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The Problem with Perfectionism

Last month’s blog post really struck a chord with a lot of people 
(thanks everyone for all the facebook likes and shares!). I am 
feeling quite humbled, but also compelled to write more…

Because although perfectionism is so pervasive in the dance-world, 
not a lot of dancers are aware of the impact it is having on them, 
or how it can actually prevent them from performing at their best.

So today, let’s delve a little deeper into the dark side of 

What’s so bad about perfectionism?

At first glance, perfectionism can seem like an amazing thing, and perfectionists, amazing people. And it’s true – there are certainly many wonderful benefits of perfectionism:

  • You work very hard
  • You have very high standards
  • You are reliable
  • You care about what you do
  • You pay attention to the most intricate details
  • You achieve amazing results

What could be so bad about that???

But there is also a down-side to perfectionism that can be really debilitating.

Often dancers get so used to these emotional side-effects that you hardly even notice how much energy they are draining from you. Do any of these sound familiar?

1. The nerves!

You get really nervous about failing or not being good enough, so much so that you avoid taking risks and trying new things so you won’t fail at them.

You are so sure you won’t be able to perform to the ultra-high standards you set for yourself so you procrastinate for as long as humanly possible or just don’t try at all, saying I can’t do that” (this is why a lot of ballet dancers get freaked out by *gulp* improvisation!).

2. The brain that has no off-switch!

You spend a lot of time (often when you should be sleeping!) thinking about how you’ve done today, what you could’ve done better, blaming and berating yourself for your failings and replaying it all over and over in your mind.  You are never satisfied and you can’t let yourself relax. How draining is that?!

Note: you can also waste a lot of energy “forward-thinking” and worrying about things coming up, like exams or performances.

3. The far-too-fragile self esteem!

You only feel good about yourself when you’re doing really, really, really well. Even if you do then experience feelings of accomplishment, they usually don’t last long.

When things don’t go so well, it can be incredibly depressing. Because of those ultra-high standards, you can feel like a total failure even if you still do pretty well. Your self-esteem never gets a chance to establish itself, because the stakes are always getting higher!

4. The shame!

The mix of low self-esteem and high expectations means that you often feel ashamed of your less-than-perfect attempts. The problem with shame is that you feel like you need to hide those parts of you that aren’t perfect, which can feel very isolating.

It can also easily feel distressing, because these are areas you actually need help to improve – but you can’t ask for help because you’re too ashamed to reveal that you’re not perfect!

Shame is at the core of the problems we talked about in last month’s blog.

Some questions for you to ponder:

  • Do you notice any of these side-effects of perfectionism in yourself?
  • How much time and energy are they draining from you?
  • What could you do with that energy if you could redirect it toward the more positive aspects of perfectionism?

Next month, we’re going to look at how to overcome some of the side-effects of perfectionism. To make sure you don’t miss it, sign up to join our mailing list (in the top right corner of this page) and have it delivered straight to your inbox!

🙂 Philippa

photo credit: B erta

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