6 Steps to Conquer Perfectionism

When I think of perfectionism, or, as Seth Godin calls it, fear of shipping, I’m reminded of a commercial from several years ago of a young man with crutches struggling to climb a flight of stairs at his college campus. In a somber voice, the narrator says something along the lines of, “Many people THOUGHT about donating money to X cause. Their donations could have built a ramp that would have enabled easy access to this young man’s classes. But sometimes, it’s not the thought that counts.” I can’t remember the company for which this commercial was made (extra points for anyone who finds the commercial and links to it in our comments), but whenever I feel myself thinking about doing something, but failing to act, I think of this commercial. He’s right—sometimes it’s not the thought that counts. And I’m not just talking about donating; this applies to projects at work and at home as well.

By waiting to start or finish a project until everything lines up perfectly, you are accomplishing nothing. What a sad day it would be if a competitor released a project you have been thinking about, or perfecting, for quite some time.

The desire to create absolute perfection is going to cost you time, money, results, and the ability to share all your potential creativity and gifts with the world.

Realize that the desire to do your best is good. However, it becomes a problem when it starts to get in the way of you achieving your goals. For example, we write a blog each week. Many times I procrastinate on writing because I don’t know exactly what to say or how to express my thoughts in a way that will have the maximum impact on our clients and readers. The end result is that sometimes I don’t write on that topic at all, and sometimes it takes me a week, month, or even a year longer to get something accomplished: all because I have a strong desire for perfection.

Perfectionists hold the deep belief that perfection can and should be attained. Jack Kirby once said, “Perfectionists are their own devils.” The great reality is that there is no such thing as perfection. There are no perfect organizations and there are no perfect people. Perfection is an illusion that is impossible to attain. The problem with striving for perfection is that it will lead to low self-esteem, a lack of motivation, immobilization, guilt, and most importantly in today’s world, a lack of progress and results.

Here are 6 pieces of advice for overcoming the need for perfection and getting you focused on the right goals.

  1. Focus on what matters – progress and accomplishment: Since perfection is an illusion that is not possible, it makes no sense to strive for impossibilities. Be clear on the vision of what you want to accomplish, and then get to work on creating progress and accomplish something. Once something is accomplished, acknowledge your success and move on to the next step in accomplishing your vision. Dr. Alan Weiss, calls it The 1% Solution™, which says, “Improve by 1% every day and in 70 days you will be twice as good as you are right now.” For most people, this progress will lead to success.

  2. Focus on what can be done. Perfectionism causes our mind to think of all the things that are not possible and cannot be done. Progress and accomplishment, which lead to success, allow us to focus on what can be done.

  3. Acknowledge the Pareto Principle. In 1906, Italian economist Vilfredo Pareto discovered that there was an unequal distribution of wealth in Italy: 20% of the people owned 80% of the wealth. Today, the Pareto Principle (also known as the 80–20 rule), refers to the important point that roughly 80% of the results you produce are going to be achieved by 20% of your efforts. If the goal is accomplishment and progress, focusing on that 20% effort to achieve 80% of the results makes sense.

  4. Overcome procrastination… today. Waiting for more information, a better solution, or the feeling that you are closer to perfection will only delay your progress, success, accomplishment, and possibly, wealth. As my mother used to tell me while I winced at my plate that held brussels sprouts, my most despised food, “The only thing worse than eating a hot brussels sprout is eating a cold brussels sprout.” Mom was right.

  5. Click it and ship it. This is so easy to say and so hard for many to do in life. Once you post online, or hit send, your work becomes visible for everyone to see. The more visible you become, the more there are opportunities for people to point out your imperfections or take shots at your courage to publicize or monetize your thoughts.

    Google and Apple are both modern day examples of companies who launch and ship in beta–bugs and all. The Labs button at the top right hand corner of Gmail has many tools that Google is currently testing. Even Apple, a company known for control and perfection, releases products with known problems. There is no quicker way to get faster consumer feedback and data than to release a product before it is perfect. Google and Apple both do two very important things. First, they beat their competitors to the market. And second, they fix problems much faster when the product is out on the market than if it was still behind closed doors in the R&D lab. If it is good enough for Google and Apple, it should be good enough for you and I.

  6. Celebrate success. If you are focused on progress and accomplishment, not perfection, there are reasons everyday to celebrate.

If you are stuck on the path to perfection, following the above steps will get you off that path, and onto the path towards results and success.

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