A performance mentality is a fear-based way of thinking that requires a person to “measure up” or achieve perfection all the time. People with a performance mentality are usually constantly afraid of what other people would think of them if they failed. It is a self-reliant, “protective mechanism” that is designed to prevent perceived harm that would come from personal failures. However, this performance thinking is usually very harmful in itself. It creates far more harm than it will ever protect against.
Even though I am fully aware of it, this is still one of the biggest struggles in my life. Performance mentality is sinful for many reasons. It is all about self-reliance, pride, and pleasing man instead of God. In my life, performance mentality created a vicious cycle. The vicious cycle played out as a period of motivation and extreme work always followed by a period of burnout.
Performance mentality can be seen in all areas of life. It is very apparent, however, within one’s profession. I can provide an example. When I worked as an administrator, I would plan several large events each year. There was one event, in particular, that was especially important: Customer Appreciation Day. Although many arrangements had to be made several months in advance, the last few weeks leading up to the event were especially busy. Customer packets with tickets and directions had to be mailed. Final headcounts had to be submitted. Name tags had to be printed. In my eyes, everything little thing had to be perfect. There could be no bumps in the road. The first year that I planned the event, it went very well. It was a huge success. I noticed, however, that a few things could be improved. I noted these improvements to allow me to add them to the next year.
When the next year rolled around, I got out my list. It was time to improve upon what I had achieved the year before. I wanted the next year to be perfect. I didn’t want any feedback for the next year on how to improve. I wanted it to be bigger and better. I made a promise to myself and then I was able to pull it off. Year 2 was bigger and better. It was almost perfect. Almost.
Then, Year 3 rolled around. With some new ideas, Year 3 was even bigger and better. It was more perfect. Year 4 rolled around and again it was bigger and better. It was even more perfect. Year 5 rolled around with a new problem developing: I was out of ways to make things bigger and better. I could no longer beat my already perfect event from last year. Instead of feeling excitement for the event that I once loved to plan, this time I felt anxiety and dread. I was burnt out. I could hardly even plan the event.
My drive to perfection could only drive me for so long. Then, eventually, it just drove me to the ground. I began to despise planning events. I thought it was just because I hated to plan events, but actually, that was not true at all. In reality, I hated the fear that I was under all the time. I couldn’t handle it anymore.
You see, that the fear that I was experiencing was not actually based on reality, however. It was only self-imposed. No one (no man) was imposing this requirement of perfection on me. My boss sure wasn’t. He expected it to be well planned and the work to be done, but he didn’t expect perfection. More importantly, God wasn’t expecting perfection either. Jesus is perfect. We are not perfect. We aren’t perfect in everyday tasks, relationships, or decisions we make. If we were perfect, we would not need Jesus. We also know that Jesus does not want us to live in constant fear of failures and shortcomings. He certainly also does not want us to live in the fear of man.
So, how do you drop the performance mentality and stop being motivated by fear? That is a good question. In my life, I had to really humble myself. I also had to take the focus off myself and instead focus on God and other people around me. When I really broke it down, I realized that performance was nothing more than fear-based motivation. It was fear of personal failure and fear of man. I didn’t know how to be motivated with anything but fear. In fact, I even feared the loss of fear motivation itself! I thought there were no other motivators that could replace it. There are better motivations that exist, however. These other motivations also do not drive you into a vicious cycle of overworking and then being burnt out. Performance mentality is a lie that will ultimately get you nowhere. It is also the opposite of what the Bible teaches.
Here is a list of the new motivators I used:
- Will this glorify God?
- Is this a healthy or good thing for me to do?
- Will this benefit others if I do this?
- Am I doing this because of faith and love?
When I changed my motivations, I noticed that I enjoyed everything much more. Even if I really didn’t want to do something at first, it was just fine after I got started. The self-imposed, self-perceived pressure on me was gone. The biggest change I noticed was quite glorious: the vicious cycle was gone for good. The up and down cycle would no longer come and leave me burnt out.
I used to suffer from burnout and depression all the time. I rarely suffer from either anymore. I found that life was much more enjoyable without a performance mentality. Most importantly, I was free to express myself more because I was not afraid of what other people would think. Don’t get me wrong, this never became a license for poor performance or laziness. Instead, getting out of fear motivation allowed me to have true freedom. I was able to take even bolder actions in life. It also gave me a truly excellent spirit that can only come by operating in life for the right reasons.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” ~II Timothy 1:7 NKJV
“There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. But he who fears has not been made perfect in love.” ~I John 4:18 NKJV
This blog was written by Natalie Bymaster, author of From the Cliff to the Cure: How Christians Can Boldly Overcome the Lies of Mental Illness. If you liked this content, make sure to check out her book.