Working With Perfection
When dealing with performance enhancement it is important to distinguish between maladaptive and adaptive perfectionistic tendencies. For students, athletes, and executives targeting goals of exceptionally high standards is a constant variable. High levels of precision are expected of certain high achievement tasks (for instance, in the case of a surgeon or pilot). Therefore the pursuit of perfection is in this cases highly adaptive and necessary. The pursuit of perfect performance is not in and of itself a sign of maladaptive perfectionism when the individual is seeking performance perfection or high achievements.
On the other hand, a central feature of maladaptive perfectionism is that it impedes performance. It is defined as the tendency to set excessively high performance standards combined with a tendency to make overly critical self-evaluations with a low tolerance for failure. When maladaptive perfectionism is associated with procrastination, suicidal ideation, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and higher rates of burnout, neurotic or maladaptive perfectionism can be debilitating.
The term “performance perfection” was coined by Linda M. Mainwaring to differentiate adaptive efforts for high achievement and mastery from “perfectionism”, which is maladaptive and interferes with the individual’s mental health and goals. Typically, when individuals seek psychological intervention for performance enhancement, they are seeking consistency in their achievement, higher levels of skill and learning to manage the obstacles to performance perfection. Our work in those cases is that of assisting the individual achieve the level of mastery and achievement that they are seeking.
In sum, the desirable aspects of perfection performance is that they correlate highly with striving for achievement and mastery, mental preparation, confidence, motivation to achieve, enhanced focus and the ability to peak when under pressure. Perfection performance also correlates highly with the ability to recover from mistakes, to learn but not engage in excessive self-doubt.
Elite athletes and professionals typically have high levels of adaptive perfectionism and the work that we do serves to enhance those aspects of performance perfection that increases confidence, enjoyment and high achievements.