I recently attended the "Appearance Matters" Conference at the University of Bristol, which heightened my knowledge of the research behind self confidence and physical appearance. Within my role at Edinburgh Leisure, I feel we do a great job targeting teenage girls, and vulnerable young people to help them improve confidence within the realm of health and physical activity, but also to teach understanding of general confidence and build self esteem.
The Health 4U Program targets third year girls and teaches various components of health and wellbeing as well as communication, dealing with stress, mental health, photoshopping, energy balance etc. I believe its a great tool for young people to have a better understanding of these components and learn in an interactive way. During the lessons, we use some videos created by the Dove Self Esteem Project.
Thirteen million young people reached through the Dove Self Esteem program, with providing education to help build self esteem. I also use the videos for psychology particulary when working with coaches on building self confidence and helping them understand some of the issues that young people may face. The presenter from the Dove Project noted:
Only 4% of women consider themselves beautiful.
9/10 would change something about themselves
6/10 opt out of activity because of body image
These startling figures makes me even more keen to try to teach young people about self acceptance and feeling good about themselves. In a world were society defines what is beautiful, and what is normal, its even more important to teach young people to love themselves for being themselves. The thin ideal is hard to obtain and can lead to maladaptive perfectionism as these ideals are unrealistic, and when people cannot obtain them, and their self confidence comes from their appearance, then they will rarely have the feeling of self satisfaction. The Dove Project use fortune cookies with self esteem messages in them, and I received one of my favorite quotes.Check out their website for more information and great resources for working with young people about self esteem and body image.
Most of the time, we think about negative body image, and how people feel negatively about themselves. How can we encourage a positive body image rather just eradicating the negative? When a person has positive body image, they have an appreciation for their body which led to health related behaviours. I find that with my psychology I try to promote individuals strengths, rather than just working on how we can improve their weaknesses. Therefore, by knowing what a positive body image, we can find ways to teach young people how to have confidence and have positive body image, rather than just helping those with severe negative body image.
Promote a positive body image by:
Also, in line with my approach to psychology, would be looking at body image in line with goal setting, One study examined the motivation and goals for body image, and compared the differences between those with health goals and those with appearance goals. Those who had appearance goals had a feeling of "have to" and a feeling of pressure to look a certain way. This promoted guilt and shame, and could become maladaptive. This is my fear for those purely wanting to lose weight to look a certain way. What happens when you weigh what you want to weigh? Will you feel good about yourself? Will that make you a better person? Will it be healthy?
Those who have health goals feel like they 'want' to be healthy, and health is a personal importance to them rather than a need. They are motivated internally, and living a healthy life is just part of their every day. Having the 'want to' feeling is more adaptive and can result in more self satisfaction. Those with "health goals" were more likely to engage in healthy eating, and decreased binge-eating, whereas those with "appearance goals" were motivated by drive for thinness and engaged in binge eating.
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.
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Tracy Donachie, MSc in Performance Psychology.