Mean Ol’ Mr. Perfectionist

My mouth is dry, I am already nervous and I still have about 8 hours before my presentation.

You would think after 2 years of grad school, I would be fairly comfortable with presentations by now. But, I’m not. I am certainly less nervous than I used to be, but that old friend, Mr. Perfectionist, always shows up right before my presentations.

Because of Mr. Perfectionist, I work very hard on my presentations, and rehearse them until I feel prepared. During my rehearsals, everything sounds great. So what the heck happens when I get in front of the class? The same words that I knew by heart have been replaced with Mr. Perfectionist’s words. His words aren’t usually kind-more like, “Wow, did you really just say that?”, and “Nobody cares what you are talking about” , and even “This presentation isn’t even close to what your professor wanted.”

I don’t like Mr. Perfectionist, but he has been a part of my life forever, so I have learned that if I forcefully tell him to shut up, I can usually silence his negativity.

I imagine this is similar to when counselors teach their clients new communication skills. The clients likely practice and become proficient in the new skills during session, but do the new skills ALWAYS generalize to our clients’ lives? I would be willing to bet the answer is no.

Obviously when we learn new skills we must practice them, but it is much harder to apply these skills when we are not in the comfortable environment of home, or the counselor’s office. It is very easy to slip back into our previously learned communication methods, or to let our automatic thoughts (Mr. Perfectionist) be in control.

When clients return and are upset that they haven’t mastered their new communication skills when in their natural environments, we must be supportive and indicate that perfection is not the goal. What is most important is that the client tried. They likely had success in some areas, but are too distraught by their failure to see that. New skills will not be mastered or even comfortable immediately. We give children plenty of leeway when they are learning new skills, so why do we adults expect to master new skills without any setbacks? We should let our clients know failure is to be expected when learning and applying something new. Even when failure occurs, if we can look back and truthfully state that we have done the best we can do, then we should be happy with the progress that we have made.

We must commit to doing the best we can everyday, and not beat ourselves up when things don’t go exactly as planned or rehearsed.

As for me, I will kick Mr. Perfectionist to the curb with some relaxing music today. No matter what transpires, in 9 hours my presentation will be over and I will have done my best. That’s good enough for me.

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