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Last Updated on October 28, 2019

How Not to Let Perfectionism Secretly Screw You Up

How Not to Let Perfectionism Secretly Screw You Up

While perfectionism is commonly seen as believing you want to be perfect or perhaps the obsession of wanting something to be exactly right, being a perfectionist can manifest in other subtle ways:

  • Having to check something just one more time
  • Procrastinating with the thought that it isn’t the perfect time to start something
  • Being the first person to spot a mistake all the time

It actually reflects more than we think and can be a blessing or a curse.

“Perfectionism is more than pushing yourself to do your best to achieve a goal; it’s a reflection of an inner self mired in anxiety.” — Thomas S. Greenspon

This is said by Thomas S. Greenspon, a psychologist and author of a recent paper on an “antidote to perfectionism,” published in Psychology in the Schools [1]

In other words, perfectionism is born out of uneasiness, concern and doubt rather than a simple basic want to do things well.

The Psychology Behind Perfectionism

Why are some people such perfectionists? There are several reasons why this personality trait is stronger in some than others and it’s down to a certain psychological mindset.

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While some people take or leave mistakes as a lesson, perfectionists see them as personal flaws. They mentally beat themselves up and feel that sense of failure – the same fear of failure that perfectionism stems from.

Another source of perfectionism is the issue of the ego. Many people want things to be perfect because they’re in a mindset of caring what other people will think of them – that they’ll be judged negatively if something isn’t up to a certain standard.

Childhood experiences can also allow perfectionism to evolve in your personality, especially if you’ve learned from a parent or guardian that you somehow can’t be loveable if you’re not perfect. This transcends into your way of thinking throughout work and relationships into adulthood.

And of course, the restricted rules during your education years can teach you at a young age that following rules is important and to your detriment if you’re to break them in any way or not live up to them.

How Perfectionism Secretly Screws You Up

Many people take comfort in being a perfectionist but it’s a common myth that perfectionism creates perfection.

One downside is the time wasted on making something seemingly perfect and actually causes you to become less productive.

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Spending more time on something can often be an illusion – we think we’re improving something but that time isn’t necessarily quality time and could be hindering your performance.

For example, say you were working on an important project for your department that accounted for 15% of sales for the company and it took you 4 months to complete. While another coworker completed another project in a month that only accounted for 7% of overall sales for the company. While it didn’t rack up more sales, your coworker had time to complete further projects which brought a total of 21% of sales.

This is an example of the idea that failing fast is better than succeeding too slowly. When you fail fast, you learn much more in a shorter period of time preparing you for future success much sooner and this is what perfectionism can prevent.

How to Change Your Perfectionist Mindset

If you feel your perfectionism is holding you back, then it might be time to change your habits and way of thinking. There are several strategies you can adopt to change your perfectionist mindset and improve your success in life.

1. Abandon the “All or Nothing” Mindset

A common mindset when it comes to perfectionism is either you want to do something well or not at all. But the problem with this is in denying the importance of the process.

Achieving greatness comes from the experience and insights gained from this process, allowing you the chance to tune and apply these for future success. This inadvertently reduces the chance of failure overall despite what the perfectionist mind may try hard to deny.

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2. Keep in Mind the 80/20 and 70% Rule

It’s sometimes easy to ignore the essence of something when it comes to perfectionism but as long as the essence is apparent within whatever you’re doing, it doesn’t need 100% perfection. Just 70% is all it really needs for it to be great and the fine tuning can be done afterwards. This way you’re seeing the end result more clearly helping to see potential issues.

The 80/20 rule is a good one to keep in mind – only 20% of your efforts can amount to 80% of the results. Any more than this isn’t going to make a huge difference plus it gives you that leeway to tune up the details at a later date.

3. Actively Ask for Positive Feedback

Feedback is every perfectionist’s worst nightmare and while getting both positive and negative feedback is the ideal, this is something a perfectionist would struggle with already being aware of shortcomings and inadequacies. Therefore, asking for feedback on a regular basis can help counteract this and get the mind used to a balance of opinion.

4. Sort Out the “Must Haves” from the “Good to Haves”

Lots of ideas can be great unless perfectionism is your downfall. Prioritization is key here but a perfectionist can find it hard to leave out ideas that they think should be included. However, this is detrimental to the quality of your work or project and can cause you to fall behind or add extra pressure on yourself.

Before you start any project, make sure you create a list of the ‘must haves’ and the ‘good to haves’. Make the ‘must haves’ an absolute priority and only include the ‘good to haves’ if time allows.

5. Celebrate Small Wins Every Day

A perfectionist’s mindset tends to lean towards the negative so writing down 3 daily achievements can help shift this mindset to one of positivity. Anything small from “I got up earlier than my alarm today” to “I met a new and interesting person” can get the mind thinking of positive aspects and detracts from the negative.

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One study explains how this is all down to certain chemicals interacting with our reward system in the brain allowing us to receive the feeling of accomplishment. This feeling motivates us to repeat the process again in order to achieve it. Thinking of positive daily aspects, no matter how small, can literally train your brain to be more positive.

6. Set Realistic Goals

Setting unrealistic goals is a definite trait of a perfectionist and ends up causing feelings of inadequacy because they can be hard to achieve.

Say you’re an actor who aims to become a Hollywood star within a year, or you want to have a successful published book within the next 6 months before you haven’t yet written a word – while this could happen, realistically you’re bound to be disappointed.

Having goals is a wonderful thing but raising the bar too high can create feelings of demotivation and lack. So harvest that desire to improve yourself by all means, but not to the point of making yourself feel less-than.

Learn more about how to set realistic goals here: How to Use SMART Goal to Become Highly Successful in Life

Final Thoughts

You can’t always extinguish the perfectionist in you (that’s perfectionism) but you can become a ‘healthy perfectionist’. You can do this by always keeping the bigger picture in mind.

Whenever you start drilling into an aspect or detail of your project, ask yourself how much it’ll affect the end result. If it only contributes to around 2%, then you need to let it go. This is an example of opportunity cost where there is potential loss of other avenues or alternatives because of sole focus on one idea.

Stepping back before diving in can save you a lot of time and frees you up to focus on a better result.

Reference

[1] Psychology in the Schools: Is There An Antidote to Perfectionism?

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Leon Ho

Founder & CEO of Lifehack

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Last Updated on October 22, 2020

2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

2 Transformational Ways to Spark Your Creative Energy

Good things come in twos: Peanut butter and jelly, Day and night, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. The same is true for what sparks our creative energy: our thoughts and actions.

Creativity is an inside job as much as it is about a conducive schedule, physical environment, and supportive behaviors. By establishing the right internal and external landscape, creativity can blossom from the abstract to the concrete and we can have fun along the way.

Sparking creativity is all about setting up the right conditions so a spark is ignited and sustained. The sparks don’t fizzle out. They are allowed to grow and ripen.

Think of a garden. Intention alone will not produce the delicious red tomato nor will the readiest seed. That seed needs attention at its nascent stage and as it grows a stalk and produces fruit. If we want to enjoy more than one fruit, we keep at it, cultivating the plant and reaping multiple harvests.

Creativity lives in each of us like seeds in the earth or encapsulated in a nut. Seeds of ideas, concepts, designs, stories, images, and even ways of communicating that surprise and delight await activation.

By sparking our creative energy, we activate these unique seeds. Like snowflakes, they are of a moment and always without a match. The smallest sparks encourage even the smallest, most dormant seeds to sprout.

The good news is that our creative energy wishes to be sparked—to be invited to play. It wants to be our regular playmate.

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1. Be Childlike in Your Thoughts, Attitudes, and Approach

Being childlike in our thoughts, attitudes, and approach is an easy way to internally have our thoughts be gracious prolific gardeners to our creative energy. If we want it to come out and play and hang around as our regular companion, then let’s return to our 5-year-old selves.

Our childhood selves are naturally curious. We still have that curiosity! All we have to do is remind ourselves to get curious. We can do that by simply observing and being with what is in front of us instead of making up a story about what won’t work or why something can’t be done. So, it’s about cultivating curiosity instead of jumping into judgment.

Move Your Inner Judge to the Sidelines

When we get curious, creativity percolates and, ultimately, takes its place in the world. To give a hand in choosing curiosity over judgment, we can move the judge that also lives inside us to the sidelines. The judge squashes our creative urges, even when they are as small as sharing a point of view. It’s that pesky voice that causes us to doubt ourselves or worry about what others will think.

The judge is also risk-averse. The judge likes things to stay the same. Change makes the judge nervous.

Creativity is all about risk and changing things up. It needs risk, even failure, to be its naturally innovative, dynamic, impactful self. The judge likes to convince us failure is something to be avoided at all costs.

To move the judge to the sidelines and let curiosity reign, we can pay attention to who we are in conversation with and who is calling the shots.

Is it the voice of fear, doubt, or anxiety (the inner-critic—the judge’s boss)? Or is it the voice of wisdom, courage, strength, and non-attachment, and of course curiosity (the inner-leader)?

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We can easily tell the difference by how each makes us feel. The inner-critic depletes and slows us down, putting roadblocks in the way. The inner-leader energizes and a natural rhythm develops.

It’s all about who we spend time with. If we wish to exercise, we will seek out our friends who go to the gym or hike. If we want to lose some weight, we will opt to eat dinner with someone who prefers a healthy spot over fast food.

After getting curious, we can honor what our curiosity prompts us to do. The spark can do its job and a fire starts to glow when commitment enters. Our childhood selves were fully committed to being creative. That level of commitment is still something we are very capable of exercising!!

Again, we need to let go of the judge. We can ask ourselves, what do we want to commit to—negativity that depletes our creative energy, depth, and output, or the understanding that our thoughts and attitudes matter and that right thoughts and attitudes are the sparks that really let our creativity come alive?

Learn to Recall Your Childhood Self

To get in touch with that unabashedly committed childhood self, recall your childhood self. If you have a picture, pull one out. Keep it around so you can remember to activate that innate creative nature that was prominent then and wants to be prominent now and always.

Soak in the essence of that being. Commit to their commitment to brave and dogged trial and error because it is yours as well. You are that person.

Remember how tenacious you were when you wanted to build that sandcastle. You kept at it as the waves came in. You built with fury or reconfigured the walls. Also, remember that there was a willingness to fail since you were as invested in the process as well as the outcome—but less with the outcome. You were willing to experiment and start again. There was vitality—the main lifeline of your creative energy—instead of a rigid attachment.

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When you notice you are in conversation with your inner-critic or being held back by it, simply acknowledge, name it, and then switch to your inner-leader by taking a few good deep belly breaths, rubbing two fingertips together, or listening to ambient sounds in the background.

Physical movements shift our negative thoughts over to the positive domain of the inner-leader. As our judge continues to sit on the sidelines, our ability to quiet the inner-critic becomes stronger. We taste freedom. A simple taste emboldens us to say no again to the judge and yes to what makes our hearts and spirits sing—our creativity.

We begin to spark creativity to the point it no longer needs to be invited to play. It becomes our regular playmate—the younger sibling or the kid next door ready to have some fun, maybe even make some mischief by shaking things up.

When we align with our inner-leader and think and act from its promptings, creativity flows up and out with ease, as it needs to!

Letting those initial sparks generate a creativity fire that keeps burning is something we can all do! That’s the inside job.

2. Listen to Your Inner Leaders of Creative Energy

If we listen, our inner-leaders will let us know just what we need to set-up and do in our physical world to maximize that gorgeous, hungry creativity we now have flowing freely in us.

The seed has been unlocked! So, now what?

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To enable our creative energy to take its form and place outside of us, there needs to be spaciousness! Spaciousness in our physical worlds impacts our internal one. It lets the voice of the inner-leader be heard. It lets creativity have room to be sparked and acted upon.

With a little discipline, we can easily create spaciousness in our daily lives—spaciousness that will spark our creativity and let it take shape.

So, no matter who you are and what conditions help your creativity thrive, check-out these easy-to-implement basic suggestions:

  • Reduce or eliminate multi-tasking.
  • Say yes to what matters and what aligns with your big values and goals.
  • Say no to all else.
  • Say no again.
  • Schedule time in your calendar as you do with other things in your life to just be, to ponder, to let ideas percolate, and to create.
  • Spend time doing the things that bring out your creative energy. It could be walking, singing, or simply looking out the window.
  • Meditate.
  • Breathe—long breaths in and long breaths out through the nose.
  • Invite your body and heart into your experiences so your mind is a part of you and not all of you.
  • Try a new thing to spark your creativity. If you spend time running, try a different route. If running feels stale, cruise around a museum, or go for a bike ride.
  • Play a game. Indoors out or outside. Think of what makes you happy that you haven’t done in a while. Is it a physical game like badminton or cards? Maybe it’s storytelling? Play is creative, and it sparks the creative energy, too.
  • Spend time in the places that bring out your creativity. What spot in your home could be your spot for entering into that mode? Do you need to get out? Maybe a park bench is the right spot, with a book of poetry, or even nothing at all.
  • Spend time in nature. Nature brings us to a place of calm and awe and through that our creativity is easily sparked.

Final Thoughts

These are all habits—habits of mind and habits of doing. Experiment with what works for you. Have fun. If you give even 50% to altering your thoughts and actions, then you will begin to spark your creativity. It takes a lot of curiosity and commitment, but it can definitely be done.

Our innate creative energy is a deep source of all that we seek—joy, connection, renewal. It deserves and looks forward to the changes you will make that will let sparks fly and ignite!

More Tips to Spark Your Creative Energy

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

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