A recent promotional event at New Delhi saw the coming together of four great sports persons- Viswanathan Anand [chess], Michael Johnson [athletics], Adam Gilchrist [cricket] and Lothar Matthaus [football] and the theme of the discussion was: Perfection.
After reading the news reports of the promotional event: the terms perfection and perfectionism set me thinking and left me wondering as to how many lives are out of sync with mental peace and homeostasis chasing the syndrome called – perfectionism.
According to Wikipedia: Perfectionism in psychological terms is a personality trait characterized by a person’s striving for flawlessness and setting up of high standards: accompanied by critical self-evaluation and concerns regarding others evaluations.
We see so many around us who possess this trait. These are people who take things seriously and want to do a perfect job out of even the menial tasks. They set high standards and expect every time to live up to it. They are vulnerable to other people’s expectations as they are expected to adhere to their own bench marks. They are meticulous and detail oriented in everything they do.
These are normally the ones who compare their own performances to high standards set by others: put pressure upon them to achieve these standards.
Though there are advantages in being perfectionists there are many pitfalls that go with it. HARA ESTROFF MARANO wrote for Psychology Today and remarked that Perfectionism may be the ultimate self-defeating behaviour. It turns people in to slaves of success- but keeps them focused on failure, dooming them to a life time of doubt and depression.
Experts say that perfection is a goal that can never be attained. This is what could have prompted the famous coach Vince Lombardi to remark- `perfection is not attainable but if we chase perfection we can catch Excellence’. Lombardi is hinting that the strife for perfection can ultimately lead to Excellence which is rewarding in any performance.
Carl Jung, founder of analytical psychology, may have understood that perfection was not within human grasp and wrote- Perfection belongs to the Gods: the most we can hope for is excellence.
During the above mentioned promotional event Michael Johnson remarked that perfection was always elusive to him. `There was never a perfect race I never had one’– he said. Viswanathan Anand the chess grand master said- `perfection is when you make things look easy’. Matthaus, Anand, Gilchrist and Johnson were unanimous with their view that Roger Usain Bolt and Roger Federer were close to perfection in this modern era of sports.
In sports, coaches and coaching manuals impart skills [techniques] based on age-old research about the ways sport has to be executed. And those with the perfectionist trait in them want to execute the way the coaching manual prescribes and are not satisfied until they achieve the desired perfection. This puts them in a quandary because they are always in a self-evaluating mode. And when mistakes occur they indulge in self-abuse and criticism.
From my personal experience as a cricketer [batsman] and having played a bit of golf- I can say both batting and golf involves footwork, arms, hands and other parts of the body. They involve scientifically evolved techniques: when perfection is not in place or when mistakes occur we enter in to analytical mode, become self-conscious and are victims of the dreaded- paralysis by analysis. When the conscious mind interferes the execution is not the way it should be- automatic.
The need to execute the skills perfectly makes the mind anxious and the muscles tense and this leads to performance errors. We also tend to berate ourselves for the mistakes committed.
Dr Bob Rotella, the world’s leading sports psychologist and the author of Golf is not a game of perfect, writes in his book- `Good golfers have to get over the notion that they only want to win by hitting perfect shots. The best golfers strive to minimise mistakes, but they do not expect to eliminate them’.
Bob Rotella’s best advice is – `if you want to eliminate anything, eliminate smothering perfection. You must throw away your expectations when you walk on to the golf course and play’.
This applies to every game and not just golf. isn’t it?
This is the advice Roy Bennett has for us- `Embrace being perfectly imperfect. Learn from your mistakes and forgive yourself you’ll be lot happier’.