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The psychology of perfectionism: Peyton Manning's drive to be the best

Peyton Manning Superbowl Pics 2-2-14
Peyton Manning Superbowl Pics 2-2-14
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

There aren’t many people that would argue the hypothesis that Peyton Manning is one of the greatest athletes of all time. His drive to keep improving himself and his team is shown in every game and with every play. The cameras never miss his face after a “bad play”. Anyone watching can see the frustration in his facial expressions.

Nick Saban, coach of the University of Alabama, has this to say about Peyton Manning and the controversial trip to meet with him: “To be honest with you, [Manning] was just trying to learn so he could be a better player. I think a lot of people would say, 'Wow, the guy is one of the best, if not the best, and certainly from a career standpoint probably about as good as anybody’s been in the history of the league'. After all the experience and knowledge that he has, he’s going out and trying to seek more knowledge and understanding of the game of football so he can play better.” Is this drive for excellence good or bad? In an article posted by the American Psychological Association (APA), researchers on both sides of the issue make some good points.

Paul Hewitt, PhD, and his colleagues (notably psychologist Gordon Flett) feel that there is nothing good about perfectionism. After 20+ years of research they have concluded that perfectionism “correlates with depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and other mental health problems”. Other theorists have concluded that perfectionism, or the drive to excel, is necessary for many people, especially world-class athletes. They believe this type of behavior is “adaptive “.

The theorists on both sides even disagree on the word “adaptive “. Some think that there are two form of perfectionism, adaptive and maladaptive. They feel that certain people can be perfectionists and handle the failure of not being perfect while perfectionism in others leads to depression and sometimes suicide. Theorists on the other side believe that all perfectionism is maladaptive.

Watching someone like Peyton Manning strive for perfection would make one believe that perfectionism is adaptive. As the media is consistently watching someone who is as high profile as Peyton Manning, there has been no negative press showing any sign of mental distress. One might have to agree with psychologist Kenneth Rice, PhD, and his colleagues. The drive to be perfect can be an asset instead of a liability.