

But I don't understand Allie. This doesn't make sense. We talked about this in the past.


A.D. McClish said...

@ Liam: hahaha. I understand the point you make. We are all on a journey and wherever we are in the journey, we should be content. I agree. But I am not perfect! lol. I don't say that because I want to point out my flaws. I say that to save myself from wanting to actually be perfect. I have no idea if what I just said makes sense to anyone else besides me.

But, I agree with your sentiment. I should let myself grow without putting pressure on myself to be more.

NinjaEditor said...

Echoing Georgette—this also came at a good time for me. I definitely checked off every point on that list!

You said, "Perfectionists like to hide from major challenges because we fear failing," and that is so true. But if we never step up to meet those challenges, we won't get better.

Thanks for the encouragement.

Ashley said...

Hey, Allie: I've been reading your blog for a while now. Had to comment on this post! I can totally relate. I think #4, (looking for external validation), is something that I struggle with a lot as a perfectionist. From the beginning, BJJ was teaching me to overcome this. Though, I still struggle.

Do you think perfectionism is more of a female issue? [I read a great book about women, our generation, and perfectionism in general.] Sometimes I wonder if it is just a form of ego...?

Thanks for the great post; it'll definitely be something I read again!

scorchen said...

I dont know you, and this may be completely useless advice, but honestly the training partners I've had in the past who are also stoners (just reefer to my knowledge) made the best people to roll with. They were relaxed, didnt muscle anything, usually a bit out of shape, and were totally fine if they made a few mistakes while rolling.

So my advice? Smoke a little weed and chill out.