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It’s that time of year!
A new barrel racing season is under way and “inner perfectionists” everywhere (who may have been laying low throughout the winter months) are rearing their ugly heads!
No, it ain’t pretty. And when it happens, our riding sessions and our runs aren’t likely to be either. Unfortunately, the damaging effects of having unrealistically high expectations of ourselves and our horses go well beyond the arena.
It’s not that being a perfectionist is necessarily a bad thing, but it’s easy to take it too far.
If you can relate to any of the statements below, you might be a perfectionist.
- You suffer from “paralysis by analysis” and hesitate, question or second-guess yourself.
- You ride just a little bit different in public then you do at home.
- You compare yourself and your achievements to other barrel racers.
- You prefer to ride alone verses in a group.
- You’re either quick to point out your flaws, OR you rarely, if ever admit to them.
- You get extremely nervous before a run.
- Thoughts of what you said, did, or how you performed consume your mind.
- Your riding at speed lacks fluidity; having good timing is challenging.
- You make assumptions about what other people think of you, assuming it’s negative.
- Competition triggers an unexpected and unpleasant roller coaster of emotions.
- You expect a lot from your horses and tend to over work, train or drill them.
- You put unrealistically high demands on yourself to perform well.
- You have a hard time receiving criticism or get emotional when you do.
- Sometimes you find it hard to find the motivation to really focus on your barrel racing.
- You’d rather avoid situations where you’re the central focus of other people’s attention.
- You safety up or hesitate to “leave it all in the arena” in a competitive run.
- You find preparing yourself and your horse for competition to be stressful.
- You’ve been working hard for years, but still haven’t achieved your barrel racing goals.
The desperate drive to be PERFECT is not just crippling, it’s also very common.
It’s no wonder barrel racers succumb to this because for many of us, our livelihoods, at least in part, depend on how we perform. Not only does a portion of our income depend on our results, but so does our reputation, which has the power to dramatically impact our success in the barrel racing business.
Outside of that, it’s simply human nature to want the approval of others.
From the beginning of time our brains have been wired to seek acceptance. In caveman days, anyone who was not part of “the tribe” wasn’t likely to survive. Although a sense of belonging is still very important for overall health and well-being, the primal part of our mind that once worked in our favor isn’t quite as necessary now that we’re no longer risking life and limb just to see the next sunrise.
The overwhelming feeling that we NEED to win OR ELSE can seem very real, no doubt. However, it’s one thing to strive for perfection, and yet another thing entirely to convince ourselves that we HAVE TO achieve it.
Extreme pressure to perform well tends to bring out the worst in humans. Depending in large part on our innate personality characteristics, we’ll tend to handle it in one of two ways – either we’ll over-do or under-do. Either our “inner perfectionist” will bring out the predator in us wanting to over-ride and make things happen with our horses, OR we may start to feel hopeless, lose steam, and skip riding all together.
Whether we tend to morph into overdrive or retreat into the shadows, the truth is that our extreme “need” to be perfect isn’t entirely based on reality, and it certainly isn’t healthy.
Let’s face it – horses don’t respond well to fear and intimidation and they certainly aren’t going to prepare themselves to run barrels. On top of that, the emotional state that overwhelming perfectionism contributes to isn’t exactly conducive to winning.
Underneath the symptoms mentioned above, extreme perfectionism is simply a form of FEAR. It’s not a superficial or obvious “I’m scared of the dark” fear, but a deep subconscious type of fear. It’s essentially based on an unhealthy desire to perform based on reasoning that’s skewed.
It’s not so much that we feel as though we HAVE to perform well, it’s that we’re terrified of NOT performing well. When our perfectionism reaches this level, we’re driven by avoidance vs. desire.
“Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing being wrong.” – Peter McIntyre
The fear of failing has the absolute power to HALT barrel racing success. You may or may not literally blank out or freeze up, but you will tend to hold back. You’ll hesitate, sometimes subconsciously or ever so slightly – just enough for you to continue wondering WHY you keep spinning your wheels.
If you enter a barrel race already questioning your ability and lacking self-confidence, then the reality of a poor performance, which matches your existing thoughts and feelings, is terrifying proof that your beliefs may be true! When our mind spins out of control in this way, more often than not we become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Because our fear is in large part created by our experiences and then the stories we’ve repeatedly told ourselves, dissolving it is possible in much the same way.
To free yourself from the trap of perfectionism, it’s important first and foremost to acknowledge it, and then take intentional action.
It’s helpful to understand WHY we have these tendencies, which I’ve shared above. The next step is to take a look under the layers of your specific perfectionistic tendencies, which provide additional guidance for moving forward.
Are you driven by a desire to be respected and look good in the eyes of others?
Are you driven by a need to stay financially afloat? Perhaps both?
Is it possible that you don’t have a firm enough foundation of self-confidence?
Is barrel racing actually a ‘search for significance’ for you?
What’s REALLY underneath your desire to be perfect?
What’s underneath even further?
This varies a bit with each individual. Just like when we find resistance in our horses, when we come across a feeling pointing to something in our own emotional foundation being amiss, we can’t avoid it or put a band-aid over it – we need to identify it, dig in, work through and dissolve it. It doesn’t do us any good to sweep it under the rug.
In cases of fear, simply continuing to stretch oneself – to just keep entering anyway is a good start. But this isn’t the be-all end-all. Sometimes overcoming perfectionism isn’t that easy, sometimes it requires some heavy duty inner work.
After all, what happens in the arena isn’t only about the obvious things you can see. So much of our success depends on our mental game, our emotional fitness – the stuff you can’t always see, but you can certainly FEEL and has a HUGE impact on our results.
The most important step in the process of overcoming perfectionism comes by simply being reminded of the TRUTH. Writer, researcher, and educator Brené Brown sums it up so well that I’ve shared several of her quotes below…
“Sufficiency isn’t two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It isn’t a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough.”
“Perfectionism is self destructive simply because there’s no such thing as perfect. Perfection is an unattainable goal.”
“Healthy striving is self-focused: ‘How can I improve,’ Perfectionism is other-focused: ‘What will they think.'”
“If we can’t stand up to the ‘never good enough’ and ‘who do you think you are?’ we can’t move forward.”
“Worthiness doesn’t have prerequisites.”
“Wholehearted living is about engaging with our lives from a place of worthiness. It means cultivating the courage, compassion and connection to wake up in the morning and think, ‘No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.’ It’s going to bed at night thinking, ‘Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”
“When we can let go of what other people think and own our story, we gain access to our worthiness—the feeling that we are enough just as we are and that we are worthy of love and belonging.”
What it comes down to, is that we are ALL enough just because we ARE, not because of what we DO. No level of achievement in the arena is going to make us more worthy as human beings.
Even NFR barrel racers have extremely disappointing runs. Barrel racing is much too humbling (for everyone) to let perfectionism hold us back. Failure is only feedback. When something doesn’t go well, it’s just a temporary indicator that we need to make an adjustment (which may require outer work as well), but it’s not a permanent reflection of our ability, or our horse’s.
A foundation of confidence must be developed and exist independently of our performance, or the inevitable lows we experience will have a way of keeping us low and bringing us even lower, which isn’t sustainable.
If you must concern yourself with the opinions of others, make it that of your Creator – the one who created you to be perfect in His eyes just as you are, and secondly – your horse! When you know you are enough, and strive to do good in their eyes, and use that as your gauge, success will be the inevitable result.
Even in times of perceived failure, there are great victories to be celebrated. It all depends on how you look at it.
I certainly admit to not being perfect. In fact, my writing contains typos! But I’m doing the work God put me on this Earth to do, which is to achieve high level barrel racing success and help others do the same.
I plan to keep reaching for perfection, knowing that the only healthy way to do so is by also acknowledging that “PERFECT” an illusion.
If I never feel the fear of imperfection come up, it’s probably a sign that I’m not venturing far enough outside of my comfort zone, but it’s also likely that I need to return to or dive even deeper into special resources that remind me of the TRUTH, which I love doing every morning with inspirational reading.
It’s a fear-filled world we live in. Doing big things and putting ourselves out there requires us to continuously strengthen our inner foundation.
My morning reading is an absolutely crucial, non-negotiable part of my day that helps me stay centered. It’s a way to constantly remind myself of the perspectives and truths that can be so easy to forget.
Barrel racers in general are very driven individuals.
I know I’ll continue to push myself to be the very best, but I am committed to doing so for the right reasons – not out of fear of lack, or because I feel I have to prove myself, or to fill an inner void, but to refine and express gratitude for the gifts, passions and talents I’ve been given.
When the reason WHY we push ourselves is in alignment we’ll have balance, peace and success. This doesn’t mean there won’t be challenges, hard work, and moments of fear, but that we won’t allow fear to hold us back.
“Perfectionism is not the same thing has striving to be your best. Perfectionism is the belief that if we live perfect, look perfect, and act perfect, we can minimize or avoid the pain of blame, judgment, and shame. It’s a shield. It’s a twenty-ton shield that we lug around thinking it will protect us when, in fact, it’s the thing that’s really preventing us from flight.” – Brené Brown
So do you tend to over-do or under-do as a ‘barrel racing perfectionist?’
Are YOU ready to drop the shield of perfectionism and let your barrel horse FLY?
Let’s hear it in the comments below!
Also watch for The Confident Barrel Racer e-book to be available in print later this year!
Enjoy even more life lessons from the exciting adventures of barrel racing book writing…