“Perfectionism doesn’t believe in practice shots. It doesn’t believe in improvement. Perfectionism has never heard that anything worth doing is worth doing badly–and that if we allow ourselves to do something badly we might in time become quite good at it. Perfectionism measures our beginner’s work against the finished work of masters. Perfectionism thrives on comparison and competition. It doesn’t know how to say, “Good try,” or “Job well done.” The critic does not believe in creative glee–or any glee at all, for that matter. No, perfectionism is a serious matter.” ― Julia Cameron, Finding Water: The Art of Perseverance
This is Part 2 of the 2-part series on getting beyond perfectionism. You can read Part 1 here.
If you would like to just see and go through the visual SlideShare presentation, please scroll to the end of the post!
7. Master Controller of Your Universe: Trust and Safety Issues
“Perfectionism is not a prerequisite for anything but pain.” ― Danna Faulds
Do you have a subconscious need for safety and control? Much perfectionism is based on trust and safety issues that we carry and remain unresolved.
In a research study on perfectionism and psychological control by Soenens et al., maladaptive perfectionism, self-esteem and depression in adolescents were strongly related to the levels of psychological control that they experienced from their parents.
According to the authors:
“Our findings suggest that adolescents who perceive their parents as excessively guilt-inducing, as disregarding their point of view, and as being responsive only when parental standards are met, have maladaptive self-representations in which the pursuit of almost unattainable goals is of central importance.”
On the issue of the effects of control, the authors point out:
“Adolescents who report higher levels of psychological control doubt their behavior, engage in negative self-evaluations, and have strong concerns about their performance and potential mistakes. These maladaptive aspects of perfectionism, in turn, relate to negative outcomes such as depression and lower self-esteem.”
When we have excessively controlling influences or negative role models, we may internalize the lack of personal control that we face in our own life and take refuge in perfectionist ideals and impossible standards.
We may have trust problems, safety issues and wanting to control every aspect of our lives because we feel a lack of personal control.
If you do not feel safe being yourself and are not comfortable delegating work to others, you will take on too much and attempt to complete it perfectly.
Take the unsafe option: “imperfection and launch” and release the safe option of “perfectionism and getting stuck.”
This may sound terrifying to someone who loves to control everything but realizing that you cannot do it all alone may be the very first step towards getting beyond perfectionism.
You may have to address your trust and safety issues before you can cast aside perfectionism.
Take very small steps towards delegating tasks to others and loosen the grip on your control and wanting to do everything perfectly.
Take small risks towards allowing yourself to be less perfectionist in your approach.
Develop a sense of safety and trust in yourself and the ability of others.
8. Set Up Rules and Deadlines for Your Project: Structures that Work
“But I am learning that perfection isn’t what matters. In fact, it’s the very thing that can destroy you if you let it.” ― Emily Giffin, Something Borrowed
Do you have any rules or restrictions to manage the tendency to become a perfectionist?
I have written previously that creativity works best with a framework and specific limits and restrictions to work within. Having a limitless palette to work on is not very constructive for your projects.
Perfectionism also thrives very well without structures, rules and deadlines to manage it. However, the moment you set a firm deadline and place the habit of perfectionism within a framework, you have a better chance at getting things done and not just spin your wheels.
For example rules can sound like:
“My time to write today is one hour and during that one hour I will NOT edit or go back to correct and make things better.”
Many times the need and obsession to edit endlessly passes away after you have given up on editing because of a superseding rule of “no editing.”
Also, create outlines and a definite and narrow focus for your topic because giving yourself too much creative room to walk in may result in perfectionism.
You will also greatly benefit by having checks and balances on your perfectionism. For example, you may become a part of a group that monitors and provides support for perfectionists.
One of the biggest problems with perfectionists is that they believe that they are alone and suffer in silence in the confines of their minds. Research has repeatedly shown the cardiovascular and health benefits of having concrete social structures, relationships and support.
Another approach is to allow for Creative Perfectionism: Allow yourself perfectionism in a small subset of activities or just one task. When you begin to complete other tasks with relatively less amount of perfectionism, you will get to see the costs versus benefits of being a non-perfectionist.
Set up structures, rules and deadlines to manage perfectionism.
Enlist social support to work through some of your perfectionism issues.
9. Getting Realistic about Your Approach to Life and Tasks: Dropping Standards
“We freeze up because we expect a certain result or because we want things to be perfect.” ― Bernie Glassman, The Dude and the Zen Master
Many perfectionist think in black and white. It is all or nothing. Either the work is outrageously good or they refuse to ship at all.
The shortcoming with this approach is that you are setting the standards and when you fall short, you bring out the ruler and start measuring yourself.
The all or nothing thinking leaves no room for flexibility and wiggle room. In many instances, plans may not go right and having very rigid expectations does not serve you very well.
“In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Dwight David Eisenhower
Let us look at from a different approach. If on a scale from 1 to 10, 7-10 being a great job and 1-3 being a poorly done job, where would you place yourself? A perfectionist will attempt to score a routine 10 and sometimes even beyond that.
The trick is to recognize where you are working on the scale and turn the dial back if you are defaulting into the realm of unrealistic perfectionism. In order to that, you will have to drop your standards just a bit.
Another interesting aspect is the relative nature of the perfectionism scale. Your 7 might be someone else’s 10. It is very important to understand that the good work you do might be excellent work according to the rest of the world.
It is a good idea to ask for honest feedback from someone who is an objective witness and use that as a measure of how you are performing and get a reality check on the relative nature of the scale.
Understand where you stand in the scale of perfectionism and dial it back a notch.
10. Dismantling the Process of Moving Forward: Small Steps to overcome Perfectionism
“90 percent perfect and shared with the world always changes more lives than 100 percent perfect and stuck in your head.” ― Jon Acuff, Quitter: Closing the Gap Between Your Day Job and Your Dream Job
You may be getting caught up in the endless loop of perfectionism because you are not exactly sure of how to continue forward.
When you become acutely aware of what the next small step is or the next few steps, you are freeing up energy to move forward and not get caught up in needless details that do not propel you forward. One of the issues that perfectionists face is getting excessively caught up in a tiny detail that may not be very important.
Another way to move things forward is to Create Structural Tension. According to author Robert Fritz, author of Path of Least Resistance, when you know where you are at and where you would like to be very clearly, you create structural tension that begs resolution.
Understand your target and the steps forward to prevent getting caught up in unnecessary details.
Become very clear about your start point and your end point to create structural tension.
11. Become a Scientist in Your own Life: Observe, Experiment and Change the Core Concepts Behind Why You are Being a Perfectionist
The experimental process consists of making an observation, forming a hypothesis, experimentation, data analysis and peer review. Become a scientist in your own life by dismantling perfectionism and testing alternate hypotheses that might give you better results.
You may be driven by perfectionism and you may never have tested the alternatives out. Observe the stress and other effects that perfectionism brings. Allow yourself to test out something new because you gave yourself the permission to be a scientist.
Now get measurable data on how letting go of the perfectionism even a little bit is bringing value to your life. Receive feedback from peers about how you are doing.
Now dismantle the foundations of perfectionism. Perfectionism is driven and triggered by cues such as fear, performance, stress and expectations. Recognize those cues and replace them with motivations with a higher purpose such as giving great value to others or taking good care of your family.
The idea is to shift the motivation behind doing a task from fear and perfection to a greater purpose and good.
Remind yourself that you cannot accomplish your higher objective without hitting publish or going through with it. The idea is to have a greater purpose that propels you forward busting perfectionism and doubt.
Habit research has shown that we cannot completely eliminate and forget neural networks that make up old habits but we can replace them with something more favorable.
Remember that the creative process and projects are iterative in nature and they build on themselves. I believe that to accomplish the iterative process, you may have to quickly build, measure and learn as Eric Reis of The Lean Startup advises.
Attempting to build perfectly and getting stuck will not move you forward in the iterative process.
Test everything out for yourself like a scientist and use the power of the scientific process to bust through the false foundations of perfectionism.
Replace the deepest motivations behind perfectionism with a higher purpose and value. Shift the focus from yourself to a greater good.
12. A new Model: Value the Process
“I teach something called The Law of Probabilities, which says the more things you try, the more likely one of them will work. The more books you read, the more likely one of them will have an answer to a question that could solve the major problems of your life.. make you wealthier, solve a health problem, whatever it might be.”- Jack Canfield, Co-Author of Chicken soup for the soul series
Perfectionists are often obsessed with the way the end product or outcome should look like.
Let us change that model. Slow down and savor your creative process and your projects and not be excessively caught up with the outcome.
When you make a conscious effort to thoroughly enjoy the process and decide to let go of the outcome, the need to be an unrealistic perfectionist just falls apart. Stress will find it difficult to coexist with enjoyment and happiness.
Shift your focus from trying to do many things perfectly to mindfully doing a few things that you love to do and savor the process.
A new Model for Perfection: Excellence!
Replace Perfectionism with: Excellence + Simplicity + Kaizen (constant improvement) + Focus + Imperfection or Good Enough + Enjoy the Journey + Ability to Fail + Reduce Stress.
In the new model of excellence, you do the best that you can do while striving for great things but do not attach the outcome to your self-esteem and give yourself the permission to fail and be imperfect.
Just like the Law of Probabilities taught by Jack Canfield, the more things you try, the more likely you are to enter the realm of excellence and great success.
Replace perfectionism with the new model of excellence.
Aim for excellence while enjoying the process and letting go of the outcome.
Now over to you! Do you think that perfectionism is a problem in your life and how do you manage it? Please let me know in the comments below.
Photo Credit: Daniel Lugo via Compfight
Ana Proocpe says
Thank you very much for your posts, they are so great, inspiring, helpful and clear. May God keep on blessing you 🙂
Harish Kumar says
Thanks a lot for your kind words, Ana!
I am very glad that you like the posts.
Have a fabulous week! 🙂
Great post. It is the first time I read something on this topic. I just put a name on a problem I hadn’t identified yet, I realize I have been a perfectionist all my life. I still am but now I feel I won’t be stuck anymore and what a relief. It’s like a fresh start you give me. Thank you so much.
Harish Kumar says
Thanks a lot for your comment! And you are most welcome. I am very glad to know that you found the article to be useful. Getting free from the trap of perfectionism feels exactly like you describe…a blast of fresh air and lightness. The only person in your life who can give you permission to not be a perfectionist is yourself!
All the best 🙂
Have a great week.