"When I was told I had cancer after my operation, I was relieved. I had been under the hospital for 18 months without being diagnosed. Knowing was better than not knowing." Cancer Research, UK.
Hospital appointments. Sitting in the Beatson Cancer Centre waiting to discuss my 5 year clear! Hospitals like this one can make you feel very fortunate in that there is always someone worse off. I feel very lucky and fortunate.
My tumour the size of a basketball doesn't sounds as bad as the man across from me who has had 7 different tumours and the last one resulting in him losing his arm. I only lost a big part of my bowel. A part that nobody can see, nobody would know.
My scar can be hidden. But for many, their scars can't be hidden, the fight with cancer is an on-going process; and a fear that may always be there.
Speaking of my experience is not something I share very often, and not something I think about everyday. Yet today is different. Today, I get to say, "I am pretty much 5 years clear" (one more scan to go :))
Usually, I sit here in the waiting room and think that people may wonder if it's me that has or had cancer...I am the youngest in the room and I would say the healthiest looking, yet, I've also had to fight off the cancer curse. The question that my family members ask, "Why the healthiest one of all of us?"
Today is different, there are two people here for appointments around the same age as me. Brave smiles on their face, and one guy who decided he wanted to go into the appointment on his own. You have a wonder about what he is thinking and feeling but also his parents. For me, I knew I could deal, I knew I was resilient and strong, and wouldn't let it keep me down. I hope he has that feeling too.
This place brings back memories of Theresa. Theresa is the woman I met when I was going in for my second surgery. I was asleep in the waiting area, jet-lagged and knackered from exam cramming, but my mum who likes to chat, sparked up conversation with Theresa and Alex. What beautiful people! We kept in touch, and even visited Theresa in hospital when her cancer came back. She passed away, and as much as I prayed that she would recover she never did.
Everyone deals differently. I have found that I have dealt by being strong, not thinking of it as a bad thing, and not letting it define me. A lot of people wouldn't know that this is something I had endured but today, I felt like it would be good to share, and hopefully be a part in helping someone else.
My advice would be:
Keep living like each day is your last. You never know what's going to happen. I have always had the mindset of trying to cram as many things in as there's so much to do, so much to see, so much to learn, and when you deal with such a a thing like cancer, this helps you continue this mindset. Well mine.
Live for the moment. Live for the day. Take risks. Let go. Don't be afraid to try! Don't sweat the small stuff!
Before I had cancer, I never slowed down and carried out everything I did with stress and striving to be perfect. Always wanting to my best. I still have that. The strive to be my best, however, it doesn't come with the psychological stress I once had. Thanks to learning about psychology and sport psychology. I am now less concerned about meeting the harsh expectations that I put on myself, and try to enjoy life a lot more. Thank you to cancer for helping me relax in my mind, enjoy every day, and continue to strive for excellence in a healthy way.
Understanding the psychological components that help with optimal athletic performance is a key priority for applied sport psychology. A controversial issue within the field is perfectionism. Perfectionism is described as a broad multidimensional personality trait characterised by the pursuit of extremely high standards; striving for flawlessness, and over critical performance evaluation (Frost et al. 1990; Flett & Hewitt, 2005). Some may debate that being a perfectionist athlete is admirable because of the desire to achieve, and high motivation levels (Stoeber, Uphill, & Hotham, 2009). Nevertheless, perfectionism in sport is a controversial issue to which perfectionistic tendencies are seen as both adaptive and maladaptive (Frost et al, 1993; Terry-Short et al., 1995).
The multidimensional perfectionism scale devised by Hewitt & Flett (1991) evaluates perfectionism from three perspectives; self-orientated; other orientated and socially prescribed perfectionism. Self-orientated is the
excessive desire for perfectionism from one’s self, other orientated is demanding perfection from those around you and socially prescribed is the perception that significant others demand perfection from you (Flett &
Hewitt, 2005). There has been much controversy within the literature regarding which dimensions are adaptive and maladaptive, but the general consensus is that socially prescribed is associated with the unhealthy maladaptive perfectionism and self-orientated is linked to healthy adaptive (Hill et al. 1997; Flett &
Adaptive perfectionism can be explained as a positive pursuit towards achievement, whereas maladaptive perfectionism is associated with being concerned with evaluation; having a fear of failure and reacting negatively to defeat (Stoeber et al., 2008). Adaptive perfectionists typically set realistic goals prior to performance which ensures self confidence and motivation is maintained due to the belief that goals are obtainable (Slade & Owens, 1998). Therefore, adaptive perfectionism positively correlates with self-efficacy, motivation and high achievement amongst other desirable characteristics (Bieling et al. 2004).
Flett and Hewitt reported that although certain components of perfectionism may be positive, perfectionism is primarily maladaptive among athletes and exercisers (2005). Maladaptive perfectionism is positively associated with psychological difficulties such as distress (Stoeber & Eismann, 2007), injury (Krasnow et al. 1999), depression (Minarik & Ahrens, 1996); self destruction; anxiety (Antony et al, 1998; Egan et al, 2006); neuroticism; personality disorders and eating disorders (Haase et al 2001; Anshel, 2004); decreased physical health and well-being due to over training, disordered eating, and low self esteem (Hill et al, 2010; Hewitt & Flett 1991; Hewitt et al. 1992). Hall (2006) also detailed that perfectionism is also associated with shame (Tangney, 2002); performance anxiety (Hall, Kerr & Mathew, 1998); and suicide ideation (Hewitt, Flett, & Turnbull-Donavon, 1992). Evidence suggests that perfectionism may also act as a predisposing factor to athletes developing burnout during their performance career (Hill et al, 2008). When goals are not reached, maladaptive perfectionists engage in harsh self criticism and irrational beliefs resulting in feelings of inadequacy; reduced motivation and decreased self-confidence (Flett & Hewitt 2005).
The cognitive processes underpinning perfectionism were first examined by Horney (1950 In, Hall, 2013) and Ellis (1962, In. Hall, Hill & Appleton, 2013) who argued the core qualities of perfectionism are having a set of
irrational beliefs and a dysfunctional attitude. Flett et al. (1998) found that perfectionists may induce a pattern of intrusive self-focused thoughts about achieving perfectionism. Hill and Appleton (2011) showed that this cognitive process has corrosive influence on the quality of motivation in elite junior athletes. Nevertheless, there has been little research conducted on how perfectionism has been defined in sport, as the core qualities have emerged from other achievement disciplines.
Blatt (1995) offered that perfectionists may be resistant to direct attempts to alter ways of thinking and therefore, it may be effective to structure the learning and performance environment to change the perfectionist cognitions. Being able to create an optimal motivational climate in athletes is also likely
to lead to increased participation and enjoyment (Keegan, Harwood, Spray & Lavallee, 2009). Environments which are seen to be extremely critical, rigid and promote social comparison will foster numerous debilitating cognitive and affective outcomes (Mainwaring, 2009 In. Hall & Hill, 2012). Providing a learning environment to promote adaptive perfectionism may be an effective way to challenge perfectionist mindset.
Are coaches able to identify which athletes have perfectionist traits? And how can we help coaches create an environment to promote adaptive perfectionism and healthy motivation? Ideally, for coaches, it would be beneficial to not only know the signs of a perfectionist athlete, but also how to create the best environment to dissolve maladaptive perfectionism. In line with Stirling and Kerrs’ suggestions for future research, “the development of guidelines for coaches and parents to assist them in assessing, monitoring, and motivating
perfectionistic athletes may also be helpful.” (2001, p. 22), I believe that it would be beneficial for coachecs to have a better understanding on getting the best out of their perfectionist players.
Appleton, P. R., Hall, H. K.,& Hill, A. P.(2009) Relations between multidimensional perfectionism and burnout in junior-elite male athletes. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 10, 457-465 DOI:10.1016/j.psychsport.2008.12.006
Appleton, P. R., Hall, H. K.,& Hill, A. P. (2011) Examining the influence of the parent-initiated and coach-created motivational climate upon athletes’ perfectionistic cognitions. Journal of Sports Sciences, 29, 661-671.DOI:10.1080/02640414.2010.551541
Bieling, P.J., Israeli, A., Smith, J. & Antony, M.M. (2004) Is perfectionism good, bad, or both? Examining models of the perfectionism construct. Personality and Individual Differences, 36, 1373-1385.
Blatt, S.J. (1995). The destructiveness of perfectionism; implications for the treatment of depression. American Psychologist, 50, 1003-1020.
DiBartolo, P.M., Frost, R., Dixon, A. & Almodovar, S. (2001) Can Cognitive Restructuring Reduce the Disruption Associated with Perfectionistic Concerns? Behavior Therapy, 32, 167-184.
Dunn, J.G.H., Gotwals, J.K., Causgrove-Dunn, J. & Syrotuik, D.G. (2006) Examining the relationship between perfectionism and trait anger in competitive sport. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 4 (1), 7-24.
Flett, G.L., Hewitt, P.L., Blankstein, K.R., & Gray, L. (1998) Psychological stress and the frequency of perfectionistic thinking. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 75, 1363-1381. 2009
Flett, G.L. & Hewitt, P.L. (2005) The perils of perfectionism in sports and exercise. Current Directions in
Psychological Science, 14, 14-18
Flett, G.L., Hewitt, P.L. & Dyck, D.J. (1989) Self-orientated perfectionism, neuroticism, and anxiety. Personality and Individual Differences, 10, 731-735.
Frost, R.O., Heimberg, R.G., Holt, C.S., Mattia, J.I., Neubauer, A.L. (1993). A comparison of two measures of perfection. Personality and Individual Differences, 14(1), 119-126.
Frost, R.O., Marten, P., Lahart, C. & Rosenblate, R. (1990) The dimensions of perfectionism. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 14, 449-468.
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Sport and Exercise Psychology, Volume 1, Essential Processes for Attaining Peak Performance. Pages 178-211. Meyer & Meyer Publishers, Oxford UK.
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Psychology, 53-78, FIT Publishers. ISBN 978-1-935412-30-4.
Hall, H.K., & Hill, A.P. (2012). Perfectionism, dysfunctional achievement striving and burnout in aspiring athletes: the motivational implications for performing artists. Theatre, Dance and Performance Training, 3(2),
Hall, H. K., Hill, A. P., & Appleton, P. R. (2012) Perfectionism: A foundation for sporting excellence or an uneasy pathway toward purgatory? In Roberts, G.C. & Treasure D. (2012) Advances in motivation in sport and exercise:, 3, 129-168. Human Kinetics Publishers.
Hall, H. K., Hill, A. P., & Appleton, P. R. (2013) Perfectionism: Its development, and its influence on emerging talent in youth sport. In Lidor, R. & Cote, J. Conditions of Children's Talent Development in Sport, 117-137. FIT Publishers.
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and association with psychopathology. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 60, 456-470.
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Krasnow, D., Mainwaring, L. & Kerr, G. (1999) Injury, Stress and Perfectionism in Young Dancers and Gymnasts. Journal of Dance Medicine & Science, 3 (2), 51-58.
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Stoeber, J., Uphill, M.A., & Hotham, S. (2009). Predicting race performance in triathlon: The role of perfectionism, achievement goals, and personal goal setting. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 37, 211-245.
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Abraham Lincoln once described an a optimist as someone who “finds opportunity in every difficulty” whilst a pessimist to be someone who ‘finds difficulty in every opportunity”.
Another way to look at optimism is in terms of explanatory style. Explanatory style examines the way an individual explains their experiences, successes and failures (Scheier & Carver, 1985 In. Martin-Krumm et al, 2003). Looking at how people explain certain events, or the reason behind the athletes success or failure, we can see if they are optimistic or not. We can also use people’s explanatory style to predict biases, and future outcomes because of their expectations of success or failures (Seligman, 1991).
What is an Optimistic Explanatory Style? (Peterson, 2000)
●Positive events: internal (within persons control) stable (this reason will always be the there) and global (effects everything) causes e.g. we won the game because I am talented.
●Negative event: external (outwith person’s control), unstable (the reason is only temporary) and specific (only effects that certain situation) factors e.g. We lost the game because the other team scored a lucky goal.
So why is it good for athletes to be optimistic?
The main advantages of having an optimistic explanatory style is that you are more likely to be persistent and committed during the action phase of working towards a goal and are more likely to be able to tolerate uncontrollable suffereing (Espahbodi, Dugar & Tehranian, 1991). When someone has an optimistic explanatory style, the belief that one will have a successful performance is within their control, and the reason is stable e.g. I am a good player. Whilst they view unsuccessful performances as temporary setbacks, and the cause to be something out with their control e.g. Bad weather. Therefore, their self esteem is not effected because they believe that they are in control of the good and not of the negative.
By believing that you are had a good performance because you are talented (internal, stable, global) and not because you play in a good team, or you were lucky (external, temporary) will allow you to believe you are capable of future positive performances. Performers who have an optimistic explanatory style are more likely to believe they will succeed in the future.
There have been various studies that show the benefits of being optimistic such as:
●Better performance and less variability (football; Gordan & Kane, 2001);
Research in Seligman’s book (2006) shows that people who have a pessimistic explanatory style are:
● More susceptible to depression when things go wrong
Therefore, to sustain or promote positive self esteem, we could try to make athletes more optimistic. In 2010, I completed a study “the effectiveness of a positive psychology intervention on optimism levels of female soccer players” where I carried out 8 sessions of positive psychology sessions with 15 semi professional female soccer players in the ’Hampton Roads Piranhas’ from Virginia Beach, Virginia.
What is Positive Psychology?
Seligman and Csikszentmihalyi (2000) reported that positive psychology, “has many distinguished ancestors, and we make no claim of originality” (p. 13). It is the scientific study of optimal functioning of people, groups, and institutions which promotes positive aspects of life such as happiness, well-being, satisfaction, hope and optimism (Joseph & Linley, 2007). I created an intervention to use with the footballers based on this theory using both Seligman’s book “Learned Optimism” (2006) and “Group Psychotherapy Psychology Manual” (PPT; Park & Seligman, 2007). The intervention was devised to increase awareness of explanatory style; and to encourage player’s to look at positive aspects of self and their strengths.
The results of the study showed that scores of optimistic explanatory style increased from pre-test to post-test and there was significant difference on internality and globality but not stability (two out of the three indicators of optimistic explanatory style). For example, the explanation of ability being the cause of a positive event almost doubled on post-test whilst the number of negative events attributed to ability decreased by 50%. Additionally, the number of unstable references to performance decreased.
The players evaluated the program and indicated that afterwards, they had more awareness of explanatory styles; a positive effect on player’s thought processes e.g. made me think more positively; and think differently about discouraging situations; and were more aware of effect football has on them e.g. ‘I learned that soccer influences my every day life and attitude”.
In conclusion, by increasing and building optimism, we are less likely to have our self esteem hurt when we are faced with negative events, and our self esteem will continue to grow when we are faced with positive events. We can do this by using different activities geared towards promoting understanding about explanatory style as well as building g on strengths and positive aspects of character. Feel free to contact me about any of the activities used within the positive psychology intervention.
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Tracy Donachie, MSc in Performance Psychology.