A Coaching Power Tool created by Iliana M Delgado
(Transformational Coaching, USA)
The pursuit of excellence and the need for perfection appear to be closely related. However, it is essential to differentiate them since the emphasis and outcomes they create are measurably different. The disparities lie not so much in the desired goal or conduct intendedbut in the thought process associated with the goal or conduct.
Intrinsic to the need to be perfect is the attitude and/or belief that one must be perfect in order to be acceptable. For a perfectionist, individual self-worth is tied to achievement. And since the achievement goal is perfection, the individual is likely to see himself as a failure when he doesn’t meet the goal. With perfectionism there is not gray area. Everything is either black or white. Reaching perfection in most things is highly unlikely so what is engenderedin the mind of the perfectionist is the thought,
you’re just not good enough.
Also, perfectionism teaches that you cannot to be satisfied with where you are in life, nor be cognizant of your achievements and celebrate your successes.
The perfectionist criticizes herself very harshly, sometimes with words such as,
I’m so stupid or I can’t do anything right.
Many times, not wanting to resort to such severe judgments, the perfectionist prefers to avoid failure, not take risks and even perform at a lower level than she is capable due to the high cost of failure to her self-esteem. She doesn’t attempt things she doesn’t believe she can perform perfectly, since she feels compelled to judge and measure most aspects of her life. That struggle to be perfect focuses attention on what’s wrong or what’s not working instead of what’s good and is working.
To a perfectionist, everyone is a potential critic and so he fears the blame and ridicule of others. And in his mind, everyone is a potential critic. He will tend to avoid feedback fearing it to be negative while simultaneously wanting others to recognize his achievements. It may even be difficult to accomplish tasks that don’t involve some kind of external recognition. In fact, it is not too farfetched to say that perfectionists are fueled by fear: fear of failure, fear of judgment, fear of not being accepted and loved.
As a consequence, perfectionism and procrastination are good friends. Fearing failure as she does, the perfectionist agonizes over doing something imperfectly and may become immobilized by that possibility and fail to act. This inevitably leads to more failure, thus creating a vicious cycle.
Perfectionists expect goals to be achieved immediately. They believe that if they identify a problem, they should be able to solve it immediately. Perfectionists see the goal and nothing else. They’re so concerned with meeting the goal and avoiding the dreaded failure that they can’t enjoy the process of growing and striving. Perfectionist also believe that personal qualities are carved in stone and they possess an urgent need to prove themselves over and over. The pursuit of perfection can serve as a disguise for a deeply seated insecurity. The underlying statement declares,
I’m not enough just as I am.
Perfectionists are constantly judging herself because only by being perfect can they be faultless.
Perfection, as it’s revered and pursued in western culture, is a damaging fabrication. After all, it is simply a myth; a human construct; a marketing ploy. And while it means different things to different people, its pursuit rarely leads to anything other than anxiety, insecurity, self-doubt and misery.
Our entire media culture, especially the element geared towards woman, heavily perpetuates a perfection-based perspective . Women’s magazines are replete with messages of perfection. Every product assumes you’re flawed; and every product promises to get you closer to perfection. But pursuing perfection is an incredibly slippery slope, because no achievment is ever enough. No matter how much she accomplishes, a perfectionist finds it hard to be happy.
In a holistic sense, the only true perfection exists in the present moment. Yet the perfectionist is never present. He is either busy critiquing the past and replaying his every decision or worrying about his future choices. The pursuit of perfection limits his ability to be present and literally robs him of a zest for life. Perfection is unachievable, unimaginable and ultimately undesirable. Does gratitude, mindfulness and contentment in the present moment exist for the perfectionist?
Now if we examine the concept of “striving for excellence”, we will discern a different picture. The pursuit of excellence is the desire to perform tasks and experience life consistently aiming for excellence. It means to achieve at a high level; to be the best that you can be but without the obligatory attachment to the goal or desire. Excellence is about striving to achieve or striving to accomplish the best. It is more a description of a path one travels on towards a goal. Excellence is both realistic and achievable. It teaches you to set realistic goals and work earnestly and diligently to reach them.
Unlike perfectionism, it does not demand a sacrifice of self-esteem as it tends to focus on the process of achievement rather than the result. Therefore goals typically are performance-based rather than achievement based. When you strive for excellence you value yourself independent of your achievement. You place value on the effort or the willingness to try rather than on the attainment of a goal. Whereas the perfectionist sets unreasonable demands and has arbitrary expectations, the pursuer of excellence sets realistic but challenging goals that are clear and specific.
When you strive for excellence you are willing to examine your performance and personal vulnerabilities so as to improve. In the pursuit of excellence, you viewfeedback andadvice as constructive criticism and seek it out. Meanwhile your focus remains on achieving goals to attain personal satisfaction rather than to gain the recognition of others.
The pursuer of excellence recognizes that change occurs with consistent effort over time and has the patience to continue pursuing goals even when immediate change is not evident. Consequently, the pursuer of excellence is often more successful than the perfectionist because she is not paralyzed with fear of failure but is able to enjoy the process, undertaking more risks and goals while increasing the chances of success. The pursuer of excellence risks failure because she recognizes the benefits that occur from taking a risk and finds enjoyment and satisfaction in the pursuit. When your focus is on excellence, there is an internal joy at doing something meaningful, becoming smarter, stronger and more powerful. You focus on things that matter; things that energize you and spur you on. A person striving for excellence can and will be satisfied with doing a great job, even if her very high goals aren’t completely met. There is not sacrifice of self-esteem.
When the pursuit of excellence is the modus operandi , the process of chasing a goal is more appealing than reaching it. You see the value in learning as you move along the road to your goal. You keep your eyes on what’s working well and you extract fuel from your successes.
As coaches we must first believe that we ourselves have value and that the skills we have are also valuable. In learning to forgive ourselves when we make mistakes and using our missteps as strides in a learning process, we can project the perspective of striving for excellence onto our clients and encourage them to recognize their worth, acknowledge their skills and celebrate their successes. In this way the pursuit of excellence becomes a foundation upon which a healthy prosperous life can be built. With sincere acknowledgment, we cheer our clients on and support the highest vision they can manifest for themselves.
Through the use of Appreciative Inquiry techniques, a coach encourages her client to notice and identify what is working. By placing the negative in the background, she focuses on her client’s abilities and her strongest qualities to enhance her view of the future. She can then create with excellence in her endeavors and move forward in the direction of her passions. By asking powerful questions, a technique of Appreciative Inquiry, a coach helps her client to find her strengths to diligently mobilize in the direction of most energy.
Cognitive-behavioral techniques are intended to help a client to understand that it is okay to make mistakes sometimes and that those mistakes can be lessons learned. It asks that you challenge your irrational thoughts and form alternative ways of coping and thinking. Since perfectionism is mostly a result of learning, programming, and conditioning, it is wholly made of mind-your thoughts, feelings, habits and defenses. Identifying perfectionistic, inaccurate, faulty or negative thinking is key in this approach. So a coach using such techniques will encourage his client to think about his behavior in a certain situation and identify an alternative way of viewing the problem. Again powerful questions allow a client to unlock insights and make discoveries. A Client can form new habits of paying attention to his thoughts and emotions as they arise and notice how these impact behavior in order to make change.
Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic Timely
You can attain most any goal you set when you plan your steps judiciously and lay out a time frame that allows you to carry out those steps. This can assist in curtailing procrastination. A goal can be both high and realistic. A high goal is frequently easier to realize than a low one because a low goal exerts low motivational force. Your most difficult jobs can actually seem effortless solely because they are a labor of love. If you anchor any task within a timeframe, e.g. by Jan 15, then you’ve set your unconscious mind into motion towards the goal.
Your goal is probably realistic if you truly believe that it can be accomplished. Additional ways to know if your goal is realistic is to determine if you have done anything similar in the past or ask yourself what conditions would have to exist to accomplish this goal.
Life is less stressful and more aligned with absolute TRUTH when we are more conscious of ourselves in the present moment. Perfectionism is largely bound to past events and messages. As coaches, we can engage in mindfulness practices to help us enter the right frame of mind before a session and tame any perfectionistic tendencies of our own. A mindfulness practice can help us see our own thoughts and emotions as well as the perspectives and experiences that will obscure our effectiveness as objective listeners. At the same time we can invite our clients to pause, take a deep breath and notice what they are experiencing—their inner critic and all other chatter as they learn to accept life as it is. Mindfulness can become a tool to support you on your life journey. It will hearten you when you bump into some imperfection and help you remember who you really are and what you are not. Mindfulness can dispel the clouds of illusion as you journey on. We can remind our clients where they are on their path and help them to get their expectations back on the realistic track.
In conclusion, let us consider that a perfectionist chooses, in effect, to reject reality. To overcome perfectionism it is necessary to accept reality for what it is at any given moment. For if perfection is a state beyond improvement, then every moment, by definition, is perfect. So let us assume the definition of perfection to include the ordinary perfection of what is. The present is already perfect, let us accept that so that we may transform the future through the lens of excellence.