Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Perfectionism and Physical Coordination

I wouldn't say my NM demanded perfection from me at all times, but rather that she had selected topics which she expected perfection to be achieved. These mostly revolved around a dishes (see The Dishwasher Was Infalliable, I Was Not) or cleaning in general. Never academics, though plenty of disappointment was expressed when I became poor student through junior high and high school. The blame for that however was often foisted on the school, teachers, and depression.

At any rate, starting in my late teenage years, through college and onward to today, perfectionism over took me. Mostly in my creative endeavors and school, and sometimes when I'm cleaning. If I got a 99 out of 100 points on a paper or exam, I would be focusing on the lost point instead of the fact I passed with flying colors. On nearly every paper I've turned in, every essay question on an exam, I always felt I hadn't worked hard enough. I was just bullshitting, the instructors were grading easy, my work wasn't the best it could be. Rationally I realize that it only felt like I wasn't working hard enough because I was actually good at what I was doing!

The things I am good at, I have been good at so long that I don't remember what it was like when it was hard. So when new things don't come easily to me I get frustrated, often to the point of tears. And often I quit. It's too frightening to be imperfect, to make mistakes, even though it's human and totally normal. This is especially true of anything that requires more bodily coordination that riding a bicycle.

My physical abilities, or bodily-kinesthetic intelligence, if you will, is pretty terrible. I have pretty good hand-eye coordination, but when it comes to my whole body it's as I said above; anything more complex than riding a bicycle is far outside my comfort zone. The only reason I can even ride a bicycle is because my father and the other kids in the neighborhood helped me. On the other hand, skating, rollerblading, ice skating, dancing, or gymnastics, were never pursued despite my very strong interest in some of them.

My NM would acknowledge my interests in and mention how somebody else's kid was doing them and that she would look in to it for me. However, she would also bring up everything discouraging she could, like if I wanted to learn to figure skate that I'd have to get up super early all the time to practice and stuff like that, as if I had said I wanted to go to the Olympics and win the gold, which of course wasn't what I wanted. Mostly I just wanted to be pretty and graceful at something. In the end, she would never follow through with getting more information, even though the topic would come up off and on. I think mostly she didn't want to have to hassle with taking me to any extracurricular activities, as money was never much of  an issue for my family. Thus, I do think she deserves some blame for my relative physical ineptness. Such things are so much easier to start when you are child, and it wasn't as if I could pay for lessons and drive myself places back then.

This year, I have begun tackling perfectionism and improving my bodily intelligence. Last year I improved my health and strength by working out and as that year ended I felt more confident in my body, so I told DH that this year we would start taking aikido classes together. He thinks every woman should learn how to defend herself and it's something he's wanted to do together for awhile since he used to take aikido back in college. I also tried ice skating for the first time ever, and though I was miserable at first, I kept going once I got one of those skate mate trainer things to help keep me on my feet.

While it's obvious that working hard at a martial art should help improve my physical coordination, it's probably less clear what this has to do with perfectionism. But for me, I've picked something I am knowingly not good at, that I cannot do well on the first time, or even the second or third time. I will make mistakes and am expected to make mistakes. I am learning that mistakes are okay, and my sensei (teacher) is so helpful with this, never getting angry, or frustrated, or disappointed with me for making them. So I am going to keep doing this instead of running away, even when I'm frustrated to the point of tears, which has only happened a few times so far.

I think aikido is also the perfect environment for this experience. I'm not a particularly confrontational person, nor am I really competitive. Unlike many other martial arts, aikido has no competitions or tournaments, which I think probably dissuades really aggressive and competitive people from signing on; people who I would find intimidating and would probably scare me off. So unless you want to take an exam to reach a higher rank, you are only really competing with yourself and there is no comparisons against your peers. Also, although martial arts typically have ranks going all the way up to tenth dan, it  is considered unattainable in aikido since that would imply one had learned and perfected everything, which is impossible because nobody is perfect. I like that philosophy, it is reassuring to know I am expected to not be perfect and that even the highest rank practitioners aren't considered such. Finally, the focus is never on injuring an attacker; the idea is to prevent yourself from being hurt without hurting the other person.

I'm going to write more on my experience of starting aikido next time!