I must confess I am a recovering perfectionist who used to let my anal retentive nature slow down progress, overwhelm me with stress, and avoid trying new things because of my fear of failure. We all should strive to be the best version of ourselves that we are capable of being, but demanding perfection is not the way to do it.
I’d like to illustrate why demanding perfection is a losing battle via three case studies regarding healthy living, productivity in the workplace, and romantic relationships.
Once upon a time, I had a personal training client who I’m going to refer to as Ashley. Ashley had incredible determination and drive to succeed, but she made the mistake of demanding perfection of herself. Despite the fact that she made positive decisions that resulted in pounds lost and increased fitness, she became very upset with herself. The reason? She ate a piece of peanut butter fudge at an office party.
I received a panicky text from her the instant this happened. I couldn’t resist replying with a touch of sarcasm, “Um, peanut butter fudge is one of the most delicious things ever, so I don’t blame you.” Ashley asked why I wasn’t fussing at her for making a mistake. I explained that this was only a minor hiccup and nothing to get upset about. As long as we make positive decisions 80% of the time, I see little need in getting upset about the remaining 20%.
Many perfectionists who pursue fat loss fail because they allow a minor slip-up to turn into an epic disaster. They make a single (insignificant) mistake like drinking a beer, enjoying some ice cream, or stuffing face with some delicious pasta, and then agonize over their mistake, beat themselves up for no good reason, and experience immense amounts of guilt. Unfortunately, they often convince themselves that they are a failure and completely abandon their fitness plans (which is the furthest thing from the truth — they are merely human).
Takeaway: If you make a mistake, learn from it and move on. Aim for consistency (not perfection), because we’re all human here.
I could devote 3 days to writing this article if my heart desired. I could obsess with word choice, sentence structure, and formatting decisions for hours-on-end. But don’t you think this would be a bit excessive? Sure, the finished project might be a little better for my efforts, but do you really think my time would be well spent? You are probably shaking your head “no,” but many perfectionists obsess with their decisions so much that it bashes their productivity into pieces.
Let’s apply this point to something you might be familiar with: writing an essay. Assuming a scale of 1-100, would you rather spend 2 hours writing an essay that received a grade of 90, 4 hours for a grade of 95, or 8 hours for a grade of 100? I don’t know about you, but I place immense value on my time, so I would take the 90 and call it a day.
Agonizing over every single aspect of each decision you make is especially crippling in a business setting, where your very survival depends on an ability to act fast. Do you think the world’s most successful business people are perfectionists? Somehow I doubt it. While perfectionists are obsessing with the insignificant details of every move they make, successful people acted decisively and are already several moves ahead.
Takeaway: Spending a lot more time on a project might make it a little better, but is it really worth it? Your time is money, so act decisively.
How would you describe the perfect romantic partner? I have my own list, which goes like so:
I could continue (indefinitely), but you get the point. While this list exists in my brain, this isn’t something I seriously expect of potential partners, because my dating pool would be severely limited if I did. I’m not suggesting you should settle for a person with no redeeming qualities, but you cannot wish your ideal Mr. or Mrs. Perfect into existence. When you do meet a person worthy of a date with your amazing self, here’s a list of 21 first date ideas that might be useful.
Takeaway: Do have standards, but don’t demand perfectionism from potential partners unless you want your search for love to drag on indefinitely.
If so, I would be curious to know why you are demanding perfection of yourself. Do you feel this is useful for your business or life goals and how so? Do you think turning down the volume on your perfectionist tendencies might be a better option? Why or why not?
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