Perfectionism is tricky and lets us believe that it’s not possible to complete a task until we feel we have it “exactly right”. When in fact, chasing perfection is like chasing a mirage – the closer we get, the further it moves, and we can keep chasing it our whole life.
It drains our energy as we constantly feel the need to do better and be better. Worst of all, it stops us from being grateful and appreciative of what we have accomplished. The quest for perfection prevents us from putting our ideas and our work out in the world. It stops us from expressing ourselves and our right to be the imperfect work-in-progress humans that we all are at the end of the day.
As a writer, aspiring artist, and executive coach, I have experienced the dark side of this mindset many times in my life. With time I was able to understand and overcome it.
How the need for perfection holds us back
- It prevents us from starting something because we are not sure if the idea is good enough. So we quit even before we start.
- It reduces our productivity because we end up investing more time in perfecting a single piece of work.
- We don’t finish projects we have started because our work doesn’t feel up to the mark.
- We judge ourselves harshly for our work, even if we are doing our best and performing at our highest levels of efficiency.
How to move on from perfectionism to productivity
These are the strategies I find helpful in embracing our imperfections and not letting “perfection” come in the way of moving forward.
- Colour outside the lines: It’s something I tell my kids often. What colouring outside the lines means is not to confine your ideas or work to an established norm. Sometimes it takes thinking outside the box and doing things a little differently to make an impact.
Give yourself a similar challenge to embrace imperfection in a relatively low impact, low-stakes area of your life. Don’t re-read and edit that next LinkedIn blog five times before posting. Just once should be enough.
- Shift your attention from perfection to appreciation: People are often too hard on themselves. Often we forget to pause and celebrate what we have already accomplished in a drive to achieve more. Pause, step back, reflect and appreciate your efforts.
Find three things to appreciate about yourself from this week. Write that on a simple sticky note and put it somewhere where you can see it. Use this note to quieten the inner critical voice the next time it makes a guest appearance.
- Ask yourself: “What’s the worst that could happen?”
What’s the worst that would happen if you went ahead and made this presentation? What’s the worst that could happen if you applied for a job you are not fully qualified for? Or what’s the worst that could happen if your blog does not have the perfect title?
When we challenge and question our irrational fears with a simple logical question, “What’s the worst that could happen?” – we realise that many of our fears are just our imagination, assumptions or insecurities. Being aware of the worst case scenario and then taking a small step to move forward can alleviate some of the anxiety about getting things wrong or imperfect.
Next time you feel stuck in a suffocating grip of perfection and are unable to move forward, ask yourself: “What’s the worst that could happen?”
It is important to keep in mind that we cannot achieve what does not exist – and perfectionism is a myth. It doesn’t exist in the natural world and should have no place in ours either. The world is not made beautiful by perfectly curated things. It is made beautiful by imperfections and by imperfect, bold and brave people who are not afraid of experimenting, trying, stumbling and standing up again.