Most overachievers have point struggled with how to stop being a perfectionist. They’re ambitious but they fall under the trap that you have to be perfect before you can deliver anything.
But deep down, we all know that being a perfectionist isn’t a good thing. It leads to analysis paralysis. It leads to situations where your performance suffers because you procrastinate and miss deadlines.
Or you could be too focused on perfecting something to ever execute and achieve your dreams because you or your creation is still “not good enough.”
Here are some steps that might help you defeat procrastination.
I can’t guarantee this will cure it. But it might help:
1. Use The 100-People Technique
This is my miracle cure to perfectionism.
Being in the personal development world, I am often overwhelmed by many tempting goals and skills I can improve. Just to give you a small taste, I can improve my willpower, emotional intelligence, decision making, leadership skills, focus, story telling, fashion, financial independence, or fitness.
How do I stop myself from beating myself up when I am not even close to where I want to be with all of these?
I use the 100-people Technique. It’s a technique I stumbled upon by my own trial and error:
Go out in public and observe 100 people who pass you by on the street. Pay attention to how they look. You will notice that that 95% of them are far from physically fit and know nothing about health, fashion, or grooming. Many dress like they are broke.
It’s a great reminder that most people never get a single area of their life sorted out. They do not get rich. They do not get fit. They do not get happy.
It really shocks me out of my system because I stop comparing myself to some imaginary ideal and compare myself to real, average people instead.
You can use variations of this technique for your specific needs. For instance, let’s say are getting down on yourself for not having a ripped body or great relationships even though you are rich. Spend some time with at least 10 rich friends and pay more attention to their bodies and what they say about their relationships.
You will be surprised to find that many have yet to sort out those areas of their life. In fact, a great majority of the rich people I study have far from perfect bodies. Most are average (or even below average).
Or you are beating yourself up because you only make $1 million a year and everyone of your mastermind friends make $10 million a year (an actual, common problem from entrepreneurs). Spend some time in a soup kitchen or homeless shelter.
2. Discover the Truth About Perfectionism
“…Perfection doesn’t exist; it is a goal that fuels a never-ending process of adaptation. If nature, or anything, were perfect it wouldn’t be evolving. Organisms, organizations, and individual people are always highly imperfect but capable of improving. So rather than getting stuck hiding our mistakes and pretending we’re perfect, it makes sense to find our imperfections and deal with them. You will either learn valuable lessons from your mistakes and press on, better equipped to success — or you won’t and you will fail.” -Ray Dalio, Principles
The first step to defeating this is to understand the logic behind why you shouldn’t waste time with it.
Look at the examples I just showed you.
Getting better requires you to fail with an imperfect release. Critical learning can only be obtained if you release your project and learn through feedback.
Many things in life require you to learn through action rather than theory.
Can you become a tennis pro from just studying hundreds of books of tennis theory without ever swinging a racket?
Could Michael Jordan have been as great as he did if he was too paralyzed to step on the court? He practiced as much as he could, knowing he wasn’t perfect.
He was okay with his failures.
Most successful people I have met have failed much more than the average person. And through this failure, they have learned how to become better.
Elon Musk said in his commencement speech that, for start-up businesses, it’s important to get your product out to the market.
He said that your theories on why a product is going to be great is completely different from what people will actually pay for.
Paypal and Instagram are great examples of companies just getting things out there. Their first versions were COMPLETELY different from they are now.
They listened to their market and found the small piece that the users primarily used. They were smart enough to tear down everything else and make that the whole thing.
Instagram started as Burbn and the photo-sharing component was a small component. Paypal started as a complicated bank system and the electronic money transfer part was a small, simple part.
Perfectionism can be a good thing because you are willing to work harder than the average, lazy person to make things better. But it’s bad for you when you strive for it to a point of hurting yourself or your own success.
Perfect is a concept invented by humans. There can be no true perfection in the world.
Women who get too obsessed with a “perfect body” create distorted versions of themselves. Funny enough, they can’t be perfect by nature because they use fake parts to do so through plastic surgery and make-up.
Then they go on to fight the inevitable nature of old age to prevent their “fake perfect” from fading.
Let’s walk through some big, concrete examples of why perfectionism isn’t the best path.
Consider 2 people. Both of them have a goal of making a lot of money one day to live a good life.
Person A is such a perfectionist that she fails to ever release a book or product after years of blueprints. Because they aren’t perfect.
Person B releases books and products every year. They aren’t perfect but he learns from his audience. He learns things he never would have considered himself. He gets better and better and achieves his goal.
Person A has overfocused on her short-term goal and failed her long-term goal of financial prosperity. She has gotten stuck in her beliefs about what is “perfect” in a book that might not even be true.
Here’s another example:
Person A wants to be a Youtube star. She wants to shine on social media. She sees how awesome the videos are on there. She fails to ever release a video publicly because she is too paralyzed.
Person B wants the same thing. She is also a bit of a perfectionist but is willing to take action. She spends an entire week making her video but does release it. She gets feedback and advice she never would have considered from her comments.
Person C is super lazy. He wants the same goal. He loves taking action but is the opposite of a perfectionist. He shotguns out a video every day. These are horrible videos and he never bothers to learn from them.
In this example, I had 3 people to illustrate when perfectionism can be good. Compared to the average person, perfectionism has its place for excellence.
Because you care more about your project, you improve the quality. The average person doesn’t put much effort into it. And he doesn’t learn from his mistakes.
Person B was the best one because she used the strengths of perfectionism without letting it ruin her.
The final example:
Person A is a young intern. He wants to learn a lot of writing skills from his mentor and become wealthy one day. His mentor is a wealthy writer. However, he’s such a perfectionist that he won’t ever publicly release an essay he wrote to his mentor. His mentor warns him many times but he keeps doing it until he gets fired.
Person B is in the same situation. He succeeds by releasing things on time even though he knows it’s far from perfect. He tries his best and gets valuable advice and feedback. This allows him to grow.
This is an extreme example but it shows you how perfectionism works and why it’s not good.
I hope you understand the logic now.
Perfectionism has its place. Take a deep breath and let it go.
Even if it’s not perfect, it’s the most practical thing to do for your success.
3. Find The Real, Hidden Reason You’re A Perfectionist
Now, let’s get to the emotional side. If it logically makes sense, but you still can’t remove perfectionism.
It could be an emotional thing.
And it could just be a habit that takes time to slowly change. If it’s a habit, you just very slowly start to be less of a perfectionist over time.
If it’s an emotional thing, there could be a deeper reason that’s harder to root out.
Here are some big reasons:
Maybe your real issue is that you fear feedback so you use perfectionism as a crutch. In that case, you should look towards tackling that fear.
There is a logical and emotional solution to that as well. Realize that the worst that can happen isn’t that bad. You’re still alive and healthy. You’re still happy.
Maybe your real issue is that you’re avoiding something. You’re avoiding moving to the next step because part of you is lazy. You know the next part is the tough part that will require work you don’t want to do.
In that case, you have to tackle that obstacle. What works best is finding a drive that will motivate you to do the tough things. If your dream is so big that you’ll do anything, it will wash away the obstacles.
Finally, maybe the real issue is that you believe that doing things near perfect the first time is the way to go.
One solution to this is to do it a few times and realize it isn’t.
I was naive enough to believe that you had to read textbooks from beginning to end to do well in school. This was because I never did before and thought that was why my grades suffered.
After many months of painfully going through every page of assigned reading, I learned. I found that for some classes, it was helpful. For most classes, the information I read was excessive, needless, repetitive, and unhelpful.
I was reading a time management book by Brian Tracy, a famed business and salesman turned motivational speaker.
He mentioned an interesting study.
They separated managers into 2 groups: one who were mediocre managers and the other who were incredibly successful managers. They had them tested on decision-making scenarios.
Surprisingly, both groups scored just as well. However, they found that the difference was that in real life, the mediocre group was afraid to take responsibility for decisions, too fearful to make a decision that might be wrong, or unwilling to take responsibility if it was the wrong decision.
The test had failed to consider a few variables that exist in the real world.
More importantly, this is a great lesson in management and leadership. You have to be able to take responsibility when things go wrong, assume the risk, and do things despite uncertainty.
In the real world, you will never have complete knowledge of 100% of the variables. You will never be able to get all the information. You have to make decisions based on incomplete data sometimes.
A great leader must fully take responsibility and be willing to if he or his followers make a mistake.
Realize that you get rapidly diminishing levels of increased benefit for the extra time you spend delaying. Being fearful of not knowing all the information could be the reason behind your perfectionism. Realize that this is OK and it’s the better thing to do.
4. Realize There Is No Perfect In The Real World
In an interview with Variety, the actor Benicio Del Toro revealed that he used to beat himself up for not doing his character perfectly. But he has finally come to terms with realizing that there is no perfect.
In the real world, there is subjectivity and opinion. What is perfect art to one person may be an 8 out of 10 or 2 out of 10 for another. There is no perfect life to live.
Billionaires like Warren Buffett and Richard Branson admit that they made mistakes and failures. And it was those failures that allowed them to learn and get better. Buffett calls his life’s work his “canvas.” He says he’s made a lot of mistakes on the canvas but it’s still his work.
5. Measure Yourself Against Your Past, Not Against New, Bigger Goals
A lot of successful entrepreneurs struggle with feeling successful and happy even though they have achieved all forms of external success. They have the money, friends, and possessions they want, but it’s not enough for some reason.
The entrepreneur and strategist coach Dan Sullivan has coached over 17,000 entrepreneurs. I learned in his podcast how Dan helps people through this common problem:
Dan says that these people measure themselves against higher and higher goals. Because they keep comparing themselves to these ideals, it never feels like they are improving even though they are. Instead, he recommends you look back and compare yourself to where you have come.
I have a document called the Jar of Awesome where I add my past achievements and read them back to celebrate the positive achievements I forget about.
6. Return To Simple, Non-Intimidating Goals
The best selling author of No More Mr. Nice Guy, Dr. Glover, spent 6 years writing his book because everyone he knew built it up so that he had to make it perfect to be a best seller. One day, he went back to his initial goal of just helping a few people with what he learned and he finally got it published and the rest was history. He regrets not just putting it out there and recommends not building up what you have to do because it can paralyze you.
Perfectionism Isn’t Always Bad
A study Peter Bieling found that there may be different types of perfectionism, one that is bad for you and one that is good. Other studies have supported this idea. Another study showed that athletes had a positive form of perfectionism while those with eating disorders had a negative form.
There is a healthy medium between good and bad perfectionism. To an extreme level, perfectionism can cripple and paralyze you. But a small dose of “perfectionism” (what’s really just ambition to achieve more than an average person) is what pushes you to succeed beyond a normal, lazy individual.
Hopefully this helped you with perfectionism.
As you can see, life is not a checklist of directions. If it was, it’d be too easy to just follow the instructions to succeed. Some things are more internal, psychological, and complicated.
What’s the #1 thing you learned and will use immediately?
Any tips I didn’t include?
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