Perfectly perfect perfection. Doesn’t that sound wonderful? Not!
What’s sad is about a decade ago that’s what I was working towards. I honestly believed that if I just waited for the “right” time, for when I had enough money, for the right idea, for enough inspiration, or if I worked on things long enough, I could do everything perfectly and would have the perfect life.
It seemed innocent enough and well-meaning. As long as I was working towards perfection, I could dismiss the fact that what I was really doing was trying to control the world around me and procrastinating on pretty much everything.
Over the years I not only learned what perfectionism really is, but I also learned that procrastination is its dysfunctional cousin. If you look up perfectionism in the dictionary it would say something like, a personal standard or a deep routed trait that demands completion without flaws. Since something completely free of flaws doesn’t really exist, you can be on a long road to nowhere if that’s your goal.
But Why Procrastinate?
The drive for perfect achievement often creates some level of anxiety, and procrastination is the answer to avoid feeling anxious, or any other uncomfortable feelings that come up. Your brain uses procrastination by tricking you into believing that the more time you spend making something “perfect,” the more people will love it and love you.
But what the brain is really trying to do is keep you from experiencing any emotional or mental discomfort. Because the brain can’t tell the difference between something imagined or real, it perceives the discomfort as something potentially dangerous and should be avoided in an effort to do part of what it was created to do, protect you from harm.
The Difference Between Perfectionism and Excellence
Unlike perfectionism, pursuing excellence or the action of perfecting (taking something to its genuinely ultimate potential), keeps you focused on what matters, fills you with energy, and builds your confidence. Excellence is limitless, progressive, and open to mistakes or failure without labeling it as evidence of your self-worth.
Perfectionism is not excellence, nor does it lead to it. It’s really a façade to disguise fear. Fear of failure, fear of humiliation, fear of criticism, fear of judgment, or fear of letting others down. Let’s face it, high achievement leading to perfect or near-perfect outcomes is praised and encouraged in our culture. And all humans love praise from others. It’s only natural to want to do things in a way that makes us proud and impresses others.
But when you focus on perfection for the sake of appearance or opinions of others, your self-worth will always be weak to non-existent. When you chase perfection, you focus on the improbable and the what if’s. You set yourself up for disappointment, and easily fall into procrastination.
For many women this become a vicious cycle of setting a goal or making the decision to do something, aiming for unrealistic perfection, focusing on the what if’s, feeling some level of fear, and then welcoming the all too familiar procrastination into the picture. Aspiring for perfection in any area of your life can leave you stuck in the cycle of forever striving but never arriving. Or worse, not starting at all.
What You Can Do Now
Overcoming the perfection procrastination cycle takes time and effort. But the results are well worth it. Especially when you finally achieve or accomplish something you’ve procrastinated on or get to the point where you finish what you start on a regular basis. It’s possible! Here are a few ways to get started.
Take Small Action
It’s action, not perfectionism, that helps you move forward to become confident and create extraordinary results in your life. So, start taking small action steps and focus on the fact that you’re taking action instead of procrastinating.
Now be prepared because the perfectionist brain never wants to take small steps. It either wants to go big or go home, but not do something that will gradually compound over time.
But it’s the consistent accumulation of small efforts that leads to change and growth. Taking even the smallest action step, interrupts the brain’s default pattern of procrastinating and starts setting new neural pathways. As you continue to take action and repeat it, those new pathways in your brain create a new pattern of behavior. Over time procrastinating on something becomes uncomfortable and taking action becomes your new comfortable way of doing things.
Go for the ‘B’
We were all trained in school to go for A+ work and for the perfectionist, the only acceptable grade. But when you apply that to real life and all the experiences that come in it, you build the fear, insecurity, and self-doubt that prevents confidence. Not to mention, even more anxiety to fuel procrastination. You hold yourself to unattainable standards, avoid taking risks needed for success, and miss out on a lot of what life can offer you.
It’s time to aim for and embrace B-grade level in whatever you’re doing or working on. B-grade work isn’t perfect and could be done better. Maybe it’s not as amazing, impressive, organized, or complete as it could be. But done is better than perfect and almost done, and in most cases good enough.
Also know that your brain will never think anything is good enough. In fact, it is fantastic at focusing in on lack and imperfections. As long as you know you’ve put your best effort into something, you can release the fear of falling short or disappointing others, and courageously embrace your vulnerability. You really don’t need to do things perfectly to do them as well as they need to be done.
There’s nothing wrong with checking out what others are doing or how they’re doing it. Especially when you’re first learning something or venturing into unfamiliar territory. But when you measure yourself or your work against the efforts and successes of others, using them as the example of perfection to strive for or surpass, you not only fuel procrastination but can also move into perfection paralysis. In other words, you freeze (instead of fight or flight).
Comparing yourself or your work to others is a race you can never win. No matter how hard you push, how much you do, it will never be enough because someone else is ahead of you. And someone will always be ahead of you.
The ironic thing is, the moment you stop comparing and focusing on seemingly perfect work or people, is the moment you start to win.
End the Perfection Procrastination Cycle
So, I’d like to challenge you to stop wasting time in seeking ever-elusive, unattainable, and unrealistic perfection. It fuels procrastination preventing you from achieving, accomplishing, and enjoying life.
Show up every day, be who you are, take action, go for the ‘B’, don’t compare, and share your brilliance with the world . . . IN A PERFECTLY IMPERFECT WAY!
Until next time!
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