"The enemy of good is better." - My father a retired ear nose and throat surgeon regarding surgical success
Is there a negative connotation to doing your best? Apparently, doing your best, may carry judgement by others that you are a perfectionist. Perfectionism has has been linked to anxiety and other psychological dysfunctions. And yet, if we look at the definition of these three different words, why is there so much shame associated with doing your best work? Maybe it really just depends which “P” word you refer to.
As defined by the Merriam Webster online dictionary:
A friend, recently made a comment in passing, “You are a perfectionist, I get it.” This was in regards to my learning horseback riding. A skill I have only recently began and otherwise have never done in the past. This comment struck me as odd. It was said in kind of course. And yet, it somehow stuck with me like a punch in the gut. Why? As I sorted it out I realized that the perception of perfection was mis-identified. I take the training of horseback riding seriously because I don’t want to get hurt or hurt the horse. My learning the foundational skills of safety is a means for me to prevent a future injury. I have tremendous respect for the sport and the large animal I ride upon. Meaning, I pay extra close attention and I want to get it right as a means of prevention as well as being prepared for potential problems. For example, because of my training, when my horse spooked I was able to redirect the horse, stay balanced and avoid my own panic.
A different event occurred during my Crossfit training. A coach once said that I shouldn’t have a back-up plan (lighter weighted dumbbell nearby) during the WOD because it meant I wasn’t committed. I felt the judgement of my action was deemed unacceptable for it was “short of being perfect.” Baffled by this comment, I gave up the heavier weight and just used the lighter dumbbell so I could be officially “committed” and perfect enough in my performance to get credit. And yet, I remained confused. I simply wanted to be prepared in case I started to feel like I was losing my form with the heavier weight so I could keep going for the WOD by quickly dropping my weight. The presence of lighter weight dumbbell was to prepare my environment in order to prevent an injury. In fact, I perform and commit more readily when I know my environment is prepared so I have confidence in preventing an injury. In all honestly, I rarely switch or lower weight, but I perform better simply knowing it’s there. I Crossfit to remain strong in body and mind (in other words to prepare my health and prevent the risk of potential chronic disease), not for perfect performance required for competition.
I liken these examples to having bandaids in your purse for your young children or an emergency kit for camping or even chains in your car as you drive over the Sierra Nevada pass that often has snow. You hope for the best, but plan for the worst. Either way you must pay attention to the details and information so that you can prepare and prevent a negative outcome.
I can see how my actions to be prepared and actively attempting to prevent injury may be perceived as perfectionism or even a lack of commitment. I urge you to consider and remind myself that outside observations are often wrought with inaccurate and unnecessary judgements, or simply the wrong “P” word.
Perfectionism is unattainable. It’s much like utopia….it simply doesn’t exist. This is why the negative connotation (some call shaming) may even produce an emotional response.
However, prevention and preparedness are attainable in life, especially as it relates to the idea of wellness.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin
My goal personally in how I parent, how I coach, how I teach and how I treat patients is and has always been to consistently prepare the body and mind for life and prevent(reduce risk of) injury and disease. My best work is done in all facets of my life when I am focused on prevention and preparedness. It allows me to be more adaptable to imperfections that come my way. My best varies from day to day for sure. You can count on me to give my best when I show up even if it’s with lighter weight or a few minutes late. No one need ever doubt my commitment to preparing myself and those around me for success and safety. I accept that judgement is a part of life. Our success in whatever we are choosing to do is not an accident. It is not based on a goal for perfectionism. Rather, success is a culmination of preparedness and preventive strategies with a dash of luck.
Before you identify someone as being a perfectionist or try to push them towards perfectionism, ask yourself one question, “Is that the correct “P” word for this situation or this person?”
Focusing on the correct “P” word just may allow you more happiness and wellness in your life.
Remove. Replace. Restore.
Remove external and internal judgement and shame.
Replace with checking your perception of yourself and others.
Restore preparation for an active life while preventing (reducing risk of) injury and illness.
Eat well. Move well. Sleep well. Connect well....to be prepared for health and prevent illness/injury.
Dr Carolyn Dolan DPT, Cert MDT, MSHN
Where physical therapy, nutrition and lifestyle meet, because how you live your life determines whether or not you soar. Inspiring action with information so you can reduce pain, optimize healing and improve function naturally during recovery from injury, surgery or painful condition. This is a website for the open-minded; obstinate need not apply.