Avoiding Mental Sabotage Part 7: How to be Dynamic Instead of Perfect

  

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In the final installment of our ongoing series on developing race-day mental skills, we explore how to focus on being dynamic instead of perfect in your performances.

Perfectionism can be both and asset and a disadvantage for athletes. The big problem for athletes who are perfectionists is that you can sabotage your own performance in races when taken to an extreme.

A perfectionist athlete is an athlete who strives to be perfect in whatever he or she does, always focusing on the mechanics rather than working toward the flow of the event’s requirements.

Perfectionism can hurt your performance in events and your ability to improve in training. When you always expect perfection in your training and racing just as you planned it, you leave no room for being adaptable, which is a must for racers.

Below shows how perfectionism in sport can be both an advantage and a disadvantage:

Advantages

  • High motivation and a strong desire to succeed
  • Strong “work ethic” that supports motivation
  • Highly committed to goals and improving
  • A functional mindset for training
  • Ability to analyze performance in training to improve

Disadvantages

  • Focus on the end results instead of the current moment
  • Anxiety and tension in events
  • Stuck in a training-mode mentality, which makes it hard to have trust in events
  • Strict expectations for performance
  • Lack of confidence in events
  • Wanting so badly to succeed, which often leads to anxiety
  • Impatient with results in events, which makes it easy to give up
  • Care too much about what others think

Are You a Perfectionist Athlete?

What are the signs or signals of perfectionism?

  1. Do you generally perform better in training than you do in an event?
  2. Do you attempt to have a perfect event?
  3. Do you want to win so badly that you suffer from performance anxiety?
  4. Do you worry about what other people will think about you?
  5. Do you view your performance as either good or bad?
  6. Do you become easily frustrated with your performance?
  7. Are you stuck in a training mindset?
  8. Do you have a hard time performing freely and with trust?

How To Improve Your Mindset for Events

The following six strategies will help you overcome perfectionism and allow you to focus on the particular demands of race day in a more healthy way:  

Train for greater trust in training so you can transfer that feeling to race day. Many athletes use their training time to improve their technique—and they should. But you want to spend half of your training time in trust mode by letting go of the technique and performing the way you normally do in events. For example, when you go out for a bike ride and do 20-minute intervals, be in race mode during those intervals.

Give yourself permission to encounter challenges. Accept that the race will evolve and challenges will happen from time to time. Be prepared to encounter challenges during an event, such as equipment problems. However, if you encounter a challenge during the race, it is in the past, focus on getting back into the flow or the current section of the course.

Perform efficiently instead of perfectly. Perfectionists tend to focus too much on improving themselves for the next event instead of performing great today. We suggest you abandon the “correct” or perfect way to perform and instead get the job done. This means that you’ll fully rely on what you have learned already in training. Use the skills that you can execute with confidence today to help you perform efficiently. For example, instead of trying too hard to have the optimal FTP number, focus on being consistent and smooth.

Assess your race performance objectively. Perfectionists tend to be very self-critical and focus on only their shortcomings after events. If you do this, your confidence will take a big hit. Instead, you want to look at your event performance in an objective way. We suggest that you focus on what you did well in the race.

Summary

With a perfectionist mindset, you’ll find it has both advantages and disadvantages. You want to use the advantages to your own benefit, such as having a strong work ethic and commitment to your sport.

However, you also want to learn how to overcome the disadvantages of perfectionism. As we have discussed, perfectionists often place unrealistic demands upon themselves. Perfectionists can be highly self-critical and want to perform perfectly in all events. This leads to a lack of trust and low confidence especially in events.

To overcome perfectionism, you need to accept that you are human and you will make mistakes or face challenges so you can perform freely with whatever form or fitness you bring to the event that day.

About the Author

Patrick J. Cohn, Ph.D. and Andre Bekker

Dr. Patrick Cohn is a master mental game coach with Peak Performance Sports in Orlando, FL.
Andre Bekker (pictured here) is a 12-time Age Group winner in Ironman and 70.3 events / former professional bike rider, and owner of 5th Dimension Coaching.

Download their free audio program, “Mental Toughness Skills in Racing for Triathletes”.

View more posts by Patrick J. Cohn, Ph.D. and Andre Bekker