Posted by on March 9, 2020

There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. Leonard CohenAnthem.

At its root, perfectionism isn’t really about a deep love of being meticulous. It’s about fear. Fear of making a mistake. Fear of disappointing others. Fear of failure. Fear of success.”  Michael Law 

During a recent kids’ self-defense class, students were working on striking combinations. At one point, one of the students, a 6-year old girl made a mistake.

“Oh, I made a mistake.” She said. “Oh well,” she smiled shrugging “that’s how we get better.”  She then proceeded, unfazed, uninhibited, and continued to improve.  

I was impressed! Many kids, and more adults, make a mistake then apologize to their partner or the instructor. Some berate themselves, expecting or wanting perfection. Our young student demonstrated self-improvement (or healthy striving), something different and healthier than perfectionism. 

One of the more revered experts on perfectionism, Brene Brown, offers a clear distinction between the two.

Perfectionism, is, at its core, about trying to earn approval and acceptance. Most perfectionists were raised being praised for achievement and performance (grades, etc..)… Healthy striving is self-focused-How can I improve? Perfectionism is other-focused- What will they think? (56)

In Krav Maga training you will make mistakes. Many mistakes! It is impossible not too. Shame-based perfection will hold you back as you will be afraid of making more, something Brown calls “perfection paralysis.” You avoid being creative in your strikes or defenses, are reluctant to try new techniques, or working with different partners. In the process, you miss opportunities to improve

“We all, Brown writes, “have some perfectionist tendencies.” (58). I have played hockey since I was five. My mood after a game, and my self-esteem, was directly linked to my on-ice performance. I was elated if I played well, miserable if I was horrible. On the ice, a fear of mistakes hindered my performance as I worried about making more mistakes. 

In short, I lacked the insight of our 6-year old student. 

Of course, you should focus and work hard and we all prefer to excel rather than not. However, when you make a mistake you don’t have to apologize to your instructor or your training partner. Most importantly you don’t have to beat yourself up.  

As a wise 6-year-old once told me, “That’s how we get better.”  

Brene Brown, The Gift of Imperfection. Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.  Center City, Minnesota: Hazelton, 2010

Image by John Hain from Pixabay


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