How to Overcome Perfectionism

How to Overcome Perfectionism |

When it comes to consistently getting things done, it's not just about having the right tools or the right strategies.

For many people, an obstacle preventing them from getting results is a mindset roadblock called perfectionism and it's becoming more prevalent. 

According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, perfectionism, especially in the younger generation, is increasing. 

Authors Curran and Hill wrote, "Increasingly, young people hold irrational ideals for themselves, ideals that manifest in unrealistic expectations for academic and professional achievement, how they should look, and what they should own."

Whether it's in terms of projects, grades, work performance, business profits, relationships, or family, we're now seeing an emerging culture of people who feel they must only make, have, and do things that are "perfect."

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The problem with perfectionism

One way to describe perfectionism is by having an all-or-nothing kind of mindset. For perfectionists, it's either a 100 or nothing at all and "good enough" is unacceptable.

Along with this way of thinking comes a fear of failure and an inability to get started, keep going, or follow through.   

If you're a perfectionist yourself, you might feel uneasy marking a task complete if you know there's still room to improve. You might even think of it as settling.

Another problem here is that no one and nothing is essentially "perfect" so this creates an endless cycle of setting impossibly high standards, falling short, and feeling like a failure.

This discourages new ideas from being shared, progress from being made, and goals from being accomplished. 

Any activity that highlights a person or company's supposed inadequacies or imperfections are rejected and so stagnation or decline occurs. 

If you're a writer, perfectionism can prevent you from completing an initial draft or submitting your book to publishers.

If you're a professional, perfectionism can intimidate you from competing for a promotion or switching careers.

If you're a business owner, perfectionism can deter you from branching out or testing new products and services.


How to overcome perfectionism

While it can be a complex and challenging task to address perfectionism in its entirety, here's a practical tip you could try: 

Rate your effort from 1 to 100.

Notice how I mentioned effort not result and how you should use a relatively large scale (1 to 100) as opposed to 1 to 5.

Now for perfectionists, any number less than 100 would be considered unacceptable and if you are one, chances are that you would even give yourself a low score.

For instance, let's say you want to write a book and you rate your sketchy, uncompleted first draft a 10 out of 100. 

What you should do then is ask yourself:

What made you rate your effort that particular score in the first place? 

Since you rated your effort a 10 and not a 20 or even a 1, this question helps you focus on what worked and see the positive side of what you've accomplished so far. 

If you've just read that and thought, "What if I rated my effort a 0?", then ask yourself:

What would it take for me to rate my effort a +1, +5, +10, +20, and so on?

For example, you could give yourself a +1 for following an outline, a +5 for checking for grammar and punctuation, a +10 for making your introduction more cohesive, +15 for including a compelling story, and so on.

This question forces you to consider improvement as a possibility. It helps you shift your mindset, recognize your efforts so far, and come up with ways to do better next time.

Suddenly, being perfect isn't your goal anymore. You're now focused on getting more points which promotes incremental but continuous improvement.

By using some form of measurable standard, you get to justify what it actually means to produce, do, or achieve something significant. You get to evaluate your efforts, process, and strategy as means to get to your desired outcome instead of aiming for an abstract idea of perfection.


It helps to know

It might also be helpful to know that most people started with zero.

Others in your position (or even in a worse situation that you're currently in) have overcome more obstacles and have managed to surpass all expectations, including their own.

And yes, many have also been perfectionists just like you so if they could do it, why not you?


Then what?

If you've done all that you could, the best way that you could, then shouldn't your score now be 100?

Since it might be difficult for you to give yourself a perfect score, consider the possibility that the standards you've been trying to reach aren't even your own.

It could be the standards set by your overbearing parents, supposed mentors, popular figures in your industry, etc. 

What you can do is thoroughly evaluate the standards of this other person or entity and compare them with your own. In the end, whose standard really matters?

Remember, perfectionism can undermine your efforts and abilities so a good place to start to overcome it is to acknowledge what you did well so far.

Then, simply keep doing it plus a little bit more each time.


Share in the comments below: Are you a perfectionist? If so, how has this affected your ability to accomplish your goals? What can you do today to give your effort a +1?


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