Never Enough: How to Address Performance Paralysis
Updated: Oct 10, 2019
I recently had a session with a client who was feeling out of sorts. I found out he was feeling that he was not applying and utilizing all he had learned in coaching. Now that was interesting. He got to a point in coaching that what was now dissatisfying was not doing enough in it. What was more interesting was that he is pretty much a model client. In the time we have worked together he has turned around a stubborn, unproductive habit, acquired three new athletic hobbies, has a more fulfilling career, leads better, is more assertive at work and is positively contributing to his community. We only continue our work because he sees the significant amount of change in a short time and desires to keep going.
So how could a ‘model client’ (I think all my clients are great and kick butt) feel this way? How could he possibly forget how much he has accomplished? It was a funny moment when I gestured the timeout hand signal and called, “time out, time out” with the next pause. I proceeded to remind him about all he has done, including how he is a lot more focused and productive at work.
Most people I assume feel some degree of pressure to perform or to be perfect. I know I do and have (thankfully, I gave up on the perfect part). I believe some sort of pressure such as a deadline or being accountable to a team, can aid performance but, as most people know, too much pressure can have the opposite effect. You have all these goals or errands and the idea of the amount, or where or how to start, can be debilitating. Instead of ramping up, you shut down or idle at the side of the road like a worn out car. But before we get into strategies to prevent or combat, let’s explore where this debilitating pressure (performance paralysis) tends to come from.
I believe the non-stop internal pressure to perfectly perform comes from a core belief of not being “good enough.” My client saying he feels he wasn’t optimally performing in coaching was a great reminder that no matter how much you do you could feel it is not enough. The belief of not being good enough is quite insatiable, whatever you do to mask and not address and replace that belief will not be good enough. Of course, there are many external and internal factors that feed this perception. The belief can be especially entrenched if your worth/being loved was tied up with what you did for others or your parent suffered the same and modeled the behaviour. I told my client that although, yes, I am a coach and I am all for self- development, and improvement, we are not machines. We are human, fallible and sometimes we want to be instead of do. The constant pressure to do and perform takes the being part out which can subtract joy. I told him that he should see our sessions like a library and to pick and choose what to apply and when. He liked the idea, but I believe he liked learning that I too do not optimally perform at all times.
The fact that most of us see purposeful performing with only being productive is problematic. As far as I am concerned breathing is productive, meditating is productive (helps with focus, stress management, etc.), napping as well as a creative hobby can be productive. The other interesting part is that pretty much every client of mine experiences/experienced this sort of punitive pressure. They tend to be perfectionists, people pleasers and/or overachievers (self-proclaimed or not). I use the term “inner dictator” with another client who describes this phenomenon.
So if you are reading this and you too have an inner dictator, here are some things you can do to be.
Create a success journal (log all your successes for the day, big or small)
Do nothing (it is harder than you think)
Recall a childhood joy and do that (i.e. build with Lego, paint, etc.)
Meditate or go for a mindfulness walk
Express more self-compassion, engage in loving self-talk
Again, I am all for creating healthy and productive habits and realizing your vision but not at the expense of your health (physical or otherwise). If you are currently experiencing overwhelm try the above suggestions and then break each step/task to the tiniest most manageable of steps when you want to continue ‘doing.’  Write them out if it is helpful. Just like Goldilocks in Goldilocks and the Three Bears, you want your pressure to be “just right.”
Ps. If you need help finding your "just right," sign up for a complimentary Get Acquainted Call to see if I can help.
 Michael Simmons writes about how the most successful people spend 10 hours a week on “Compound Time” (similar to down or not perceived to be productive time) https://medium.com/the-mission/why-successful-people-spend-10-hours-a-week-on-compound-time-79d64d8132a8. The term “Sharpening the Saw” in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen R. Covey also describes the importance of self-care in being effective.
 Coach Martha Beck calls these “turtle steps.” Steps tiny enough where each task does not feel overwhelming.