4 perfectionist mistakes and how to avoid them
1) Unrealistic expectations
Many of us have high expectations when it comes to our performance. We want to be the best ever.
Unfortunately, it can also mean going through this cycle:
- We decide to finally do something
- We set a hard goal
- Time passes, procrastination begins
- We don’t reach our goal
- We feel bad about ourselves
Maybe we don’t exercise and suddenly decide to run 5x a week. Or we don’t work on a project and suddenly decide to finish it over the weekend. Or we don’t have a single word of our dream novel written and we want to get it done in a month.
What happens then?
The goal often doesn’t turn into reality and that robs us of any motivation and optimism.
Realistic goals lead to progress, progress is motivating
Realistic goals may seem boring or average, but they’re better.
If we don’t exercise, 7 min stretching routine every morning may not seem like a lot. Yet, it’s much more probable that we really do it. A little bit of exercise we do is better than a lot of exercise we don’t.
Once we get into the habit, our own progress begins to motivate us.
Similarly, if we haven’t written a single word of our thesis, we probably won’t magically write 10 pages tomorrow. So what if we aimed for 30 min of writing every day. No more, no less. Just 30 min.
30 minutes is often enough to make progress. Once the ball is rolling, it’s easier to keep it moving.
Our inner Perfect Me tries to make us pick a barely possible goal.
That our real us fails to attain.
Let’s not get caught up in this cycle.
Let our today’s self plan for today, not tomorrow. Don’t tell yourself you’re going to do something tomorrow that you wouldn’t do today. The thing is, every morning we wake up, and it’s always today. Not tomorrow. And today, we don’t want to work for 12 hours straight.
But what about 30 min? That’s a piece of cake!
2) Start? A thorough research first
We probably all know it. We want to start working on something, but we don’t quite feel ready. We want to do a really great job. We want to be proud of our work. But let’s just read some more first to get inspired.
We fear our own imperfections. If our work is not perfect and others might see the flaws, it puts pressure on our shoulders. A lot of pressure.
So we want to flee, to hide, to run away.
And one of the most typical manouvers is doing more research. A lot of research. Neverending research.
We need to read that book, see that documentary, read that study…
We do everything we can to avoid the only thing that matters: doing.
Start despite not knowing everything
When we sit down at our desk and we don’t feel ready, we can still start.
We know this for a fact because that’s what we did with this book. We could have been still reading research and watching videos about procrastination, but instead we read the most important materials and began synthesising and writing.
We often don’t have all the information we’d like to have, but that shouldn’t be a block to progress.
Moreover, sometimes we don’t even know what we need to know before we start working.
3) Everything has to be perfect
Our Perfect Me can get us into another trap by pursuing the illusion of absolute control.
We can’t take a trip, until the whole house is tidied up, until everything is planned to a T, until everyone is packed, has an itinerary and knows what they have to do.
That’s an example of trying to control everything. The funny thing is that often something unexpected disrupts all such perfect plans (rain, storm,...).
When we try to control everything and everyone, not only it costs us a lot of energy, but it can also demotivate others.
Control what you can
Better than trying to control absolutely everything is controlling what you can and doing your part.
In a group project? Don’t hound others and look over their shoulder. Do your part and be constructive.
Instead of trying to control everything, save your energy to plan for emergencies.
What if you need to print your thesis and your printer stops working?What if you need to send your paper via email and you have no internet?
It’s better to have a plan in case of such contingencies than to endlessly fuss about the font you used in a document.
4) Every step has to be perfect
You try something new and a little whisper suggests:
“I’m just not good at it.”
“This is impossible.”
You take a few steps forward and want to turn around and go back.
You’re not good at this or that, and what are you playing at anyway?
That’s the voice of the Perfect Me.
Don’t listen to it.
There are almost no perfect steps forward. If you’re starting out and expect perfection of yourself, you’ll be done soon.
The first version of a book is almost never the one being sold.The first version of an app is not the one millions of people get to use.The first version of a song is not the one that becomes a hit.
Everything seemingly perfect thing goes through many stages of imperfection. That’s the process.
Every step in the right direction counts
Imagine you’re a painter. You’re on a meadow, you have a canvas before you and you’re looking at the sunset. You’re standing there, looking at the canvas and searching for the perfect spot where to start. Top right corner? Bottom left? The sun?
And as you stand there, the sun sets and darkness descends. And your canvas is still empty.
That’s not how progress happens.
We have to allow ourselves to take imperfect steps forward.
Write bad sentences to edit them later.Draw bad pictures to refine them.Learn something badly to learn it well.
Every step in the right direction counts.