When striving for better prevents taking action...
Do you constantly overthink your projects before bringing them to fruition? Do you spend a lot of time contemplating the best way to execute them but struggle to make progress? You train, train, train... but never feel ready or prepared enough. In that case, you might be a victim of useless perfectionism, which, far from helping you improve, is a trap that keeps you stuck in the same place without allowing you to move forward.
It's commendable to strive for doing things well, but aiming for perfection by obsessing over details and making constant adjustments is tremendously unproductive. Beneath the desire to do better, there lies a deep fear of taking action and continuing on the path of fulfillment.
What's the origin of perfeccionism?
Perfectionism depends partly on our inherent temperament and partly on our upbringing. If we were raised in an overly strict environment where "mistakes" and "shortcomings" were highlighted more than achievements and efforts, it's likely that we concluded that we'll never be enough to meet our own and others' expectations.
Behind perfectionism, there's also a highly idealized image of oneself combined with a high level of personal insecurity. Thus, those who aspire to perfection but never take action shield themselves from the anguish of realizing that they are not as good as the self-image they hold in their minds. They prefer to hold onto the idea that they are "a great promise" or that they "have great potential" rather than realizing that they are human beings who make mistakes, have doubts, stumble, and have much room for improvement... These individuals lack the humility and courage to live a real life and are burdened with fear and empty arrogance. Their excessively lofty aspirations keep them tied to an imagined perfect life instead of embracing an imperfect but fulfilled life, with the ongoing possibility to improve upon what has been done and experience the satisfaction of concrete accomplishments. This joy cannot be compared to the perfect image that only exists in the world of ideas.
If you recognize that the bar you have set for yourself is too high, have the courage to lower it so that you can finally leap over it and stop merely contemplating it from a distance, thinking that you will never reach it.
Perfectionistic individuals should keep in mind the following phrases and repeat them as mantras until they become ingrained:
"Perfect is the enemy of good."
"Mistakes are the basis of learning."
"Done is better than perfect."
We shouldn't confuse the positive attitude of doing our best with paralyzing perfectionism that prevents us from taking even a single step due to the fear of failure.
Perfectionistic individuals tend to think in extreme terms, believing that "It must be done perfectly, or it shouldn't be done at all."
It's not about taking impulsive action without any preparation... that would be the other extreme of perfectionism, leading to negligence, indifference, and irresponsibility.
Instead, it's about taking action while striving to give your best but also recognizing and accepting that mistakes will happen along the way, as they are an inherent part of being engaged in the flow of life.
If you don't make mistakes, far from feeling proud, examine whether you are positioned more as a spectator of the life you desire rather than actively working towards your desired goals.
Perfection may seem like a tempting aspiration, but ultimately, it is an illusion, a mirage that gives rise to countless unfulfilled projects and promises because they are never deemed perfect enough to be brought out from behind the curtain and put into action. Sooner or later, this leads to an inner void and a sense of self-betrayal that leaves us exhausted. Why? Because there has been an enormous mental drain evaluating hundreds of strategies, tactics, and possibilities. There has been an immense dedication to the preparation and polishing of our ideas, but we don't "savor" the sweetness of accomplishment, of results, of what has been done. These concrete achievements are what we should stand on to feel that we have grown, overcome, and advanced.
Perfectionistic individuals need to acknowledge and embrace the following truths:
- Uncertainty is a part of life.
- Life is inherently messy.
- It's not possible to be the first or the best at everything you set out to do.
- Not achieving this doesn't say anything about the person you are.
- Many things in life are beyond your control.
- It's impossible to please and be liked by everyone.
- No matter how great what you're working on is, if the process is excessively slow and gets lost in the details, it becomes ineffective at a certain point.
Recognizing ourselves as imperfect and unfinished human beings frees us from the demand and illusion of having to do everything perfectly.
We can choose an area of life in which we want to dedicate our best efforts to be good at it, but applying perfectionism to every aspect of life is a sure source of disappointment and frustration.
The paradox is that perfectionists often think that if they have achieved success in certain areas of their lives, it's been thanks to their meticulous, detail-oriented, and controlling way of doing things, when in reality, it could be said that they have succeeded "despite it." Realizing that their useless perfectionism hinders more than it helps them progress is a significant step towards letting go of the anchors and setting sail on the uncertain waters of a reality far from perfect.
Tips and suggestions to overcome perfectionism
Here are some practices and behaviors you can incorporate to moderate your obsessive tendency toward perfection:
- Lower the bar: recognize your tendency to want to do everything 100%. Notice how much more you enjoy life and how much more practical you become when you do things "well enough."
- Improve upon what has been done: what has been done "well enough" can be improved based on the foundation that has been laid, not on what was imagined. The suggestion is to climb step by step instead of letting life pass you by, waiting for the perfect moment to make a great leap.
- Appreciate the disadvantages of being a perfectionist: evaluate how it has affected you in terms of self-criticism, insecurity, stress, and an inability to enjoy life. Realize that far from helping you progress, your perfectionism leads you to indefinitely postpone your goals. Perfectionism is far from being a desirable quality; don't be mistaken! It is very different from the constructive and beneficial attitude of seeking excellence and continuous improvement while being in motion and assuming risks.
- Put things into perspective: perfectionism can cause excessive worry and constant consideration of worst-case scenarios. Ask yourself: What is the worst that can happen? Surely the fear and insecurity you feel are not an accurate reflection of reality.
- Expose yourself to what scares you: make mistakes, receive criticism, face setbacks, embrace imperfection... You will find that once you move past the initial discomfort and anxiety, you feel more grounded and stronger.
- Focus on the process: strive to do your best while you're doing things (that's within your control) and let go of obsessing over the outcome (which doesn't depend solely on you). Look far ahead only once to define your goal, then learn to focus on the next step and the one after that, committing to them with awareness and a willingness to take necessary risks.
- Make peace with the possibility of making mistakes: if you don't tolerate the possibility of failure, you won't take any risks, and from that moment on, you will have given up on your personal growth and development. Instead of avoiding mistakes, interrogate them: "What can I learn from this error?"
- Value yourself for who you are, not just for what you do: we are human beings, not just human doings. Making mistakes doesn't make you worse, just as achieving success doesn't automatically make you better. Your evolution is not measured by what you have achieved in life, but by what you have dared to experience.
- Set limits to your demands and give yourself space to enjoy life: having an overloaded schedule and an overly busy life is not synonymous with success and self-improvement; it's evidence that you're on the wrong path. A rushed life, without room for contemplation, enjoyment, and relaxation, is a life held captive by excessive ambitions and a measure of "success" that is far from the true inner satisfaction that comes from living a lucid and harmoniously balanced life.
- Ask yourself how you want to live: do you truly feel good about indefinitely postponing what you want because you're afraid it won't turn out as imagined? How much of your life is spent chasing perfection? How much more will you mistreat yourself by demanding that things are never good enough? What if you let yourself be at peace and start treating yourself with kindness? What if, instead of criticizing yourself, you encourage yourself to face what scares you and keeps you in the same place?
Strive to improve upon what has been done
If you incorporate these principles, you will gradually develop the habit of doing things for the pleasure of doing them and feeling in motion. Embrace the idea of carrying out "imperfect but done actions" and from there, strive to improve each day based on specific actions, rather than dwelling on ideas that only exist in the perfect scenario in your head.
When you transcend the useless barrier of perfectionism, it becomes easier for you to start, decide, and move forward. Ultimately, it's about taking your life into your own hands and letting go of the fantasies in your head. It's about getting dirty on the field and ceasing to evaluate tactics and strategies for a challenge that will never come unless you dare to take it on.
Dare to experience the liberating feeling of allowing yourself to be imperfect, simply human, constantly improving and moving forward. Your best version is found on the side of action and progress through mistakes.
Are you ready to transition from the realm of perfect ideas to achieving your goals? Don't delay any longer; the time is now, the moment is here! Start from where you are, with the few or many resources you have and with who you are capable of being today. You will feel proud once you take action, so dare to experience it.
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