I really enjoyed this article on the upside and downside of perfectionism: Is Perfectionism Growth-Minded? Here’s a tidbit:
According to Dweck, the research says there might be two kinds of perfectionism, and those two ways of behaving have drastically different outcomes for people both in accomplishing their goals and in how they feel about themselves. One kind of perfectionist tends to agree with statements like: “People will think less of me if I make a mistake;” and, “A partial failure is as bad as a complete failure.” Another kind of perfectionist agrees with these statements: “I try to do my best in everything I do.” “I am driven to be excellent.” “I strive for high standards.” In these responses we can hear echoes of the person-focused vs. process-focused fixed and growth mindsets.
In the past, I’ve tended to think of perfectionism in purely negative terms — as just the “perfectionism monster.” However, in light of the horse training that I’m doing here in Aiken, I’ve been rethinking that view, along very similar lines to the article.
In my riding, my explicit goal is to achieve “best practice” most of the time, and that requires having very high standards and not accepting less. So if I shouldn’t transition to canter unless I have a damn good walk, and I shouldn’t approach that fence unless I have the kind of canter I need. I don’t ever want to just slop through what I’m doing: either I do it seriously and well or not at all. That’s the approach of the amazing coach we’ve been working with, Eric Horgan, and I can already see the huge benefits of his approach. Plus, he’s perfectionistic in that way without ever being unrealistic or belligerent. (He does threaten to kill us on a regular basis, but only in a very friendly way!)
That kind of growth-oriented perfectionism need not come with beating myself up for mistakes, seeking to show off for others, hating to admit ignorance, or any of the other problems of the fixed mindset. (I’m still doing the first, but I’m working on it. Eric has been very kindly discouraging that.) Instead, this growth-oriented perfectionism requires a heck of a lot of patience. The goal isn’t just to get it done, but to wait until you’re properly prepared to do it right. Oh, you’ll need endurance too, because you’ll still make mistakes left and right.
Basically, I’m thinking of “perfectionism” as more of a moral amplifier — with an upside and a downside, depending on how and when it’s deployed — rather than as a vice or failure mode. That’s not a fully settled view: I’ll be thinking more about this as this month in Aiken draws to a close and once I return home. Still, I thought that tidbit worth sharing now.