“Understanding the difference between healthy striving and perfectionism is critical to laying down the shield and picking up your life. Research shows that perfectionism hampers success. In fact, it’s often the path to depression, anxiety, addiction, and life paralysis.”
Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
Do you know when was the first time you had to overcome your perfectionism?
It was the moment when you had to deliver your first homework.
Many of us experience this first public act of submitting our creative work, our brainchild, to the scrutiny of the world as a rather stressful moment. And for some of us, it turns into an addiction to creating spotless, ideal work.
While there is a level of healthy striving that makes us achieve more in our lives, this kind of perfectionism kills it all. And, you know, it’s even dangerous. After all, in some places in the world it’s a major factor for suicides among males.
Here at Swipes, we want to help you rediscover ways to work on your projects that don’t squeeze you out, nor make you procrastinate and feel guilt. That’s why we reached out to people who’ve overcome their perfectionism and asked them how they’ve done it.
So what’s the secret sauce to achieving a healthy level of striving? Let’s hear what the experts have to say.
Patti Johnson, author of Make Waves shares five ways that perfectionism gets in our way
Patti Johnson is a career and workplace expert and the CEO of People Results. She is an instructor on change for SMU Executive Education and for the Bush Institute Women’s Initiative, as well as a keynote speaker on change and leadership.
1. Never begin. Perfectionists want to be sure that the answer, the strategy or the plan will be flawless. They think it is safer not to act in the face of uncertainty. But answering questions like, “What can I do today/this week/this month?” can help create movement forward—and usually aren’t that scary.
2. Too slow. In writing my book, I sought to understand people who started large-scale changes to make their ideas a reality. I learned that most of these people have instincts that value both speed and flexibility. As a perfectionist, learn to have the confidence to start now, knowing you can adjust as you learn more.
3. Procrastinate too much. In the research for the book, I discovered that procrastination is very closely linked to perfectionism. Procrastination can mask a lack of confidence or a fear of being wrong or of facing criticism. Think about it: What is making you delay your idea or your goals?
4. Never finish. We often refer to this habit as “analysis paralysis.” We need just a little more information to get the perfect answer. Instead, try using informed intuition—the ability to know when there is enough information to decide and move forward. You’ll find it easier to adapt in new or uncertain situations.
5. Look for the non-existent right answer. Very few situations in life have a perfect answer. In fact, many situations in life have more than one answer. So, become an “incrementalist,” someone who looks for forward progress in the generally right direction. There may be ten paths to reaching your goal, so when one door closes, find another door that will open.
Elizabeth Lombardo, author Better Than Perfect: 7 Steps to Crush your Inner Critic and Create a Life You Love, on why perfectionism prevents excellence
Elizabeth Lombardo is a psychologist and consultant and is a frequent media contributor to national media outlets including The Today Show, Dr. Oz Show, Fox Business News, Forbes, Wall Street Journal and Success Magazine.
Perfectionism is an all-or-nothing perspective that something is either perfect or subpar. You go for the A+ and accept nothing less.
I used to attribute my perfectionism to the achievement of goals in my life (getting my Ph.D., starting my business). Then I realized I was wrong.
While it appears to be focused on wanting to ensure excellence, perfectionism actually prevents excellence from appearing. It crushes creativity, prohibits productivity, hampers happiness and stalls success.
Think of perfectionism like a chocolate cake. What if, when baking a cake, you used the finest ingredients: Swiss chocolate, butter from grass-fed cows, organic eggs… And then, before putting the batter in the pan, you threw in a cup of dirt.
Would you eat that cake? Most likely not.
Perfectionism has some great ingredients. It also has dirt.
To overcome my own perfectionism, I figured out how to keep the “good” and drop the “bad” of perfectionism. I figured out how to be Better Than Perfect.
Being Better Than Perfect means still striving for the A+. And when you don’t achieve it 100% of the time, rather than beating yourself or someone else up, ask the question “Why?” Instead of being fearful of failure (a classic component of perfectionism), I now view it as data that I use to persevere and create the outcome I want.
Being Better Than Perfect means being motivated by passion, values and character, instead of by the fear (fear of not being good enough or worthy enough) that fuels perfectionism.
Being Better Than Perfect means dropping the all-or-nothing mentality (“I have no time to go to they gym so I can’t exercise”) and embracing every step in the right direction (“a five minute walk is Better Than Perfect”).
Since developing the Better Than Perfect principles in my life, my happiness, business, relationships and health have improved immeasurably. Why don’t you give Better Than Perfect a try?
Nathalie Thompson on why wanting to do things perfectly is based on fear of failure
My biggest breakthrough in overcoming perfectionism was realizing that my desire to do things perfectly was preventing me from actually putting myself out there and doing some of the things that really mattered to me.
I wanted so much to do them perfectly that I wouldn’t do them at all because I didn’t want to mess up.
I realized that, by avoiding making mistakes, I was missing out on a lot of amazing experiences and the chance to become really good at things that were important to me.
When I just took the leap and gave myself permission to be a beginner and to learn from my mistakes, it paved the way to bigger and better things. Like getting published on Huffington Post, achieving my first-level Toastmasters designation, and winning my first-ever speaking competition, for example.
What is your experience with perfectionism? We’d love to hear your tricks for beating perfectionism in the comments below.