Inspired by this Olympic headline of Michael Phelps’ record breaking 20th and 21st gold medals on Tuesday, I reflected back to this weekend’s powerfully delivered message on sloth by Shawn Williams, part of series entitled The Seven Deadly Sins. Riding the rhythmic waves of Maurice Ravel’s orchestral movement “Bolero” this morning, watching a hummingbird perched on a treetop while sipping coffee from my favorite Cafe Du Monde mug out back, I pondered the following question: What, if any, is the connection between perfectionism, performance, and sloth? Are there areas in my life where I let these dispositions get out of balance? Let’s discover together.
Every couple of years, we have the opportunity to be heartened by the world’s top performing athletes in a variety of disciplines, competing in the game of their lives for a chance to earn the coveted symbol of recognition, the gold medal. Or maybe they compete for competition’s sake. The way a bird sings because it has a song, and the way writers share stories because their internal experiences beg for cathartic release. The amount of pre-televised event blood, sweat, and training tears pass largely unnoticed by the viewing public. I have a deep sense of appreciation for the athletes, and the level of dedication it required to get to the Olympic arena in the first place. What does it take to perform at this kind of level? What is inside of them compelling this passionate drive?
Webster’s dictionary defines perfectionism as: ” A predilection for setting extremely high standards and being displeased with anything less; an instance of excellence”. Are Olympic athletes perfectionists by nature or just high performers? Perfectionism is a highly researched topic and the overwhelming majority of evidence presents it in a negative light. Perfectionism creates an impenetrable, hard-edged shadow around its victims , like an insect trapped in a spider web, leading to anxiety and depression.
There is strong evidence suggesting a deep, shared desire by Olympic athletes torwards achieving excellence, as well as a presumption of willingly sacrificing a sense of normalcy for a life characterized by disciplined eating, training, and sleeping schedules. Do athletes have feelings of isolation? Do they wonder if it’s all worth it in the end, despite the results on the scoreboard? Do we suffer from perfectionism at times, hindering our ability to move forward, preventing the innate joy and freedom in taking chances and falling softly on the clouds of grace, carried by wings of courage? Is it perfectionism or performance that has brought us to our current place? Are we content in this place?
Performance mentality, rather than perfectionist mentality, writes Sharon Gilmour-Glover, co-founder of Light-Core allows for self-growth, and recognizes a job well done by others. Having a performance mentality means we continually strive to do a better job, while being inspired by others. Failure, and fear of it, inhibits our growth at high levels of competition, Sharon writes. It may serve in low levels of competition, encouraging us onward, but becomes an adversary when we are surrounded by a tougher, higher-caliber playing field. Olympic athletes must adopt performance mentalities in order to compete at the highest levels. Embracing a performance mentality means we are actively learning, and allowing grace to fill the steps or missteps along our path like shining stars illuminating the universe.
One the polar opposite side of the spectrum of perfectionism is our two or three-toed friend, Sloth.
While the sloth looks cute and cuddly, his characteristicly slow nature lures us in like a sticky trap catching us if we are not on guard. Sloth, viewed through the life application lens, means choosing the easiest route, rather than fighting for what is best. Sloth breeds inactivity. It clings to complacency. Sloth is the nemesis of performance and antithesis of perfection.
I loved Shawn’s points on Sunday:
“Sloth is about playing it easy, versus accepting the invitation towards greatness.
Sloth is inaction towards the most important thing God wants us to do. It causes us to pass over needs, avoid reconciling relationships, and keeps us from vulnerability.
Sloth leaves us with feelings of emptiness, a dullness of heart, rendering us spiritually apathetic. Spiritual growth is not found in our comfort zones. It happens in the places where we take risks, stepping out of our comfort and becoming wholly dependent on God. This is when He does the greatest work in us and our journey.”
See the connection? If perfectionism prevents progress, performance moves us in a forward direction guided by our positive inspirations, and sloth locks us in chains of contentment with status quo, what is the thread tying these three together?
It takes courage to find the landing-place of grace. Courage to have faith. We must have courage to release perfection’s vice-like grip, courage to positively support others while trusting in our own rising talent, and courage to check in with ourselves occasionally to assure we are not falling into sloth’s unproductive, non fruit-bearing way of life.
We have the opportunity to perform daily, to carry out great acts of kindness, and risk taking steps of incredible courage. Performance can be as easy as giving your smile unconditionally to strangers, offering two armed hugs to everyone you meet, or making the best darn bowl of spaghetti you know how to for your family. Our performance, less it be doomed from the start, should not be measured against the ultra elite or ideal standard, sending us into a sloth-like state when we don’t measure up.
Our performance, rather, is to be embraced in the present moment, in what Dan Sullivan, founder of the Strategic Coach refers to as the Reverse Gap Concept – looking at where we are now, compared to where we were, enjoying the progress we have already made rather than looking ahead at what we have not yet accomplished.
Rather than allowing ourselves to go through life, let’s allow life to go through us!
Has watching the Olympics impacted your thought process? Have a thought you would like to share, please leave in the comments! I would love to hear form you!