Perfectionism is a dirty word in the personal development world, and with good reason.
Perfectionism, or the notion that we must be perfect and do things perfectly or it’s not worth doing at all, is poisonous.
It stops us from starting projects, finishing projects, trying new things, or putting our stuff out into the world because we think it’s not good enough.
Most of us know about the dangers of perfectionism and we’ve learned to recognize it in ourselves. But…have we conquered it? Or does it still sneak in where we least expect it?
When I was a creativity coach, I worked with this a lot. From my own observations and anecdotal evidence, perfectionism is the #1 killer of creativity and new ideas.
A lot of us are trying to rise above this impulse and remind ourselves that it’s okay to do things imperfectly.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do your best and strive for excellence, of course, but most of us don’t have a problem with that. We tend to swing to the other end of the spectrum. Perfectionism is a problem when it prevents us from trying and doing.
It’s okay to be a beginner. It’s okay to suck, because that’s how you learn.
This mindset is Level 1 of perfectionism rehab.
How I realized I was still stuck in perfectionism, and why you probably are too.
For years, I thought I’d recovered from perfectionism, and I was even helping others do the same.
I learned to talk back to the voices that told me my work wasn’t good enough or that everything I made had to be perfect, which was super helpful for my art and writing.
I started putting things out into the world. I experimented with my art style. I started a new business. I published a novel.
I thought I was fully recovered until I listened to an episode of one of my favorite podcasts, Unf*ck Your Brain.
If you haven’t listened to Kara and her amazingness, you should. Go subscribe right now. I’ll wait.
Anywho, she did an episode on perfectionism and dropped this bomb: “Part of perfectionism is making a perfect plan and then beating ourselves up when we can’t follow it.”
(I’m paraphrasing a little, but that was the gist of it.)
Talk about a wakeup call.
I thought I was cool with perfectionism, but then I realized there’s another layer.
Perfectionism isn’t just refusing to try or release something if it can’t be perfect. It’s also wishing you could be perfect and feeling bad when you’re not.
I’m the queen of making perfect plans and then feeling horrible when I can’t do them.
Those outlandish goals don’t seem outlandish at the time because I should be able to do 30 things per day, right?
Sound familiar? Let’s see if you’re still stuck in perfectionism.
Signs You’re Still Stuck in Perfectionism
- You still wish you could be perfect.
- You compare yourself to others who look like they’ve got it together.
- You make ambitious plans you can’t stick to because there just aren’t enough hours in the day.
- You set huge goals and feel horrible when you don’t quite reach them.
- You beat yourself up for every little mistake.
- It takes you hours to write anything because you can’t stop self-editing as you write. (I see this in my clients a LOT.)
- It takes you forever to create and launch anything because you’re stuck in endless revisions
- You feel exhausted, run down, and like you’re always failing
Are you nodding your head “yes?” Then you’ve got another layer of perfectionism to work though.
How to get out of the perfectionism trap
I’ll be totally honest: I’m still figuring this out myself. But here’s what’s helped me so far.
Plan for wiggle room.
Your plans won’t go perfectly. They just won’t. Expect that things will come up, that some things will take longer than you originally planned, that you’ll get ideas along the way, and don’t feel bad when progress doesn’t look perfectly linear.
By all means, set due dates for tasks, get an accountability partner, and do whatever it takes to stay on track, but don’t harangue yourself for little slips here and there. Just readjust and move on.
Think “possibilities” rather than to-dos.
I tend to overload my to-do list with WAY more tasks than any human can accomplish in a day. Instead, I’ve been trying to see those items as POSSIBILITIES rather than things that HAVE to get done.
Of course, there are some items that need to get done that day, so I’ll prioritize those.
But the other things? Those would be nice, but I won’t feel bad if I don’t clean the bathrooms today or do that extra abs workout, or if I only draft 2 articles instead of 4.
Give yourself a break.
Play with your goal setting practices.
Maybe have a minimum goal and a “Wow, that would be so freaking awesome if I did that!” goal. Set a goal that’s a stretch, but not too far out of your comfort zone. Look at how far you went and how much you grew, even if you didn’t meet your goal.
I didn’t quite meet my January income goal. I’d made a plan to reach that goal. As I acted on it, though, I realized that my plan required me to work way more hours than I had the capacity for.
I realized I had to make some adjustments to my business that wouldn’t pay off in time for me to make my goal, but that’s okay because I learned something.
I felt bad at first, but it still ended up being a good month. So I felt good about it, celebrated it, and moved onto the next thing.
Don’t self-edit while you’re creating
This one just KILLS me.
Many of my blogging clients struggle with perfectionism in their writing, which is why they hire me to help with their content. Before working with me, a lot of them were spending hours on a single blog post, even the draft. (Drafts are supposed to be imperfect, btw).
Drafting goes very quickly for me because I’m not concerned about it being perfect or even good while I’m just getting my thoughts down. I’ve overcome the lower barriers of perfectionism.
I drafted this article in about twenty minutes. Did it suck? Yes. Did I edit it and make it better? Also yes.
Whether you’re writing blog posts, creating video content, or just brainstorming, don’t judge or edit your ideas as they come out. You can always fix and edit later.
Perfectionism is sneaky, and it can mess up your business and your sanity.
Give yourself a break. Notice where you’re still getting stuck, and practice a mindset of flexibility.
It might save your business!
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