Perfectionism Destroys Success

Perfectionism Destroys Success

hunter, jumpers, showjumping, eventing, perfectionism
Vicky Weaver, Canadian Ambassador for the Elite, Int'l Equestrian Bootcamp.


I was VERY excited to talk to my equestrian client, Robin (not her real name), after her second championship ribbon since we have been working together, and when she got on the phone, she immediately started discounting. (Wait for it … here comes her perfectionism!)

“I can’t lie to myself,” she started, “I didn’t ride well.” (Well, there goes my fun celebration with her!)

There was a list of reasons why she didn’t win, most of which did not have to do with what she did as much as outside forces. Lucky ones at that. “It was a gift.” “It’s all about who shows up that day.” “The win was determined by the California split of the classes.” “Averaging out the class was the reason.” (Best of the worst?) Basically, it was just luck. So, Robin was disempowered.

What about her riding? (Was any of this because of her efforts?) “Well,” she continued, “I rode great, but I had a bad day.” (For the second day, when she rode the wrong course.) “I’ve ridden better.” “Everything wasn’t perfect.” And then she came to, “I had a good day. I could have ridden better, but I’m comfortable with that.”

OK, so while the lack of ability to immediately “own the win” and to celebrate wasn’t there, the good news is, she’s comfortable with not having ridden better. That’s huge. That’s progress. Before Robin started coaching with me, she used to shut herself down by beating herself up whenever she wasn’t perfect!

So after I listened to the discounting, we discussed how her values are getting in the way. For example, I uncovered that she places such a high value on integrity and honesty, it was blocking her from seeing, owning, and appreciating her win. She was absolutely adamant that she couldn’t see it any other way than it was. “The truth is …” “The reality is ….” “Even my trainer said …” And on and on. (What about what your equestrian mindset coach says?)

So, her trainer’s reality (some things can be improved upon) and her reality (not perfect and didn’t deserve the ribbon) conspired to dampen the enthusiasm and the celebration. And in fact, “not riding perfectly” or even at her personal best level, soon evaporated into the “reality” of luck! And Robin was not open to any other meaning for those two events. She had drawn a line in the sand, and she wasn’t budging on her reality that she did not ride well enough to deserve the ribbons. (OK, so let’s walk that ribbon right back to the venue and hand it back over!)

Her exact words were, “I call a spade a spade. I can’t lie to myself.”

You can’t lie to yourself? Well, that is the number one skill we need to work, on because success is all about lying to ourselves!

I told her that studies have been done and optimistic people, even if they are not “based in reality,” perform better and succeed more often than all of us who are more Reality Based. Why is that?

Because “realists” who see all the negatives, the potential problems, all the reasons why something may not work, may actually be correct in how they are evaluating things, but because they are more “negative,” they are more likely to give up; because, after all, they have calculated the risks of succeeding and failing and “obviously” the odds are against success.

And also, our brains tend to make into a reality that which we truly believe in and focus on. So, if you really believe you are not that good and are unable to succeed, and if you focus on that over and over, then most likely that is the reality you will create.

The optimist, on the other hand, doesn’t even see the negatives or problems or the reason why they might fail. If it is pointed out to them, they ignore it. They just make a decision! And then they just go do it with belief and faith … no matter how ridiculous and miscalculated it is. They just jump in with everything they’ve got, and they stay focused on the vision of fulfilling their dream.

And guess what? The belief (which some people would call lying to themselves or being in denial), thinking the thoughts and doing the actions of the “winner,” eventually, leads that person to becoming a winner. They achieve their vision because they DID lie to themselves. They created their own alternative reality out of thin air despite the “obviously real” reality that everyone else was seeing.

Our current and past Presidents of the U.S. are two perfect examples. There were a lot of people on both sides of the aisle who felt both Presidents were lying to themselves and not based in reality if they thought they could become President of the United States.

But guess what? Both candidates decided they could be President, ignored everyone else’s “reality” on the subject, and just stayed focused on who they wanted to become. They literally used their focus, determination, and optimism to create their position of being a President … their own alternative reality out of thin air! And totally against the odds!

Robin’s difficulty with this concept of lying to herself to become successful can be overcome by changing the word “lying” to “believing.” It’s the word “lying” that has the negative meaning for her, because I also uncovered that lying goes against Robin’s number one most important rule; thou shalt not lie!

The other difficulty with this concept for Robin is because to “lie” to herself would not be fulfilling her top need for certainty; it would create a state of uncertainty, because it is not her usual pattern. Uncertainty is NOT her emotional home. Calling a spade a spade, being all or nothing, and thinking black and white is Robin’s emotional AND intellectual home, so that is always where she will want to return to. That’s what creates that emotional pattern for her; the need to always tell herself the truth.

We have to explore how calling a spade a spade has been detrimental in her life. She has to feel the pain of looking at things like that, and then associate massive pleasure with pretending to have faith in herself all the way to winning. Yes, creating your own reality for success, it’s all about lying to yourself or acting as if.

But the plot thickens! The Old Robin (who she has been her whole life, prior to working with me) had a “story” that she held on to throughout her life. What was her story? Living every day with the pain of not being perfect and never being enough. She grew up with this message from her mother; that no matter what she did, it was NEVER going to be good enough. At least, that is how Old Robin had interpreted her mother’s belief that she could and should do better.

So now we have come to her core issue, the reason why Robin can’t value or appreciate herself or others unless she or they are perfect. She then admitted to me that, unfortunately, she had “gifted” this kill-the-joy message of perfectionism onto her children. It’s a sabotaging mindset left over from the story of her past, and it blocks connection in all her relationships, because no one ever experiences unconditional love from her.

This unhappy, disempowering mindset of perfectionism will shut us down. What’s the point of trying? (Let’s give up on this dream and go find something else to do that we may be able to control more.) After all, if the sport of riding is really more about luck, then winning is really not under our power.

Does Robin unconsciously believe that riding is all about luck? Where does that come from? I dug some more and uncovered that Robin had a powerful global belief that was holding her back from peak performance in all areas of her life. When I asked her to fill in this sentence, “Life is ___,” she came up with, “life is a crapshoot.”

Wait, how did she formalize that global belief about life? Well, she had lost a parent when she was very young. How does all this affect her riding? Well, if it’s not ultimately under her power whether or not she wins, then her brain assumes she doesn’t have to really engage and pay attention to the details when she rides … it can relax and take a vacay from all that work because, in the end, it won’t matter if it works hard or not.

How well can you ride when you don’t pay attention to the details? You know, the little details like riding the right course? (Not to mention the obvious dangers of riding without thinking!)

So yes, forgetting the course in the jumper ring the second day was ALL ABOUT the self-concept of being “not enough and less than.” Certainly, an Equestrian Rockstar doesn’t ride the wrong course. Equestrian Rockstars would take extreme ownership of executing every detail. Why take extreme ownership if it all comes down to luck, and whatever you do is not perfect and therefore not good enough?

Does the Old Robin also have an unconscious fear of winning too many times? Does she have a fear of alienating others that did not win? Is it more important to win, or to have a family unit at the barn and the shows? Is this fear because she doesn’t want to lose someone again?

How did that affect the rules that drive her life? Did she also grow up with a rule that people should not boast or brag about their wins? That it’s not polite? That it will make other people jealous, and then they won’t like her? (I was from that generation too; before the “social media” technology boom of promoting and branding yourself as soon as you can learn to read and write!)

What is the meaning that she gives to the word “humility?” Is her inability to not “own” and accept the ribbons her idea of remaining humble? Isn’t that kind of taking the humility thing to the extreme? Does she have that inflexible and fallible belief that she shouldn’t ever feel good about winning?


These are all the Old Robin patterns that are driving her life, so she has to really visualize and feel who she wants to be in the future (such as an Equestrian Rockstar), and then step into that New Robin now and practice it in her thoughts and actions all day long. She can’t operate as Old Robin all day and then show up in the ring and push a button that suddenly turns on the New Robin, the Equestrian Rockstar. She might perform somewhat better, yes, but not as well and not as consistently as she would if she practiced being the New Robin 24/7 in all areas of her life.

When we can’t give up a bad habit or a disempowering pattern, such as sabotaging ourselves with all these issues, we have to look at the secondary gain. For example, if we are an overweight person that just can’t stay on a healthy eating plan, what are we gaining from remaining overweight? Are we gaining the feeling of building a wall around ourselves? The feeling of being protected and less exposed? The comfort that all the other women won’t feel envious of us?

How can we overcome all these traps? How can we just simply WANT to win without “our story” dragging us down? Can we focus on our need for significance to override the need for certainty and love and connection with our teammates?

For example, women who are anorexic … they utilize the “trick” of using their need for significance and the certainty of control as their driving force. If they can stay thin (which our society places a high value on), they feel like a winner and superior to the rest of the world that is overweight, and then they will not want to eat and they will lose weight. If their whole life feels out of control (because if you call a spade a spade, life really IS a crapshoot AND they are running away from growing up), then at least an anorexic can have the certainty of being in control of something in their life!

So, choosing to focus on a strong, driving force inside of us is how we can use our other basic human needs for leverage. We have to look at the leverages that will work best for each one of us. But again, it starts with not wanting the bad pattern of being a perfectionist and discounting our wins. We have to feel the massive pain and consequences of having that negative pattern. Then, we have to associate massive pleasure with overcoming that pattern and staying focused on the vision for the dream that we are striving for. If we have a high need for significance, that leverage may do it.

Robin also said to me, “My persona is that of confidence, but on my inside, that is not the truth.” My answer? You don’t always need confidence inside to win. But become a good actor, lie to yourself and pretend you are confident, and watch how well your muscle memory from all that training will kick in when you act as if you believe you can win!

Your reality is whatever you choose it to be. We all live in our own realities (some of them we have created are like living in hell), and we all can choose a different reality. How do we do that?

Well, you may call it lying to yourself, but if you want to be successful in life, you need to lie to yourself.

You need to be an actor. And a very good one at that! You need to learn the role, memorize the script, put on the costume, and you need to step into the character and practice that role all day long.

But you have to have a strong WHY for doing this, and you have to be willing to accept the consequences; the time and sacrifices required to train. What is the reason to work on becoming the New You with an attitude of ALL IN for achieving your goals for personal best?

And finally, what if your trainer is also a perfectionist?

“My trainer is just like me. He’s a perfectionist,” Robin says to me with pride in her voice. Why does she say that with pride? Because Robin and her trainer both have high standards, and “everyone knows it’s a fact that having high standards is a good thing.” 

What was Robin’s last lingering fear? Giving up her high standards. Whether she reached those standards or not, due to her perfectionism, that was not really the problem as much as it was the fear of not having high standards.

She was doing her all or nothing thinking again and drawing her inflexible line in the sand … again … wait for it … she could not lower her standards AT ALL and still like herself. She just couldn’t live with that. That was not who she was.

Well, here’s a solution. Change the word! Instead of being a perfectionist who beats yourself up for not being perfect, what if you added into your New Robin identity that you were a person with “high achievable standards?” Now that’s something “do-able” that your brain can actually wrap itself around and get excited about working on to move forward! Doesn’t that feel better? Yes, she loved it!

Most of the time the solutions can be found hiding in between the black and white/all or nothing thinking. You just need to be open to looking outside of your rigid box.

Listen, there is a difference between the perfectionist who implies, “You’re not perfect and it wasn’t good enough again (and never will be) because you messed up here and there,” and the perfectionist who thinks like this: “I rode well and I’m excited to have feedback of how to ride even better next time! I have high, attainable standards and I WILL achieve those goals.” One is disempowering and the other is the complete opposite.

It may not be what your trainer is saying or the exact words that your trainer uses. It may be how you are hearing it or internalizing it; the meaning that you’re giving to the words or the tone of that person’s voice. And the meaning creates the emotions inside of you.

But even if your trainer IS saying the “wrong words,” change the meaning of those words yourself. Take the power away from those negative words. Say instead, “I’m excited about my win. I rode great and here is how I am going to ride even better tomorrow!”

Don’t give the control of your emotions over to others. You are in control of the meaning that you give to words and events, regardless of what is being said and what is happening around you. You are in control of winning, and celebrating that win, regardless of anything! If that is what you choose.



Nancy Dye is an equestrian breakthrough mindset coach and resilience trainer helping people to transform the quality of their lifestyles.

Nancy is certified as a strategic interventionist from the official coach training program of Tony Robbins and has over 30 years as a change agent; shifting people into peak performance. 

Nancy specializes in solving the puzzle of why people are not performing at their best and customizing the right strategy for “jumping over” adversity. She handles all areas of a rider’s lifestyle to include relationships, career, addictions, weight loss, health and transitioning through life stages.

With a past career in corporate sales and as a luxury lifestyle Realtor, Nancy has been coached by some the top sales trainers in the corporate world, as well as by some of the most elite coaches in the world of sports. Nancy redesigns the inner lives of athletes, executives, entrepreneurs, and elite military and veterans.

Nancy is married to Jack Miles, a former Olympian gymnast who is inducted into four athletic Hall of Fames. For one-on-one coaching or information on her workshops or riding clinics, Nancy can be reached at