How I Overcame My Constant Pursuit for Perfection
Bonus: I now get more done with less effort
Perfectionism is one of those character traits a lot of us are secretly proud to call our own. It gives the impression that we can do it all, and do it all well, at that.
Once you step back and honestly assess though, it’s obvious being a perfectionist, meaning one who refuses to accept any standard short of perfection, has a number of drawbacks. These can include depression, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and many others, according to the BBC.
Sarah Egan, a senior research fellow at the Curtin University in Perth who studies perfectionism notes, “There are studies that suggest that the higher the perfectionism is, the more psychological disorders you’re going to suffer.”
The problem is this: perfectionism is mainly rooted in fear. It’s about trying to control the outcome in order to receive love and acceptance. It’s an attempt to avoid criticism and failure, which are, of course, an inevitable part of growing and learning.
Perfectionism is toxic, and ultimately leads to unhappiness. Fortunately, as a recovering perfectionist, I found a way to break the cycle.
I’m no stranger to perfectionist tendencies. Like a lot of perfectionists, this often manifests in not wanting to attempt a task where there’s a chance I’ll fail. Additionally, my unofficial motto tends to be “all or nothing”, meaning I’d rather not do something at all, than do it partially or halfway.
One day, several months ago, I knew it had to stop. I realized my perfectionism wasn’t helping me do things well. On the contrary, it was making me anxious, overwhelmed and unhappy, which shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Everybody makes mistakes, it’s an integral part of life. Trying to avoid them is a surefire route to misery.
And then I came across this version of the classic Voltaire quote, “The best is the enemy of the good,”:
“Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”
It hit me then and there. In my quest for perfection, good was no longer good enough. I was so focused on getting it perfect, I was overlooking the importance of progress.
Gretchen Rubin, podcast host and best-selling author says it best:
Instead of pushing yourself to an impossible ‘perfect,’ and therefore getting nowhere, accept ‘good.’ Many things worth doing are worth doing badly.”
Progress Over Precision
So what does this look like in my everyday life? In practice, remembering that perfect shouldn’t be the enemy of good has had vast implications for my productivity and happiness. I don’t get it right 100% of the time (and I’m trying to be okay with that!), but my new motto recognizes that progress beats perfection, every time.
In practical terms…
It means if I don’t have time for an hour workout, I’ll still get in a 15 minute session because it’s better than nothing.
If I don’t have a full three hours to draft and edit a Medium story from start to finish, I’ll begin with whatever time I DO have, and get back to it when I can.
The blog post that gets done is better than the one that never gets published because I couldn’t get it exactly right.
Even when I don’t have time to clean the whole house, I’ll complete a task or two as I can, even if it means cleaning over a few days than all at once.
The overnight getaway we plan and execute is infinitely preferable to the two week vacation that doesn’t get planned because of time, schedules and other commitments.
The dishwasher we buy after researching for 20 minutes and talking to a trusted friend trumps the one we never buy because there are too many choices and figuring out which one is absolutely the “best” is too overwhelming.
The pursuit of perfection can have dire consequences for our health and happiness. You absolutely can achieve great things without being motivated by a fear of failure.
Controlling your perfectionism will allow you to take risks and aim higher than you otherwise would. In all you do, just remember to not let perfect by the enemy of good.
Work towards a healthier mindset, and your body and mind will thank you.