Learning new stuff for perfectionists and people with performance anxiety
Learning new stuff for perfectionists and people with performance anxiety

Today I started something new. After a lot of postponing, doubt and stress, that is. I started a 3 month course. Started is a really big word here, because I did not do anything yet, I only enrolled, payed and downloaded the course material.

And there you have it, my first fallacy. I did a lot already actually! I enrolled and I paid. That decision is made! And, 1.000 euro course fee is a good motivation to really do it.

A thin line

I’m a perfectionist and I have fear of failing. Perfectionism and performance anxiety are very similar in definition and form. Perfectionism is the need to do everything 100 percent right, from the start. Performance anxiety is the fear to fail, to not succeed or not do well. Where perfectionism ends and performance anxiety begins is hard to tell. It’s a thin line. But both are dysfunctional and cause a lot of avoidance behaviors and stress.

A barrier to grow

My perfectionism and performance anxiety have already caused me a lot of not started or unfinished experiences. And when I do try something new, I often cannot enjoy it. I do not even give myself a chance to discover if it could be something I would enjoy or even be good at. Because I simply do not have, or give myself, the space to feel what the new thing is doing to me; if I like it or not. No, I am busy finding out how it should be done, what the definition of being good at it is.


Oh, how often did I leave these situations with a screaming headache, with tears, with sweating armpits, with excuses, never to return again. Always that huge disappointment in myself. Always the fear of judgment of others. And the ever present thought that when I fail, I fail as a person. I fail this live. A very large dramatic thought, that comes with a lot of pain and sadness. But, apart from all this lost energy, the pain and stress, I deny myself self-discovery, growth and just plain joy. And I do not want that. That is too much to give up on.

Practical tips to overcome perfectionism and performance anxiety

Recognize any of it? When yes, I have bad and good news for you. Let’s start with bad. I am still like this. My head is not always where it needs to be, or where I want it to be. The good news, though, is, it is so much better already! My wish to grow and to fight the pain in my life has always been bigger than the fear and the perfectionism. You can help yourself. I want to share some practical tips with you.

  1. Use your avoidance and or postponing behaviour! This sounds like utopia, but it is for real! If there is something you are good at, it postponing and avoiding to start something. Use this ‘trait’ and create a schedule. Draw, write, color. Do what you like to create a schedule.
  2. A schedule is also useful for something else. With a schedule you can subdivide a larger task into many little and more clear tasks. Because performance anxiety causes us to fear the large end result. It is often vague and an enormous stress source. So many things can go wrong and you can fall so hard. Smaller and clear tasks bring along smaller risks. Checking off tasks accomplished, moreover, make you feel more trust every time. It will give you confidence, self-confidence, to take the next step. A nice bonus.
  3. Write down your perfectionist and anxious thoughts and challenge them. Write down an alternative too. For example, like I did above in the course situation. I thought I had not done anything yet, but I took a big step already by enrolling. The moment I challenged my thought, if felt proud, and it gave me energy to take the next step. Another thought you can challenge is, for example, ‘What if I cannot do it?’. You can challenge this thought to ‘What if I can do it?’ or you can answer the thought ‘So what? What happens when you cannot do it? You will find another way, or another thing, there are many roads that lead to Rome.’ In this way you are making a conscious effort to change.  
  4. Practice! Expose yourself to, for you, small risks. Asking someone for help, for example. Or give your opinion in a group. And see what happens. Learn that it will not always be such a disaster as your fear is trying to portray it to you. And maybe it will even be very positive. Write down for yourself what the result of you trying was. Was it bad? Was it good? Why? How could things be better next time?
  5. Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge your feelings. Your fears. Your pain. They are there. Give them attention, take breaks, take it more slow, and decide every time what you want to do and how you want to go on. You are in control. You decide how you want to grow and at what pace. And, also very important, celebrate your successes! Remind yourself that you can do hard things! Go for it!

My goal is to keep growing. Growing represents happiness! I think everybody feels happy when they grow as a person, when you accomplish something. When you start facing and challenging your fears, you already are a winner!

X Bouwke

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NiceDay Writer. Organizational and work psychologist. I love nature, traveling and photography. I like to move and exercise, especially tennis, pilates / yoga and walking. With my story I am committed to more openness about mental health and I want to reduce stigmas around these topics. You can find me on Instagram: I am one Movement and backpackingbouwke and on Twitter: @iambouwke

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