Perfectionism and Practice

Today’s guest post is by Laylianah

When I was growing up, I absolutely hated PE (PhysicalEducation)! Of course, there were the obvious reasons: the psychological trauma of having to strip naked in front of your peers at a time when your body image is at it’s most vulnerable, seeing your own feelings of inadequacy being reinforced by being last picked for a team, etc. (Why do we do this to our children?)

But there was one experience in particular I recall that helped to sum up why I hated it, and how it deformed my view of exercise for many years after. It was during a physical fitness test. We had to do as many pushups as we could in one minute. I did the best I could do, and was so proud of myself when I had counted 20 pushups when the teacher called time! Then I heard the teacher say “3”, and he moved on to the next person. Despite being worn out and having done my best, apparently I had only done 3 movements worthy of the title of “Push Up”. My arms begged to differ!

This experience gave me the erroneous impression that imperfection does not count when it comes to physical exercise and movement. If you didn’t do it exactly right, you may as well not have tried at all.

You can imagine how frustrating my first years as a bellydancer were! Yes, I could shimmy for 10 seconds longer than I did yesterday, but that didn’t matter because the teacher on the video could do it for 10 minutes straight at least. If I couldn’t do it for that long, I wasn’t really shimmying. Yes, after a year I was able to do hip circles when that same time the previous year, I had no clue the human body could move that way. But it didn’t matter because they weren’t as pretty as the lady on the video, so I must not be doing them at all.

So, not surprisingly, I was extremely confused when I walked into my first actual class, and the teacher said I was doing a good job. I thought “She’s just being nice! I obviously don’t have it yet because my moves look completely different from hers. I must have been really terrible if she thinks I need this much encouragement!”

As I gained more experience as a dancer and as a teacher, I began to realize that this level of unhealthy perfectionism is really common! However, I also learned that “correct” movement looks different on different bodies and experience levels.

I am one of those cheerleader type instructors. I like people to celebrate their wins! I have been teaching for over 10 years. And during that time, I have become aware of what a particular movement should look like on someone with your experience level. So if I say you are doing a good job, I am not necessarily saying that what you are doing looks exactly like what I am doing….yet. BUT I am not just blowing smoke at you either.

I want to help you understand that practice does make perfect, but what “perfect” looks like will continue to change as you practice. So while your movements may not look to you like what I do (yet), it is still “right”. It still counts.

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