Do you consider yourself a perfectionist (or either of its close relatives, the lazy perfectionist or the imperfect perfectionist)? Please refer to the article 15 Struggles Only Perfectionists Would Understand (also listed under References). If you find yourself there, you’re far from being alone. While the 2010 article Real Learning: Meet the Perfectionists mentioned that the general population contains approximately 30% perfectionists, that percentage has been steadily increasing; especially among young people worldwide, according to a Harvard Business Review article by Thomas Curran and Andrew P. Hill (Perfectionism Is Increasing, And That’s Not Good News). In the same article, the authors make reference to their published research which discusses the idea that perfectionism might be behind the recent rise in serious mental illness.
As a perfectionist myself, I know what it’s like to feel overwhelmed and get lost in small details and endless tweaking. Although I realize that perfectionism is counter-productive, as it causes a lot of busy work and often leads to procrastination and even paralyzing fear, it’s still a habit that can be very hard to keep under control. Over the years, however, I’ve learned a few tools that have helped me (and can also help you) in the journey to become a functional perfectionist:
1) HAVE A PLAN. You are much more likely to achieve your goals and remain focused if you take the time to put together a detailed plan of action, or at least a solid outline of action steps towards achieving your goals. However, try not to get too caught up into making lists and organizing the process, or nothing will get done.
2) CATCH YOURSELF! Focus, prioritize and continuously remind yourself of what really matters. Why are you here? What are your main goals, or what do you aim to accomplish or achieve? Who do you want to serve (or for whom do you do what it is that you do, or want to do)?
3) JUST DO IT! According to Marie Forleo, life coach, motivational speaker, author and owner of B-School and web television MarieTV, “perfectionism will kill your dream. It is the one thing that separates winners from the wannabe’s in almost every area of life.” She also says that none of us are immune to this; we can all slip into that mindset if we’re not careful. So her mantra is “go for progress, not perfection.” This is not about lowering your standards; it’s about stopping endless tweaking (which is a manifestation of procrastination caused by fear) and focusing on what really matters: results. “If you wait to get it perfect, Marie affirms, “you’ll never get it out there.” So do it before you think you’re ready! This is also how you learn and evolve; and there is no shame in growing and improving your work, once it’s already out there.
4) TAKE FREQUENT 5 R’S BREAKS (RELEASE, RECHARGE, RESET, REDIRECT AND REFOCUS). Your mind really needs breaks, and you’ll notice that you’ll be much more productive if you take them throughout the day. Brendon Burchard, one of the top motivation coaches and marketing trainers in the world, suggests taking a 5 or 10 minute break every 50 minutes to stand up and stretch; breathe deeply and get some oxygen in your body and brain while repeating “release, recharge, reset” in your mind; take a bathroom break; drink water; play with your pet or something that is relaxing for 10 minutes.
To redirect and refocus, Brendon also suggests that you ask yourself the following questions before you get busy again: Who needs me in my A game right now? How can I show up at my best? What are my priorities right now? What will advance me the most towards my goals?
BONUS BENEFIT: Recent research suggests that taking even a 5 minute break every hour to move your body (walking, stretching, etc) is more effective to improve your mood and promote well-being than a single longer walk or exercise routine before or after work.
5) GET HELP! If you catch yourself procrastinating often due to lack of focus or fear, take the time to examine what might be behind this pattern. There are many available therapies and techniques that can help you release, resolve and remove any fears, blocks, barriers, negative core beliefs or illusions of limitations that are in your way. Some of them are cognitive behavioral therapy, hypno-coaching, meditation, yoga, etc.
6) DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP! If you’re making progress and catch yourself slipping back into your old patterns of procrastination and perfectionism, simply acknowledge it and shift back your focus to positive action steps and habits that get you moving forward. Release all that guilt and shame, and choose to be gentle with yourself!
7) DON’T COMPARE YOURSELF TO OTHERS! As that wise old text Desiderata states, “If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.” Just remember that you are unique, and NO ONE else can do what you do the way you do it!
8) ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR VICTORIES! Take time to appreciate and celebrate yourself at every turn; and not just when you manage to accomplish your goals or important milestones towards your goals, but also for all the small steps you take every day on your way to accomplishing your goals! Reward yourself and enjoy some well-deserved rest and play time.
FINAL THOUGHT: BE CURIOUS AND PERSISTENT! According to Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love and Big Magic, among other successful books, “all my most fruitful seeking and making in life has been born out of curiosity, and hopefully always will be. I feel like curiosity and stubbornness have been the two guiding stars of my existence as a writer, in particular. (The author Robert Stone once quipped, recognizably, that he had the two worst character faults possible in a writer — that he was lazy, and a perfectionist. I've always thought that if you can trade those two creativity-killing traits out for simply being curious and stubborn, then you are ON YOUR WAY.)”
Gisele Marasca-Vargas; 11/26/2018
The Charge: Activating The 10 Human Drives That Make You Feel Alive, by Brendon Burchard
High Performance Habits, by Brendon Burchard
Big Magic, by Elizabeth Gilbert
Real Learning: Meet The Perfectionists
Perfectionism Is Increasing, And That’s Not Good News
Why Perfectionism Will Crush Your Productivity — And How To Stop It
15 Struggles Only Perfectionists Would Understand
You Aren't Lazy — You're Just Terrified: On Paralysis And Perfectionism
How This Simple Formula Can Help You Increase Your Productivity By 30% Every Single Week
4 Steps To Restart A Bad Day
Work. Walk 5 Minutes. Work.