Part Four: Identify Your True Enemy
BY MEGHAN VANCE • SEPTEMBER 25, 2023
Time to fight back. In part one, we described perfectionism; in part two, we determined fighting is necessary; and in part three, we found we all have to fight. How can you fight? The first step is to identify your enemy.
As a perfectionist, you’re most likely to blame yourself for your mistakes. But you are not the enemy. Think about it: if you always fight yourself, you can’t ever win. So start thinking differently: imagine perfectionism itself is the enemy. It’s perfectionism that you have to fight if you want to achieve your goals. Start thinking of perfectionism as your enemy by trying these five techniques:
FIGHTING TECHNIQUE #1: DEVELOP A GROWTH MINDSET
Stephanie Owen writes in Kansas Music Review, that a “Fixed mindset is the perceived idea that you are the way you are and there is not much you can do to change yourself or your intelligence.” In contrast, Alyssa Austin writes for Connections Academy that “A growth mindset is the belief that
- Intelligence can grow
- Challenge and struggle are the ways to grow one’s intelligence.
- Failure is a necessary part of success.”
If you develop a growth mind-set, you don’t have to get stuck in a bog of blame. You can quickly move on to self-analysis and problem-solving. You’ll see each problem as merely a minor setback that you can work to overcome.
FIGHTING TECHNIQUE #2: DISCUSS MISTAKES
Sometimes you just need to vent. Do it out loud. Write it down. Vent that hot immediate steam, and then see if you’re relaxed enough to laugh at yourself. If not, try remembering similar mistakes from your past. Do they seem important now?
DevelopingMinds.net recommends writing out a list titled Why It Is Okay To Make Mistakes or Why It Is Okay To Get Lower Grades. One item they suggest for the list is that “Getting things wrong develops patience and persistence – two skills that are more important than getting things perfect.”
If you still can’t move on, find someone to talk to. If you know a more experienced musician, they’ll likely understand your pain, and may even be able to offer some tips. But non-musicians are very helpful too: the incredulous look they give you when you say you missed that one note can really help to put things in perspective.
FIGHTING TECHNIQUE #3: EXTERNALIZE PERFECTIONISM
Visualize your perfectionism as something outside of you. What does your perfectionism monster look like? Is it big and slimy green and putrid? Small and sneaky with a cunning voice? How can you beat it? Younger students may find it helpful to draw their monster. In their handout on perfectionism, the National Association Of School Psychologists writes, “By making that a tangible thing (e.g., the ‘perfectionism monster’), students can fight against something.”
FIGHTING TECHNIQUE #4: IMAGINE THE OUTCOME
For many perfectionistic students, anxiety and fear are tied to what others will think of them. They may be afraid of disappointing a teacher, letting down a parent, or embarrassing themselves in front of peers. Tricia Richardson, in her article “Teaching Strategies To Help Perfectionist Students,” recommends asking three questions:
- What is the worst thing that could happen?
- What is the best thing that could happen?
- What is the most likely thing to happen?
To answer the last question, remember to use evidence of your prior experiences.
FIGHTING TECHNIQUE #5: REMIND YOURSELF THAT YOUR ACHIEVEMENTS ARE NOT THE SAME AS YOUR WORTH
It may be useful to employ techniques three and one here. Imagine your perfectionism monster trying to convince you that you’re no good and that you should give up. But you – with your great growth mindset – you know that isn’t true. You have potential to be even better than you are now. You have the potential to achieve great things. And besides, that monster doesn’t have the whole picture. It doesn’t care how fun you are, how strong, how silly, how resilient, how quirky, how persistent.
Feel ready to fight that ugly monster perfectionism? Next week, assemble your team.