Progress, Not Perfection: Ditching the Perfectionist Mindset


There’s no adversary sneakier and more insidious than perfectionism. It disguises itself as ‘good,’ convincing you that you merely want to be successful and operate with excellence.

Unfortunately, while you might succeed and do things with excellence, rarely will you be satisfied with your results.

When perfectionism rears its head, you may find yourself in a constant loop of endless polishing, tweaking, refining, and fiddling, mired until doomsday in the details and effectively blinded to the bigger picture.

Achieving the end goal of whatever you’re working on may never happen because you cannot shake yourself free of the overwhelming need to have every detail ‘perfect.’ Sound familiar?

How Perfection Holds You, Hostage

Some consider perfectionism to be one of the highest methods of self-abuse. Unreasonable striving to meet the expectations of others can wreak havoc with your sense of self-worth. At its worst, perfectionism causes more stress than it could ever relieve. It can even lead to some pretty heavy things, like:

  • Anxiety and panic
  • Social phobia
  • Depression
  • Thoughts of suicide

Pretty grim, right?

Even if you don’t go to those dark places, perfectionism tends to go hand-in-hand with its ugly older brother, procrastination. When procrastination and perfectionism double-team you, you become your own worst enemy.

Productivity goes out the window, and even when you do manage to complete a project successfully, you’re never truly happy with your achievements. All you’re focused on is what you feel that you sucked at and what you did wrong. What you did right is a non-starter.

Hopefully, you can see how this beast called perfectionism is detrimental to your success in every area of life, including your work life.

How to Beat Perfectionism

Let’s be real; kicking perfectionism to the curb is difficult. It can feel wholly unnatural to finish something when you don’t feel it’s ‘perfect.’ But finish you must! Allowing perfectionism to continue to rule your life is a recipe for all kinds of unhealthy results and feelings. Below are some tips to help you wrangle this mythological beast and override your innate yet never-attainable compulsion to be perfect.

Use the Best/Worse/Real Exercise

One thing perfectionists excel at is black and white thinking and setting unrealistic expectations. When you’re struggling with something, try writing down your best-case outcome, worst-case outcome, and your most realistic outcome, which in most cases is neutral. This can help you get a grasp of how your mind is working against you and how you can overcome it.

Disentangle Your Self-Worth from How Well You Do Something

Nine times out of ten, we are our own worst critic. We get so caught up in how much we want to impress others; we beat ourselves up for the smallest mistakes. Most of the time, other people are so caught up in themselves, they don’t even notice your screw-ups because they’re far too busy worrying about their own.

Strive for Progress and Excellence, Not Perfection

Progress and excellence are much better targets than perfection. Perfection is a unicorn. It’s unattainable; you will never reach it no matter how hard you try. Why drive yourself into an early grave chasing something you will never reach?

Progress, however, can be measured. You can track it. And you can feel good about yourself when you are making progress. As to excellence, there’s nothing at all wrong with wanting to be good at what you do. Excellence is a benchmark you can chase after without getting caught in the trap of perfectionism.

Accept Something at ‘Good Enough’

Whatever your goal, aim for whatever your ‘minimum viable’ looks like, and accept the fact that good enough is ‘enough.’ Even if you’re not working on a product per se, this rule can also apply to services and other types of projects as well. Shoot for good enough, excellent even, and then let go and move on to the next goal.

Remember that once something is done, you can always go back and improve upon it later. But if your project, product, or service never sees the light of day, then you’re just wasting time and energy, not to mention causing yourself more stress than you probably realize.

Repeat after us, “Good enough, is good enough!”

It’s mostly a mental game, but with mindfulness, gratitude for what is––not what you wish you could attain––and a commitment to changing habits that may not be serving you, you can free yourself from perfection’s tyrannical rule.

See Also:

Let’s Improve: How to Gracefully Accept Professional Criticism

What It Means to Be a Leader in 2021 and Beyond

How to Stay in a State of Innovative Business Thinking

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