“Healthy striving is self-focused: “How can I improve?” Perfectionism is other-focused: “What will they think?”
― Brené Brown, The Gifts of Imperfection
We have a love-hate relationship with perfectionism.
To many people, being a perfectionist means being confident, focused and decisive. The truth is often the opposite. On one hand, we brag that perfectionism motivates us to work longer hours and maintain laser-like focus. On the hand, we use “perfectionist” as an insult for someone who is rigid and sets unrealistic standards for themselves and others.
Perfectionism can actually create problems. The Harvard Business Review analyzed ninety-five studies on the relationship between perfectionism and factors that impact employees’ effectiveness. They found that, although perfectionism consistently goes hand-in-hand with some good work habits, it also comes with issues like anxiety, depression, stress and burnout. For most perfectionists, success is a zero-sum game. You get one shot to do something right and if you miss it, you’ve failed completely.
Perfectionism Holds You Back
When we judge everything we do as either perfect or an unfixable failure, we set ourselves up for constant disappointment that keeps us from going after your goals. Perfectionism makes us risk-averse. It keeps us worried about every detail and obsessed with keeping up an image of success. Our energy should be spent on becoming the best versions of ourselves, mistakes and all, but perfectionism spends our energy on producing the best outward appearance.
Life is long and there’s not much that we can do right every time, let alone the first time that we try it. In order to grow, we have to get comfortable with failure and learn how to embrace small, consistent wins. If perfectionism keeps you from doing what matters most because you’re scared of failing then it’s time to replace it with new ways of thinking.
Let People See Your Mistakes
The appearance of success does not mean that someone is successful. When we’re only focused on making sure people think that we’re doing well, we end up defining success by their standards, not our own.
The next time you set a big goal or try to form a new habit, enlist the people around you as a support team. They’re bound to see you fail at least once, but if you choose the right people you’ll get support and encouragement — not judgment. Plus, when you do achieve your goals they’ll respect you all the more because you didn’t give up at the first sign of adversity.
Strive to Be Your Best, Not Just to Keep Things From Going Wrong
The ONE Thing says that to achieve extraordinary results you must embrace extraordinary strategy and effort. The path of mastery is lifelong, and not everything we do will be an immediate success. Sometimes the things we try won’t be successful at all, and when that happens we have to see it as a lesson or an opportunity to build resilience through problem-solving.
Don’t be afraid to think big about your goals and going small to achieve them. There is inherent risk in going after a goal that will change your life, but if you build a foundation of consistent habits that bring you closer to that goal, you can combat your fear of failure in day-to-day scenarios. The more resilient you are in your habits, the more likely it is that you’ll succeed when the stakes are high.
Don’t Look at Every Detail Equally
Whether we’re performing surgery or cleaning out our inbox, we need to be able to prioritize what gets our full attention and what doesn’t. Perfectionism can make us think that all things matter equally at all times, but they don’t. Success doesn’t mean keeping a close eye on everything. It means prioritizing the ONE Thing that will make everything else easier or unnecessary.
If you obsess over small daily tasks, even ones that don’t contribute to your goals, start by time-blocking. Devote certain times during your day to focus only on the goal that matters most to your success. If there is simply too much on your calendar to make time for what matters most, go to a trusted co-worker, friend or family member and figure out how to delegate or bow out of the things that don’t better you or your career.
Perfectionism is a double-edged sword that can sometimes produce great results, but more often produces self-conscious people who are more concerned with what others think of them than with their own success. Don’t let perfectionism hold you back from your goals. Build a community that supports you in success and in failure, and focus on small habits that will teach you the resilience you need to achieve big things.