I am a recovering perfectionist. Or more accurately, I am a perfectionist who occasionally ends up in rehab, quitting perfection cold turkey, and remembering that life can still be beautiful with a glass half full.
In my many relapses into the mindful abyss of perfectionism, I’ve learned some strategies that help break me from my mental prison.
Here are my 7 treatments for a recovering perfectionist:
- Set unreasonable deadlines. In school, I always waited until the last night to read the book and write the book report. Right now, I’m focused on getting this blog written so I can post it for tomorrow. I’m not saying that waiting to the last minute is desirable, but there is something to “having” to get something done. There is a survival mechanism that kicks in when that deadline is fast approaching. For the past year, I’ve struggled with writing two blogs a week while keeping up with a busy life. But each week I struggle to meet my deadline, I have to push myself just to get it done. With a tight deadline, I celebrate completion and happily settle with less than perfect.
- Release everything in beta. Beta is a term used in software development where a version is released to users to test. Once the users help the developers find all the bugs, the completed version is released. Whatever you’re creating, release it in beta. Announce it as a special, limited offer to a core audience. Or release it publicly and just keep the “beta” to yourself. As you get feedback, refine and improve. Try to think of everything you work on as a beta version. The next one will always be better.
- Don’t leave projects unfinished. It’s easy to set a project aside when you hit a tough hurdle or get stuck on something. But just like a book, once you put it down and start on something else, your chances of finishing it dramatically decrease. Find a way around the problem, even if the solution is far from ideal. You’ll have a lesson learned once you finally reach the other side.
- Table projects until you’re ready. While it’s best not to leave a project unfinished, if you’re truly stuck and can take no action, the only thing you can do is table it. Olga and I are preparing to launch a new business. We set a goal for launching this year, but I had no idea how demanding my day job would be. Without the time to commit to a quick launch, we’ve decided to table it until early next year after things calm back down.
- Stop planning. You may not have as big of a problem with this as I do, but I am a meticulous planner. I live in the paradox of not wanting to waste my time, and thus wasting a lot of time preparing not to waste it. Crazy, I know. Planning has its place. I am a strong believer in laying out your objectives towards the goal. But get that done quickly by following rule number one.
- Focus on what you can do now. I’m sure you can find a million things outside of your control that would help you complete the task. You need more money. You need more skill. You need better tools. If any of these things are true, you need to change the goal (or at least the first actionable step towards the goal). Design your goals so they are entirely dependent on what you can do right now.
- Get excited about failure. We all want to succeed. To do a great job. To deliver something we’re proud of. To deliver something others will benefit from. But the 80/20 rule says 80 percent of the time we will fail. But the quicker we fail, the closer we are to that other 20 percent. Remember that you are your own worst critic. Most people will hardly miss a beat when you fail. You’ll learn from it, but they will quickly forget. But when you succeed… they’ll remember.
Perfection is better defined in the negative. It is that without all that is wrong. So I say to myself, “Stop trying to be perfect, and go find something wrong that can be learned from.”
What have you found to help in the struggle against perfectionism?