In positive form, perfectionism can drive you to excel, succeed, reach goals and push the limits of your creative boundaries. In toxic form, it can push you to depression, anxiety and frustrate your day-to-day interests by creating more problems.
Let me introduce you to a friend of mine named Ben. Ben is a great, extremely talented and creative individual. He always will reach out to me with his “next great idea”. He has great ideas and I’m always interested in hearing what he has to say. These ideas are exceptional in nature–typically they range from a unique product idea or some type of new growth opportunity he seeks for himself. There is, however, a caveat. Ben puts the except in exceptional. In that, he does everything except follow through with his new idea. (Sorry Ben!)
So why doesn’t Ben follow through with any of his ideas?
He has trouble getting started because of his problems with perfectionism.
There’s an elephant in the room, and Ben is trying to eat the entire animal in one bite. No man can eat an entire elephant in one bite, you have to take small bites and chew. This philosophy applies to our everyday life. When Ben looks up at the top of the mountain he quits because he sees how tall the mountain is that he has to climb. What he should be looking at is the step in front of him that will get him to the next step. By viewing the mountain as a series of steps he will accomplish a set of milestones that will get him to the top.
Guess what though folks, you can have your perfectionist cake and eat it too.
Case study: Ben wanted to create a fitness blog because he was very into living a healthy lifestyle.
Like many with a new idea, Ben thought how wonderful it would be to have a thriving fitness blog surrounded by a community and content that he thoroughly enjoyed himself. Seems like a no-brainer, right? It was, but the blog never got started. Ben committed several fatal flaws that kept his plane landed on the ground. Ben thought the blog needed a cool design. He became obsessed with the thought of good design but couldn’t find a template he liked. He decided he would just design it himself. Great idea, except, well, Ben doesn’t really know how to develop a WordPress theme. “Didn’t matter, the website must have a great design” he thought to himself.
Where he went wrong:
- Blogs are about content. People come to your blog for your content, not your blog design! There are many ugly blogs out there and people don’t come to your blog because of your design.
- Instead of building a step towards his goal, he built a 30 ft brick wall that he would have to climb over. Ben placed so much emphasis on having the perfect design theme that his blog literally never even came in to existence. He was so caught up in the design that it prevented him from starting.
What he could have done:
- Iterate (progress over time) to perfectionism. This is THE hidden gem of success. Get started first, and then tweak as you go, making things better over time. I also have a very perfectionist nature, and this has helped me immensely. Start with something basic, and improve it later. Just start.
- Don’t get caught up on things you can improve later. Is there a checkbox somewhere that says “thou shall not ever change this, ever, ever ever?” No, there never is. You own what you do, and you can always modify, iterate, and improve at a later time. As I mentioned in where Ben went wrong, the design was perhaps the least important part of the goal he was trying to accomplish. Ben was trying to create a fitness blog with quality content and a community around that blog. Sounds to me like all he had to do was just get a blog up and running and start writing. Instead of taking micro-actions towards his goal he barricaded himself before the blog even started.
Iterating towards perfectionism is a recipe for success.
- Think about something that is frustrating you or overwhelming you at the moment that you want to get done. Itemize the list based on which ones can be improved at a later day. (You may notice it might be all of them). Good!
- Cement it in your head that nothing is permanent and that everything can be changed later. Force a mantra in your head that says “good enough for now, I can improve on it later”.
- When you are overwhelmed you lose focus. Don’t get caught up on things you can revisit later on, especially if they’re not immediately relevant to the task at hand. Chances are when you revisit it later you can give it the full attention it deserves, and, therefore, will yield a more positive outcome.
- You can have your perfectionist cake and eat it too. Getting your mind used to iteration will make you feel more accomplished on a regular basis, and you can still make things “perfect” later on!
- Perhaps the most important step of all: just get started! Projects and people fail most commonly because the person never even took one step. Action displaces fear, remember that.
What’s your recipe for mitigating perfectionism? I’d love to hear about it!