Fighting A Musician’s Tendency Toward Perfectionism, Part Six

Little girl in headphones sitting in the park training to fight perfectionism with intentional relaxation.

Part Six: Basic Training


In this fight on perfectionism, it’s time for you to complete basic training. In the recruitment phase, you defined perfectionism, saw its effects, and learned who’s susceptible to it. In the training phase, you learned to view perfectionism as the enemy and assembled your team. Now it’s time to complete basic training: pack your provisions, run drills, and practice maneuvers.


They say an army marches on its stomach. What provisions do you need to fight perfectionism? In part five, we established the importance of a team. However, Kayla J. Grey writes that seeking support from family and friends was only the second-most effective mechanism for alleviating stress. What was first? Sleep.

Too often, perfectionists sacrifice the very provisions essential for a person to be healthy and happy. As a musician, take time to play music below your ability level just for fun, to relax, and to connect with others. Below are provisions you’ll need in your pack:

  • Sleep
  • A good team
  • Good nutrition
  • Exercise
  • Time to connect with others
  • Time for fun
  • Time to be calm: relaxed, reflective, thankful
A man training himself to fight perfectionism by relaxing on a hill in the sunlight

Drills are practiced repeatedly in safety to achieve automated responses in battle. Whether your battles take place in practice sessions or performances, run your drills in a safe setting first, then under increasing pressure. Since your enemy will engage you psychologically and physically, run drills to fight back on both fronts.

Mantras can help you calm down and regain perspective, allowing you to continue working. writes: “Three key calm coping statements essential for children to learn and practise saying are, ‘I’m okay,’ ‘This is not terrible’ and ‘Never mind, I can cope.’”

Below are some other mantras to try:

  • Mistakes are part of the learning process; failure is a normal step on the road to success.
  • In one year, no one else will remember this; in ten years, I won’t remember this.
  • I am beginning this task. Beginner is not the same as failure. If I’m not willing to be a beginner, I cannot be a finisher.
  • “My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.” – Psalm 121:2 (ESV)
  • “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13 (ESV)
  • “Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces characters, and character produces hope.” – Romans 5:3-4 (ESV)

You’re going to need coping strategies that lower your heart rate and relax your muscles, as well as clear your head. Test these coping strategies to see what works best for you:

  • Breathe slowly
  • Count until you’re calm
  • Squeeze a stress ball
  • Spend alone time in a designated safe space or chill zone
  • Go for a walk or exercise
  • Do an activity unrelated to music. Activities that promote imagination and experimentation but don’t have a set end-goal (like coloring, drawing, and construction toys) can be particularly useful for perfectionists.
A young boy and his mother training to fight perfectionism by playing creatively with building blocks.

Think of practice maneuvers as mock battles. These are situations where you learn to experiment, think outside the box, and solve problems without surrendering to perfectionism. The National Association Of School Psychologists (NASP) recommends using riddles, logic puzzles, and ambiguous problems to develop problem-solving skills, and guessing games to develop good risk-assessment skills. They write that “Helping students to take an appropriate risk (e.g., answering questions when they aren’t sure of the answer) can allow them to see that making mistakes is not as scary as they think.”

NASP cautions that perfectionists may seek someone to take over for them. They write, “Instead of solving the problem for them, support them in finding their own solution. Help your child explore the problem, come up with solutions, and then try those solutions, even if they don’t all work. Practicing this process of problem solving creates a sense of confidence in children that they can solve their own problems.”

Similarly, Colleen of suggests students must be challenged so they can learn to struggle well: “Many things come easy to gifted kids, so by the time they find something that’s hard, they give up rather than fail.” “Having children that can recognize and apply strategies to alleviate their perfectionistic tendencies means having young adults that are more willing to take risks and put less pressure on themselves when they fail,” writes Stephanie Owen, for Kansas Music Review.

Of course, all your maneuvers, drills, and provisions are preparation for something else: the battle.

In next week’s installment, learn to plan and fight each battle so you can wage a successful war.