The Perils Of Perfectionism

Give me my bike!

It’s a beautiful sunny morning and instead of sitting in the saddle I’m sitting in the library cramming before an exam.

God all I want to do is go training today.

Anyway shit happens and priorities are priorities.

However the old me would have cracked up!

You see I had to swap a session and do a turbo session last night and if I’m lucky I’ll cram in a gym session later tonight.

I hate missing sessions but I’m a lot better at dealing with it now than I used to be!

You see I was and fully-fledged perfectionist.

I still am to be honest, now I just handle it all better.

A lot of athletes are the same way and while it helps in some ways it can be destructive and take over in others.

We all strive to succeed in our various daily activities particularly as athletes working toward a goal and balancing multiple demands that life throws at you.


Too often, however, we mistake success with perfection.

We live in a society that values perfection and makes it appear easily attainable, but perfectionism ignores the fact that we are human and prone to making a shit tonne of mistakes.

Perfectionism in a nutshell:

  • A fear of failure (failing to finish that session)
  • A fear of disapproval (My coach will think I’m soft)
  • Constant comparison of oneself to others (Anthony rides 4 hours a day though)
  • Interpreting mistakes as evidence of incompetence and failure
  • Being close-minded to criticism even when constructive

As a result of striving to be perfect daily activities such as that strength session feel daunting and you over think it to the point procrastination starts to become a problem.

Then you start leaking time and time is money folks!

There appears to be a consensus that perfectionists are more successful in life – when there is in fact no evidence to suggest that.

The “I can overcome everything and I always give everything a 100%’attitude is something I personally struggle with on a daily basis.

So trust me when I say it the stress of trying to do absolutely everything to an optimal level ALL the time isn’t healthy.

It adds more stress to the funnel and can cause anxiety issues, inside and outside of sport.


Healthy Striving Mindset vs. Perfectionism

There’s a difference between setting goals that are within reach versus too high to ever achieve.

For example I wanted to coach at a top level, work with A1members to the best of my ability, maintain a 1.1 academic standard, train optimally, and maintain a great home life.

You can’t do everything at full steam and you have to whittle things down or except that some things just have to slide a little.

I only realised all this after a savage bout of stress and anxiety over trying to nail everything super well.

Setting goals and completing them can add a healthy amount of motivation to your life, but it becomes a problem when all you are doing is looking toward the end result and completing your goals just to check them off a list.

Healthy strivers are people that take the extremity out of daily tasks and enjoy the process of achieving their goals.


A healthy striver will:

  • Set high standards, but keep them within reach (i.e. not aiming for 15 hours training during exam week)
  • Bounce back from failure and disappointment (reflective practice – build on it and learn)
  • See those mistakes as opportunities to learn
  • React well to critical feedback or helpful criticism (take it on board and listen)
  • Enjoy the process as well as the outcome!

I’ve said it before you’ve got to fall deeply in love with the process!

Everyone misses things here or there or something gets in the way of the next interval, you get a puncture, chain falls off, your oul one rings you to give out about not calling in weeks – whatever it is just accept that shit happens and you can’t please everyone.

If you have a tonne of commitments (some have more than others) that’s fine!

But realise you may need to let one slip in favour of another as pushing all to the limit is unsustainable.


What you can do?

Things go wrong and guess what you’re not that important so stop taking yourself so bloody seriously and chill the fuck out.

Make realistic short-term goals.

Not silly long term ones that create no immediate motivation and only cause anxiety and stress.

Learn your limits and try not to take on more than you can handle.

You need to learn to deal with criticism by looking at it as a way of expanding your abilities and learning.

I’m cycling over 10 years now and I’m still learning all the time!

Put your ego aside, be modest and take constructive criticism on the chin.


Focus on the process

Process goals like focusing on the cadence for the next interval instead of stressing about completing it.

Set time limits for all your projects so that you can move on more quickly. 

This has been super important for me.

If I don’t do this I could spend days working on something that should only take hours just to make it perfect.

When in fact it will never be perfect or at a stage I’m delighted with.

Remember, you really don’t have to “do it all” and aim to be perfect.

Moving away from perfectionism towards healthy striving does not mean you’re giving in or that you will lose.

It’s quite the opposite it means you nail the really important stuff, skip the anxiety and instead of trying to do everything well and being pissed because they don’t pull off your content because you excel in what really matters.

Cool the jets!

Aaron B.

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