#70: Q&A: The Difference Between Perfectionism and Healthy Striving

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What’s the difference between perfectionism and healthy striving? 

It appears that there is a narrow line that separates the two, and many mothers have asked the same question. This is a great question because I have yet to meet a female athlete who does not suffer from perfectionism in some way. And a lot of athletes mistakenly believe that perfectionism is the reason they are good at their sport, but this is a myth. Perfectionism does not make anyone great at their sport since it always comes at a price.

Yes, it can lead to some positive outcomes, but it always comes at the expense of their mental, emotional, and long-term development. And we see so many athletes who self-identify as perfectionists burnout in their sport.

In this episode, we’ll discuss the differences between them.

Many of these principles are based on Brené Brown’s study. She spends a lot of time discussing the distinction between perfectionism and healthy striving.

It’s the same framework that The Elite Competitor Program uses. Perfectionism is the topic of module seven. We work with athletes to figure out what they’re going through and where they stand in terms of perfectionism and healthy striving. Then we provide them a framework for shifting toward healthy striving and letting go of perfectionism as a safety net.


Let’s start with the concept of perfectionism. Perfectionism serves as a protective shield. It’s a shield that protects athletes from being seen as well as the dread of failing. When it comes down to it, perfectionists’ self-worth and achievement (or lack thereof) are often linked to their confidence.

So, how they feel about themselves and how they think others feel about them is related to what they do, perform, or put forth on the court or field. Perfectionism is very concerned with “others.” So, as  Brené Brown puts it, it’s the underlying concern about “what they’ll think”. Athletes try to be flawless because they are afraid of what others think of them. The underlying concern is that they will not be seen as worthy if they fail, screw up, make a mistake, or miss the aim.

Their feeling of self-worth and self-esteem come from achieving, performing, and being the best. As a result, they become athletes who establish demands that are beyond reason. It’s the all-or-nothing mentality. “I either have to be the best in scoring the most or not at all,” they say.

Perfectionist athletes are never happy with anything less than excellence. It’s as though everything hinges on the outcome.

They’re also focused on anxieties of failure and other people’s rejection. They consider mistakes to be a sign of unworthiness. When they are chastised, they become quite protective. When they receive feedback, they frequently take it personally.

Athletes who are prone to perfectionism actually might struggle with procrastination and missing deadlines. As a result, you might notice this in your daughters’ athletics or academics.

Healthy Striving

Let’s take a look at what healthy striving entails. So it’s a whole different scenario when it comes to healthy striving, and having high expectations.

Healthy striving is something we see in athletes who set high but achievable goals. The emphasis is on how an athlete can improve. As a result, rather than being “others” focused, it’s all highly self-focused.

How can I improve? How can I take this as constructive criticism to improve? It’s all about the process that will bring me to the desired conclusion, rather than having these extremely strict outcome goals.

In The Elite Competitor Program, we discuss:

  • How to break down a major goal into smaller portions 
  • Focus on the process rather than the outcome with athletes 

An athlete who is a volleyball player, for example, could wish to get 15 points. We shift our focus away from the result and onto the process. “I need to be available for every set, and I need to call for every set,” for example. Healthy striving in athletes is about appreciating both the process and the end result. So it’s not only about ignoring the end result; it’s also about enjoying the journey to get there.

Healthy striving views mistakes as learning opportunities. Positively reacting to constructive criticism.

It’s about being curious and being receptive to feedback since it will help the athlete improve and achieve new goals.

Moving towards healthy striving

As mothers, we can do a few things to assist athletes in their pursuit of a healthy lifestyle. Athletes are very aware of what you pay praise and acknowledge. As a result, we must ensure that:

  • We are not solely focused on outcomes
  • We distinguish between who they are and what they perform in their sport

They must be assured that you love them and that they are deserving of your affection regardless of their performance. They may put on the best show of their lives, or they could completely fail out there. And it makes no difference how much you adore them.

In the end, your daughter must be able to detect perfectionism in herself and have the resources she can use to make the switch to healthy striving.

That’s exactly what we teach athletes in The Elite Competitor Program how to:

  • Recognize perfectionism in themselves 
  • Shift their focus to healthy striving rather than perfectionism
  • Be free to let go of their safety net

Recently, I was checking in with the moms on how the athletes were doing. And one mom said,

“The latest module about perfectionism was so beneficial. If my daughter can implement these skills, it will change her whole life.” And I think what that mother stated is really impactful when athletes can see it. “Oh, my god, I’m a perfectionist, and this is actually preventing me from achieving my objectives.”

When they have the tools to shift, to assist these drivers, that’s when it really, truly comes together.

Perfectionism is something that focuses on “others” and the outcome. It often leads to self-doubt, low self-esteem, and depression.

Healthy striving is focused on the “self”, the process, and how to enhance the athlete’s abilities rather than the outcome.

Help your daughter move towards healthy striving, it doesn’t only help her develop in sports, but in all aspects of her life as well. 


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