Like most things in life, you can apply the Goldilocks Principle. The Goldilocks Principle is based on the fairy tale of the three bears. Once upon a time, a young girl enters an empty house in the forest. She notices three different sized bowls of porridge on the table. She has a spoonful of the first one and claims it is too salty. She then has a spoonful of another size and claims it is too sweet. She then has a spoonful of the third bowl and claims it is juuust right. Similarly, in life, you can have too little, too much, or juuuuust right (Kelloggs, you can pay me later).
Perfectionism is similar. When you have too little, you may be sloppy, disrespectful, and lacking care. This may be the case when I am chopping vegetables to go into a big pot of soup that I know is just for me – all sizes and shapes, and generally a Bridget Jones blue soup moment occurs, or in my case, purple soup.
When you have too much, things may never get done. Who else has agonised over an essay or report for school or work? Or perhaps if you are in academia, it has been a journal article or a review you have needed to do? Or perhaps it has been when you are baking the perfect sponge cake and creating the layers of sponge and cream, and wanting to become the next Master Chef.
As a crazy athlete, perfectionism is the double-edged sword. It has helped me get to where I am today, and it has also part of the formula for stress, anxiety, and burnout (Gustafsson, DeFreese & Madigan, 2017). The desire to create perfectionism in my nutrition, the desire to create perfectionism in my training and nail my sets or reps or power or kilometres or heart rate or skills. The desire to create perfectionism within my preparation and my recovery or my mindfulness practice (the last one in there is what you call ironic given the principles of mindfulness). Or perhaps it is attempting to be the perfect friend who always knows what is going on, is one step-ahead on the ability-to-help-bandwagon, and has the chicken soup ready to go for man-flu or amputee flu onsets. May none of you get the amputee flu, it leaves you legless and there is no current cure.
Switching to my academic hat, I was curious what the definition of perfectionism is. In my mind, when we start with awareness and understanding, we can then progress to measuring and changing. So, as described by Frost and colleagues (1990), perfectionism is a personality feature characterised by the setting of extremely high and demanding performance standards, which a perfectionist individual strives for and bases their self-evaluation upon. How is the helpful? Key words: high and demanding standards AND implications for our self-worth.
Without getting to technical, there is some research that has suggested the ill-effects of perfectionism (burnout, eating disorders etc) can be helped through mindfulness, self-compassion, and cognitive behavioural therapy (see Loyd et al, 2014; Mosewitch et al., 2013; Neff, Rude & Kirkpatrick, 2003).
So, some legs up and practical tips to help with the ill-effects of perfectionism –
- Use mindfulness to explore and create awareness of perfectionistic tendencies. Start naming them when they arise.
- Practice a self compassion break or meditation
- Conduct an experiment for something you know you exhibit perfectionistic tendencies e.g., cleaning your bike, baking, organising a meal. See if you can purposefully be imperfect in some small way – a spot of grease, uneven shapes or sizes, leaving out an ingredient. And then observe what happens…. I reckon the world is still spinning… Reflect on this process.
If you find yourself perhaps having too much perfectionism, what is one small step you can take to get into the juuust right ball park? And remember –
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
Leonard Cohen – Anthem.
Until next time,
Ride with a smile. Ride with a purpose. Ride in the moment.
- Frost, R., Marten, P., Lahart, C. and Rosenblate, R. (1990). The dimensions of perfectionism. Cognitive therapy and research, 14, 449–468.
- Gustafsson, H., DeFreese, J. D., & Madigan, D. J. (2017). Athlete burnout: Review and recommendations. Current opinion in psychology, 16, 109-113.
- Lloyd, S., Schmidt, U., Khondoker, M., & Tchanturia, K. (2015). Can psychological interventions reduce perfectionism? A systematic review and meta-analysis. Behavioural and cognitive psychotherapy, 43(6), 705-731.
- Mosewich, A. D., Crocker, P. R., Kowalski, K. C., & DeLongis, A. (2013). Applying self-compassion in sport: An intervention with women athletes. Journal of sport and exercise psychology, 35(5), 514-524.
- Neff, K. D., Rude, S. S., & Kirkpatrick, K. L. (2007). An examination of self-compassion in relation to positive psychological functioning and personality traits. Journal of research in personality, 41(4), 908-916.
Photo’s courtesy of:
Wikiepadia, Culture Eatz, Ernestro Arriagada.