Aug 012011

Why Perfectionism Is The Enemy

In the early stages of starting a business, or starting anything, for that matter, almost nothing goes according to plan.  For those of you who’ve ever started anything even a little bit complex, you understand where I’m coming from.  You can plan and prepare to your heart’s content, but there are always glitches and stumbling blocks that you have to overcome.  As the saying goes, if it were easy, everyone would do it.

This is where perfectionism and perfectionist tendencies come in.  What does a perfectionist do when everything is not perfect?  Do they have a meltdown?  Do they get discouraged and quit?  Do they never start in the first place, fearing that something may go wrong?  Any of the above can be expected of a perfectionist, of someone who has a strong need to control everything and to have it come out “perfectly”.

You can see where I’m going with this.  If you are a perfectionist, you will have a hard time starting things.  You will have a hard time making them run and watching them go sideways from time to time.  You will have a hard time finishing things, as you know they will never come out as perfectly as you want them to.  You will probably also have ulcers and many other negative side effects of requiring perfection of yourself and likely, of those around you as well.

Here’s what I’m NOT saying:  you should have low standards, then you’ll never be disappointed.  That is not even close to the point I am making.  I think you should have extremely HIGH standards for yourself and those around you.  I think you should do everything in your power to live up to those high standards and achieve more than the vast majority of the population.  But I DON’T think you should be a perfectionist.  Life does not have to be binary.  It does not have to be black and white.  There is a middle ground.

It is also extremely important to pick your battles wisely.  If you are starting or growing a business, or trying to achieve greatness in sports or any other endeavor, it is likely that you’ll confront dozens of different decisions and challenges each day.   These decisions and challenges are not “one size fits all” – they do not have equal importance and implications.  It is extremely important to look at each decision and challenge you face in context.  You must consider its potential impact on a micro and macro level, before you react.

Some issues and challenges you face WILL be extremely important.  Depending what your area of endeavor is, it’s not likely that they’ll be “life or death”, but in some cases they may be.  Whatever the case, you need to learn to maintain your poise and stay calm.  That is the only way that you can perform at your best.  When you run into stressful situations or those that invoke fear, use the G.A.M.E.S. Approach, which I’ve covered elsewhere and is based on techniques taught to the Navy SEALs to master extraordinarily challenging and stress-inducing scenarios.  It focuses on effective Goal-setting, Arousal Control, Mental Rehearsal, Endurance, and Self-talk.

Whatever approach you employ to overcome perfectionism, the first step is to recognize that you have an issue. From there, you can take a deep breath and each successive step should get a little easier.  Fear of failure should be less of an issue for you going forward.  You should become better at managing difficult situations and finishing what you start.  You should be less likely to let your perfectionist tendencies keep you from achieving all you’re capable of and from leading the less-stressful, happier existence you deserve.

I look forward to your thoughts and comments.

Paul Morin

  • gene bianchi

    Good reflection on perfectionism. It can he helped by strengthening one’s person inwardly, because the perfectionist is terribly dependent on the views of others. He risks his person if the project doesn’t turn out “perfectly.’ Psychological and spiritual therapy can help. He also drives those around him nuts. Gene

  • Thanks, Gene. It’s been my experience that lots of times high achievers fall into the perfectionist “trap”. I think some of the psychological nuances you mention probably offer a clue to the reason for this overlap — achievers and perfectionist alike seem to have a strong desire to prove themselves in the eyes of others. Having one’s sense of self highly dependent on everything turning out “perfectly” is a scary thought indeed. Paul

  • Have the highest standards but admit you are only human, right? = )

  • Exactly. If you don’t cut yourself and those around you a little slack, your odds of self-destructing go up considerably, especially in high-pressure situations.

  • Margaret (Peggy) Herrman

    that deep breadth is good for many things: lowers anxiety, feeds oxygen to the brain, helps with creative thoughts, AND helps you listen to those around you. Nice, very nice. Doc Peg

  • Yes! I agree Peggy. That deep breath is extremely valuable, in a lot of ways. If fact it is an integral piece of the Arousal Control element of the GAMES Approach for conquering stress and fears that I reference in this article. Breathing techniques can help with all kinds of mental anxiety and challenges. I also like your point that it helps you to listen and come up with creative thoughts! Thanks for your insightful comments. Paul

  • Margaret (Peggy) Herrman

    my pleasure. Nice to get to know you and your thinking. 🙂

  • Thanks, Peggy. Same here.

  • SEO Services

    Total Type-A here!! (See my hand raised??) But the first step in recovery, is admitting you have a problem… LOL It took me a long time… and a lot of failed ventures to admit perfection is NOT the way to go 🙂 Regardless of if people agree or not, it will take over your life! And that’s not good :/ Doing really well is better than perfect anyday :):)

  • I could not have said it better myself — “doing really well is better than perfect anyday”. I think the reason this is such a great way to look at it is that “really well” is replicable on a consistent base, but “perfect” is not. Paul

  • Completely agree here, Paul. Perfectionism is an unattainable expectation and state of mind. As you say, there is a great difference between setting stretch goals to reach for and demanding perfection. The main difference is that one is attainable and one is not.

  • Barrett, I’ve always looked at perfectionism as a double-edged sword. It’s positive in the sense that at least it pushes you to strive to do your best. Unfortunately though, it’s negative in far more ways. To name just a few: it gives you constant anxiety, it makes you more likely to choke in pressure situations, it never allows you to be happy with what you’ve accomplished … the list goes on and on. As you put it, “stretch goals” are the way to go. It’s great to push yourself and strive to attain difficult goals, but in the end, it’s very important to realize up-front that not everything will come out perfectly. Paul

  • I agree that pefectionism is not good. For example, I have a car dealer client who strives to attain 90% customer satisfaction instead of the perfect 100% – 100% is far less profitable.
    I used to have a problem delegating because I wanted them to do things as “perfect” as me. But then someone said to me “Allow them to do it 80% as well as you first, then tickle them up toward perfection”.
    and finally I think it was Zig Ziglar that says “anything worth doing is worth doing poorly until you learn to do it well ( or perfectly in this case)”

  • Well said, Paul. I hadn’t seen that Zig Ziglar quote, but I like it! I also like your point regarding 100% being far less profitable — many people have a hard time understanding that perfectionism often is damaging on many levels, including profitability.

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