Is Perfectionism Limiting your Performance?

Have you ever wondered if you are a perfectionist?

Chances are, you would consider perfectionism as a positive trait – who doesn’t want to be perfect?

What is Perfectionism?

Perfectionism is defined as a broad personality style characterized by a person’s concern with striving for flawlessness and perfection and is accompanied by critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations (Stoeber & Childs, 2010).

Here are some signs that you might be a perfectionist:

  1. Procrastinating on a task until you know you can do it perfectly
  2. Deem the results as the most important part of completing the task, you disregard the process you take to get your results
  3. To view a task as incomplete until it meets your expectations
  4. Take a longer time to finish a task that others typically take lesser time to finish

(Haase, Prapavessis & Owens, 2013)

How does Perfectionism limit your Performance?

Perfectionism is something that the average athlete grapples with from time to time, and it important to educate yourself about what constitutes perfectionism, and how it can have debilitating effects on your performance and mental health.

They may be the most hardworking players on the team but seldom play to their potential under competitive stress. Perfectionists are constantly distract by the fear of making mistakes and losing. They worry and overanalyze the mechanics of their game, and tend to either play tentatively or exert more effort than optimal. This limits their ability to play freely, assertively and with high confidence.

Perfectionist athletes often view negative results and feedback as failure which causes them to lose confidence, dwell on the mistakes and become frustrated. In the long run, this often leads to emotional and mental exhaustion.

So what can you do about it?

Here are 3 ways to overcome perfectionism and perform with high confidence:

  1. Acknowledge that humans are imperfect and that mistakes will be made!

It is easy to dwell on mistakes especially when they are hard-hitting mistakes that cannot be reversed. What is important to remember here is to remind ourselves that can learn from mistakes and move on.

Do this by working on your emotions when faced with a difficulty or after making a mistake. Stay present in the moment and from there, make a plan on what you can do for similar situations in the future. This will prevent you from dwelling so much on your past mistakes.   

2. Performing with Trust

Trust is the feeling of an effortless and unconscious’ performance. Over-controlling a movement, fear, doubt, indecision, and anxiety all destroy the ability to trust.

Athletes who struggle with perfectionism need to learn how to transition from a practice or ‘Training Mindset, to a performance or ‘Trust Mindset’ prior to execution and competition.

“Let go of conscious controlling tendencies and allowing one’s skills to run off from motor memory (or what you practiced) instead of conscious directives from the mind…” Dr. Patrick Cohn

More strategies to improve trust will be introduced in the next blog post.

3. Focus on the process

In The Inner Game of Golf (1979), Tim Gallewey recommends that golfers say the word “back” on the backswing and “hit” on the downswing. ‘Back’ and ‘Hit’ are examples of process goals or performance cues that will help suspend your mind from expectations related to fear of failure and judgment.

To let go of harmful expectations and refocus on the process goals is also another way of helping you to improve trust. This is a significant psychological skill that will help you to develop trust and to perform freely under competitive stress.

I would strongly urge any athlete who wish to learn this key psychological skill to invest in the e-program The Process Focused Athlete.

Coach Hansen


Haase, A. M., Prapavessis, H., & Owens, R. G. (2013). Domain-specificity in perfectionism: Variations across domains of life. Personality and Individual Differences, 55(6), 711-715.

Hill, A. P., & Madigan, D. J. (2017). A short review of perfectionism in sport, dance and exercise: Out with the old, in with the 2 × 2. Current Opinion in Psychology, 16, 72-77.

Stoeber, J., & Childs, J. H. (2010). The assessment of self-oriented and socially prescribed perfectionism: Subscales make a difference. Journal of personality assessment, 92(6), 577-585.

Asking the correct questions…

Imagine that you are trying to complete an assignment, learn a skill or to achieve a certain milestone.

The undertaking seems more difficult and requires more effort than you initially assumed.

As a result, you are somewhat frustrated and might be asking yourself one of these questions…

“Why can’t I get this right?”
“Why do I have to do this?”
“What have I done wrong?”
“What can I do differently?”
“How can I break this down into simpler steps?”
“What can I learn from this?”

What’s the difference between these two groups of questions?

Would you feel and respond differently to questions from group A compared to group B?

What if you are a coach, what sort of questions would you ask your athlete?

Will they resemble questions from Group A – “Why can’t you get this right?” or Group B – “What can you do differently?”

Like most people, you would likely be more cognitive and solution-focused when you ask yourself questions from Group B.

Meanwhile, questions from Group A are likely to compound your frustration. You may even respond defensively when these questions are directed at you.

So what’s responsible for this difference in the way we feel and respond to these questions?

An understanding about how different regions of our brains respond to these questions will give us a better idea!

Continue reading “Asking the correct questions…”

“What if the tables were turned?”

I borrowed this title from Joan’s Facebook post. Joan’s a visually impaired athlete and the top scorer for the women’s national Goalball team. She was reflecting on a 1 v 3 modified Goalball game where she competed and won against three sighted athletes. This happened just before the circuit breaker.

She was pondering about who would be considered “disabled” should the tables be turned – in a context where the sighted athletes had to operate in a “blind” environment instead. You can read about her thoughts and watch the game here. While you are at it, do send her a friend request!

“Is disability a result of one’s condition, or the result of the physical and social environment?”

I thought that Joan’s sharing connected really strongly with the Social Model of Disability and there is an important message here to be shared with my fellow coaches and the public.

Continue reading ““What if the tables were turned?””