A Coaching Power Tool Created by Sarah Hurst
(Health and Wellness Coaching, UNITED STATES)
If you look for perfection, you’ll never be content. Leo Tolstoy (Anna Karenina)
The inspiration behind this power tool is the concept of continually striving for perfection and delaying being happy or content until we achieve it in one or more areas of our lives. We may also associate self-worth with achieving perfection, believing that self-worth will automatically increase once we are perfect. In the perfection mindset, once we set ourselves a goal we believe we’ll be happy when we have achieved it. This therefore implies that we are not giving ourselves permission to be happy in the interim.
the state of being complete and correct in every way
To give an example of approaching a goal with a perfection mindset, let’s consider a client who has weight loss as their goal. They are unhappy with the way they look and believe they will be happy when they have lost the desired amount of weight. The client then goes on a diet to achieve this goal as quickly as possible. In the mean time the client feels bad about his/her body and therefore does not make self-care a priority or will notbuy themselves any new clothes because they are waiting until they are ‘perfect’ in order to enjoy those things. They also might neglect their own self-esteem, believing that losing the weight will automatically improve this.
It can be very difficult to work towards achieving a goal while maintaining the required levels of motivation when you are unhappy or feeling bad about yourself. In the example above, because the client is denying themselves certain foods, a ‘deprivation’ mindset could easily set in. This state of deprivation requires willpower which is very difficult to maintain for the long term. A small setback might be a trigger for the client to give up, invoking feelings of failure and negativity.
If the client manages to achieve the desired weight loss by dieting and then declares themselves ‘happy’, is this really true? Will their mindset suddenly shift to the happy state if their own feelings of self worth are not addressed? What have they learned along the way to enable them to maintain their weight loss in the longer term?
The perceived benefit to the client for maintaining the perfection mindset could be based around their belief that once they are perfect everything else in their life will fall into place.
movement to an improved or more developed state
An alternative perspective on achieving goals could be to value progress over perfection. This approach, as the definition of progress above suggests, involves moving towards an improved state. We all have things we could improve upon, no-one is perfect after all, and by focusing on the journey and continuous improvement rather than the destination we can acknowledge and value ourselves for how far we have come.
In the progress mindset we feel good about ourselves now and, even though we can acknowledge there is always room for improvement, we appreciate ourselves at every incremental step towards our goal.
A good place to start might be to consider our own level of self-esteem. If self-esteem is low we might find ourselves continually striving for perfection, believing that when we achieve it our self-esteem will improve. Believing we need to change in order to increase self-esteem could have a detrimental effect in the longer term.
Breaking down a goal into smaller tasks for ourselves makes the goal feel more achievable and gives us reason to celebrate along the way as we achieve something and make progress. Journaling can be a great way to measure our progress and to see how far we have come.
If we are being mindful we are more likely to be living in the now rather than putting off living our lives until we have achieved perfection. This enables us to be present and reflective as we make progress.
Acknowledging ourselves for what we have achieved can be hugely beneficial in changing our mindset from perfection to progress. If we can appreciate ourselves for learning new habits and behaviors we are more likely to make changes that last. By reflecting on our progress we can feel good about ourselves now rather than waiting until the goal is achieved and delaying our own happiness.
How as coaches can we support our clients through this process?
Firstly, clarifying the goal with the client is key alongside an exploration of the motivation(s) behind it. Why do they want to achieve it? How will their life be different when they have achieved it? Is it in line with their values and beliefs? Also, ask the client what they have tried in the past to understand their previous experiences. If they have tried and not succeeded, what happened?
This leads in nicely to an exploration of the client’s values and beliefs. Are there any limiting beliefs at play here, i.e. believing they aren’t good enough and need to change in order to be good enough? If this is the case then further exploration around self esteem would be beneficial.
Working with the client to set small, achievable goals with associated action steps will ensure they can measure the progress they are making on a regular basis. Regular achievements may help to keep motivation and self-esteem high.
Once action steps have been agreed upon, subsequent coaching sessions may be used to discuss the client’s progress and any obstacles can be identified. What has worked? What hasn’t worked? How could they have handled things differently? What have they learned from this experience? Identifying what the client has learned may help them to start seeing their ownprogress as they become more self-aware. Possible structures can then be explored with the client to determine how they might be put in place to support them in overcoming any further obstacles.
Reflection forms a key part of this process on an ongoing basis. We are often so focused on the future we forget to celebrate how far we have come. Explore ways in which the client might keep focus on their progress. Enabling the client to acknowledge the progress they have made rather than beating him/herself up for not achieving perfection will underpin the shift from the perfection to the progress mindset.
- Consider any goals you are currently working towards, are they underpinned by a perfection mindset?
- Are there any areas of your life you are aware of where you seek perfection? Why these areas specifically?
- Can you identify how the process of achieving a goal in the past has changed you as a person rather than the achievement of the goal itself? How could this experience benefit your clients?
- As a coach, what are some powerful questions you could ask your client to move them towards celebrating their progress rather than striving for perfection?
- What tools do you use to measure your own progress and how might you use these to support your clients?