I've been a perfectionist all my life. If I set my alarm to 5:00 in the morning, I force myself to get out of bed by 5:01. If I'm working on math homework, I can't move on to the next problem until I master the one that I'm on. When I can't do something exactly as planned, I often just accept failure and give up. I avoid the task instead of trying to get better at it. Does this sound like you? If so, you're probably a perfectionist as well. Being a perfectionist may lead to success, but it often hinders progress at the same time.
It's completely irrational to expect that change will happen overnight, but as a perfectionist, I seek immediate excellence. I don't want there to be any room for improvement and I don't want to try again later. This is a problem because the important things in life require hard work, dedication, and perseverance. These attributes eventually lead to perfection but require slow and steady progress.
There's a prominent quote by Voltaire that highlights this issue: "Perfect is the enemy of good." It's similar to the Confucius quote: "Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without." Here are three techniques that I used to destroy my perfectionism and appreciate the power of progress.
1. Control Your Actions, Not Your Results.
Perfectionism places a big emphasis on results. It can be very de-motivating to work solely for results. In fact, hard work doesn't always produce the desired result. Accepting the fact that you can't control the result, but you can always control your actions helped me embrace progress a lot more. I used to put off writing articles (like this one) because I wouldn't be super passionate about the topic. Now, I accept the fact that every article I write won't be my best one, but the act of writing will make me a better writer in the long run.
2. Be Compassionate To Yourself.
Perfectionists are way too hard on themselves. There's no need to beat yourself up about not doing something exactly the way you intended to. A few months ago, I had a goal to workout five days a week every week. I would get so mad at myself if I could only squeeze in two or three workouts in a week. This mindset has absolutely no benefits and leads to disappointment. It's important to be kind to yourself and realize that simply trying your best is a reason to be proud.
3. Trust The Process.
Accept the fact that perfection is unattainable. Progress is not always linear and there is always room for improvement. Learn to appreciate the gray area.
4. Time Is Of The Essence.
Perfectionism often leads to wasted time. There are only 24 hours in a day. Do you really want to spend the majority of your time trying to get from a 95% to a 100%?
5. Don’t Fear Failure.
Perfectionism and procrastination often go hand in hand. I will avoid doing something simply because I'm scared that I might fail. In reality, failure is not usually as big of a deal as we make it seem in our minds. Who cares if I try to run a 10K and end up having to walk most of the race? Failing isn't the enemy - giving up is.
All that matters is that you're better today than you were yesterday. The rest is just part of the journey.