The other day I read this quote from Zen Monk Shunryu Suzuki: “You are perfect just as you are, and you could use a little improvement.” I hesitate to say that the quote struck me as “perfect.” Some of us spend too much time worrying about getting it perfect that we don’t get it done. I’m putting myself in this category as a recovering perfectionist. How about you?
The problem with perfectionism
At first glance, you may think that everything needs to be perfect, that you need to be perfect. And if it’s not perfect, you may put off releasing that new pattern, offering the new program, publishing your website, showing your art. This list goes on and on. And, you get so caught up in this spiral of trying to make everything perfect that nothing gets done. That’s the problem with perfectionism — it doesn’t work.
Perfectionism is a dead end
We all know perfectionism doesn’t work. A bigger problem is that in striving for perfectionism you often end up with more problems. Here are just a few.
Procrastination and/or indecision. If you need everything to be perfect, you wait for the best solution or the right time. You don’t want to miss it, so you wait and wait.
Missing the big picture because you are focusing on the details. It’s like missing the forest for all the trees.
Loss of confidence. Have you ever heard someone apologize for their efforts? You likely didn’t notice the effort was anything other than what it was. You were just appreciative of what you saw. If you keep apologizing for your art not being what you wanted, or the website not being updated, or the quality of your videos, you will continue to undermine your confidence.
Loss of creativity. I think this one is tied into procrastination, because you want perfect results so you put it off. You don’t have “failed creative efforts.” And, of course if you did, they could lead to growth. (Ironically, growth is one of the reasons people want to be perfect.)
Perfectionism in the extreme can lead to depression and alienation of relationships.
8 steps in lieu of perfectionism
What do you do to get past perfectionism? I like to take imperfect action. Here are some tips to try:
Be aware of why you are a perfectionist and recognize when it rears its head. Know whether it’s good perfectionism or obsessive perfectionism. I think that’s often half the battle.
Ask yourself questions. “What will happen if it’s not perfect?” or even, “What will happen if I don’t have to do it perfectly?”
Aim for good enough. I have two signs in my office. One says “Good enough is good enough.” The other says, “Progress, not perfection.” It’s not license to slack off, it’s license to finish.
Stop the excuses. If you find that you are undermining your efforts with apologizing, stop doing that. A simple thank you works instead of providing an excuse.
Look at the big picture. Look at the forest not the trees. Prioritize to figure out if all the trees, aka tasks, are necessary to fill in the big picture. If not, get rid of that tree.
Learn how to delegate. Once you do this and begin to have faith in other people’s abilities, it becomes easier to delegate. You don’t have to do it all to be perfect. And, it may not be perfect to your way of thinking, but it will be done.
Just once, set a goal to do something poorly. What a concept! This is really freeing. Imagine being perfectly imperfect!
Celebrate. My clients know I like to have a weekly Success and Strategies Summit. If you’ve managed to let go of some of your perfectionist tendencies, celebrate it as a success.
It’s your turn!
Are you a recovering perfectionist? What has helped you?