4 ways to break perfection paralysis

Have a ton of ideas but can’t get a project off the ground? Perpetually frustrated with your personal and professional development? Continually underwhelmed with your progress and where you’re at with your career?

You might be a paralysed perfectionist. (I was! Am. Work in progress.)

Tips to break the habit:

1. Accept you will fail.

You’re not obsessed with doing the best possible job possible because you’re humble or wanting to create great work. You’re obsessed with it because you’re afraid of what you have to lose if you fail.

Fear of failure is the #1 reason for paralysis in any area of your life. In a work sense, fear is one of the biggest contributors to a scared, unproductive, anxious and under performing workforce. People who are afraid are less likely to:

  • ask for help /support to achieve the best possible result
  • create their best possible work — and work they are proud of
  • keep perspective, motivation and optimism throughout the project
  • feel calm and confident (eg they will feel anxious and, well, paralysed by fear of failure)
  • show the work to peers for feedback to create a better result (fear of judgement)

Accept you’ll fail and you’ll feel liberated. In fact — plan to fail. That way you’re more inclined to look at every possible solution for the task at hand. Ask yourself regularly before, during and after a project:

  • what resources do I need to make the project happen?
  • what skill gaps are there in the project?
  • what sort of people do I need to support my weaknesses? (Perfectionists love to obsess over their weaknesses.)

2. Check that self talk.

If you hear yourself saying things off hand like ‘I could never…’, ‘I don’t have enough experience to…’, ‘I can’t believe I…’, ‘I’m so useless at…’… eugh. It’s exhausting being so hard on yourself.

If you spent more time thinking about how to achieve great things instead of how you won’t you’ll get a hell of a lot more done.

Quantify those thoughts. If you believe you don’t have enough experience to achieve X goal / promotion / job / campaign — what sort of experience do you need to get to get there?

Here’s a fun project — make a note on your phone / notepad of how many times you use negative thoughts to motivate you. Remember motivation starts with a happy person. Someone that is happy with who they are and believes they’re capable. Lose the negative self talk. Boring.

3. Lose the ego

If you’re a perfectionist it’s highly likely you’re obsessed with being the best possible version of you. But here’s the thing …

No one thinks about you as much as you do. Seriously. Get out of your head and into that work. It’ll distract you from overthinking the task at hand and set the wheels in motion to create.

If you’re paralysed by thoughts of being the best at what you do — consider rephrasing the language you’re using internally (see point 2). For example, find someone in your industry you respect and admire. Consider what ways you can learn from them to improve yourself — instead of being the best at something. (The getting better at stuff comes next).

If you get out of your head, and into your work, you’ll be less likely to be distracted by other peoples perception of your success — it’ll be all about celebrating your personal successes, big or small. And to do that …

4. Track your achievements

Write down and date every achievement big or small. If you’re not tracking what you’re doing, it’s easy to feel like you’re not getting anywhere.

Review at regular intervals (short project, every week; long project, fortnightly; life long goals — every month). How far have you progressed since last check in?

By doing something as simple as tracking your achievements (not a list of activities — a list of achievements) — you’re more likely to impress yourself — and for a perfectionist — that’s the biggest achievement of all (da doom).

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