3 Things that Cure Performance Mentality
A recognition, a virtue, and a present...
I was talking with my fiancée over dinner a while ago, and during the course of our typical deep-but-scattered conversations, I ended up noting how I'm really bad at receiving charity from others.
I could go into explaining all the backstory for that, the events in my life that led up to this interior pride that means I grimace slightly at the kindness of others.
But that's actually besides the point. Telling those stories would just feed the mindset they create. I've come to call that midnset "performance mentality."
And performance mentality is a spiritual killer for Catholics.
Performance mentality is when we start working to be someone, rather than our doing work as who we are. You know, when we measure ourselves by our output, or by how it looks like we're working to others.
That's quite a lot to unpack, I'm aware, but if you're anything like me maybe that makes a bit of sense to you.
If it doesn't, let me give you an example.
Over the last 8 months I've done a fair bit:
I spent some time doing more missionary work around Donegal.
I proposed to my aformentioned fiancée and got engaged.
I started working at a job that I honestly love.
Currently organising moving my life over to England.
That's a lot to achieve in just over half a year, and it's not been without it's challenges.
Learning to adjust to a radically new routine and environment takes some transition for even the most neurotypical of people, not the less for someone with compound Autism/ADHD like myself.
But I've found it difficult to have grace for myself in most moments in regards to that adjustment. "Why can't I get past this?" has become a near-mantra for me in moments of high stress or heightened anxiety, followed up quickly by:
"I know I can do better than this."
Frustration, Tension, Recovery.
That frustration and the tensions it brings with it are a perfect exemplar of performance mentality.The desire to be, and of our own accord and effort.
Instinctually it harkens back to the heart of the Babel, " Let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth." (Gen. 11:4)
I've struggled with a performative mindset for longer than I can remember, really. And whilst I've had moments of lucidity where I realise the folly of such an outlook, there's never been a "eureka" moment where I've found some secret mindset to get past it.
Sometimes mental habits and outlooks run deep in our psyche. But there is still hope.
While I haven't found quite found one quick trick to be free of performative living, I have found three things that are slowly helping to cure me of it with the help of my community.
So with that I offer you a realisation, a virtue, and a present that might help you like they've helped me.
Humility: A realisation.
"God brought you out of this nothingness, in order to make you what you are, not because He had any need of you, but solely out of His Goodness."
St. Frances de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life
To realise that we are given ourselves from God, and that we are called to become more of that in Christ is to realise a deep humility.
It is also the first step to freedom from performance mentality.
Psalm 139:16 says, "Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of the days that were formed for when as yet there was none of them."
We must realise the grace we've been given in our very being. That before we were anything God saw the fullness of our actualised potential, and from His goodness made us to achieve it in light of eternity.
In other words, God thought you were a good idea forever. He thought you had the ability, fuelled by his grace, to make the cosmos better off eternally. He made you as a gift to creation.
He also made you a gift unto yourself, in your journey of development and walk with the Lord. In technical terms we could call this development toward God as our "cooperation with grace." But the point is this:
And that is our calling, the great calling of Charity. To live as full gift of self. The sooner we realise the deeply humble nature of that gift, internally and externally, the sooner we stop trying to "make it."
Temperance: A virtue.
To live as gift also comes with a obligation to give that gift of self in a proper manner. For this we need the virtue of Temperance.
"[Temperance] ensures the will's mastery over instincts and keeps desires within the limits of what is honorable. The temperate person directs the sensitive appetites toward what is good and maintains a healthy discretion."
I think we often view discretion as something stand-offish.
And perhaps it can be. But it can also be healthy, aiding us in being seen as truly are in each moment.
The temptations of understanding our identity as a gift are to either be too shielding of that gift in search of faux-protection in fear of others, or to give others too much of it too quickly in pursuit of shallow affirmation.
And really, aren't these also preformative techniques? Temperance ensures we don't fall to them by helping us give ourselves to those in our paths at the right time, in the right place, and in the right manner.
Of course virtues are to be strived for, we do not get there overnight.
But it's an important virtue to aim for. We want to show proper value to the gift God has given us in our identity.
Doing so means we have to be temperate with the way it is shared. Otherwise we're living by performing again, either for ego or from fear.
Acceptance: A present.
So we have our realisation, and our virtue, what about this present I alluded to? Well, thankfully I didn't have to buy you anything in order to publish this article.
No, the giver as ever is the Lord, and the present is quite literally the present. Or rather, the acceptance of the present as a present and being present to it.
I think of this prayer of St. Faustina:
"Only the present moment is precious to me. As the future may never enter my soul at all. It is no longer in my power to change, correct or add to the past; For neither sages nor prophets could do that. And so what the past has embraced I must entrust to God. O present moment, you belong to me, whole and entire. I desire to use you as best I can"
This is the heart of acceptance. We can only ever encounter God and others where we are right now. We can only be in the present moment. We must not let anxiety or regret distract us from this.
In the Eastern Churches they have the concept of Logismoi, distracting thoughts that take us away from Christ.
One of the tell-tale signs of Logismoi is that they take us out of the current moment by pointing us to the past or the future. They cause us to reject the present.
But if we accept this present moment, the only place where both we are and God is, then we can actually live as that gift by being present to where we are.
The future has not yet been given to us, the past has now gone by us, so let us be attentive to what we spiritually hold now. Let us not miss where God is with us right now.
That may sound all deep and speculative, and perhaps at some level it is. But the first step to acceptance is acknowledgement, which we can always do right now. I think of the answer the prophet Isaiah gave the Lord when receiving his mission to the nations:
Here I am! Send me.
Accepting where we are will help us be sent where we need to go. It stops us thinking we need to get onto the next part to be content, to be who we want to be.
Paired with humility and temperance, acceptance helps us stop trying to impose our own wills on the reality around us, and helps us really live in that reality as a gift. Performance has no place there.
If I had to think of a more concise way to phrase these three medicines to performance mentality I could maybe put it like this:
To live free of performance mentality is to give ourselves properly to the moment at hand.
Maybe writing that down somewhere visible will help remind you of the humility, temperance, and acceptance we each need to truly work from being, instead of striving to be.
Perhaps in doing so, we'll start the road to recovering from our performance mentality.