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Let go of perfection

Updated: Dec 12, 2022

How's that for an end-of-year resolution: let go of perfection.

At the beginning of this year I did a Tea & Toast talk on how to start something. And this was one of the suggestions. If you haven't already, now is a great time to pick up on that suggestion. It could work wonders on helping you finish the things on your to-do list and be ready for your summer break!

Don't just take my word for it; various people - including Voltaire, Stephen R. Covey, and Oswald Chambers - have been credited with variations of:

The best is the enemy of the good.

The urge to be or produce the best, to attain perfection, is about control.

The Leadership Circle describes perfect as the ‘measure of your need to attain flawless results and perform to extremely high standards in order to feel secure and worthwhile as a person.’

Which makes it hard to get things started – because an imperfect outcome reflects your sense of self-worth.

If you're letting perfectionism drive you, you're likely having an impact on those around you as well as yourself. Perfectionism can isolate you, make you appear cold, and generate stress. You might be overly organised, unable to delegate or compromise, critical of others, fearful of mistakes.

Perversely, all of that control might lead to reduction in performance.

Ask yourself: What could I achieve if I wasn’t using all my energy to control myself and others?

If you're ready to make that end-of-year resolution (think of it as a gift to yourself), I found some great pointers for action in a couple of articles in Harvard Business Review.

Hand holdinga mug with 'good enough; written on it.
Good enough? Photo by Ksenia Makagonova on Unsplash

Rebecca Knight tells the story of a person who never started something unless they knew exactly how to do it. This stopped them from doing new things and was a great way to avoid failure.

Her tips for overcoming perfectionism are to:

  • Recognise the power of just getting it done.

  • Find analogies from other areas, e.g. how first drafts are seldom perfect and next drafts get better.

  • Think about successes when you tried something new.

  • Enlist support from a colleague or friend.

Melody Wilding also looks at perfectionism. Her take is that it stops effective decision making because it is all or nothing thinking. Her tips for overcoming come as questions:

  • What is one thing I could do today to bring me close to my goal?

  • Which decision will have the biggest positive impact on my top priorities?

My last word: Focus on progress, not perfection.


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