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Why You Need To Stop Demanding Perfection

Why You Need To Stop Demanding Perfection

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.

Turning a Minor Slip-Up into an Epic Disaster

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.

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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. 

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Bashing your productivity into pieces

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.

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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. 

Demanding more than you can expect from others

How would you describe the perfect romantic partner? I have my own list, which goes like so:

  • Cares about her body and enjoys being active
  • Super sassy and able to make me chuckle
  • Touchy-feely (because I love my cuddles)
  • Intelligent book-worm who can make me think
  • Preferably likes dogs, nerd at heart, fan of the arts, thespian, enjoys traveling, drinks beer, will go to scary movies with me…

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.

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Takeaway: Do have standards, but don’t demand perfectionism from potential partners unless you want your search for love to drag on indefinitely. 

Would you consider yourself a perfectionist? 

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?

More by this author

Daniel Wallen

Daniel is a writer who focuses on blogging about happiness and motivation at Lifehack.

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Last Updated on October 16, 2019

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Invaluable Lessons You Can Learn From Your Mistakes

Do you like making mistakes?

I certainly don’t.

Making mistakes is inevitable. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could be at ease with them?

Perhaps there is a way to think of them differently and see their benefits.

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Why Mistakes Feel Dangerous

Mistakes often feel dangerous. Throughout human history, our errors have often been treated as dangerous for a variety of reasons:

  • Our vulnerability. We have limited and fragile support systems. When those systems fail, people often lose their lives.
  • Real dangers. Nature can be dangerous, and making mistakes can put us at the mercy of nature and its animal residents seeking a meal.
  • Ignorance. Many cultures scapegoats someone whenever there is a failure of some kind. Scapegoating can be serious and deadly.
  • Order. Many societies punish those who do not conform to the prevailing orthodoxy and treat difference and non-conformity as a mistake. Even our brains flash an error message whenever we go against prevailing social norms.

We have a history of handling mistakes and failure in an unpleasant way. Since each of us carries our human history with us, it can be a challenge to overcome the fear of making mistakes.

If we can embrace the reality of mistakes, we can free ourselves to be more creative in our lives and dig up some interesting insights.

Why We Can’t Avoid Making Mistakes

Many people operate under the notion that making mistakes is an aberration, a mistake if you will. You can call it perfectionism but it is a more substantial problem. It is really a demand for order and continuity.

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When we think we can eliminate mistakes, we are often working from a perspective that sees the world as a fixed place. The world, however, is not so obliging. Like it or not, the world, and everything in it, is constantly changing.

Change is more constant and pervasive than we can see with our own eyes which is why we often miss it. Our bodies are constantly changing. The natural conditions of the earth change constantly as well. Everything, including economic and cultural systems have life cycles. Everything is in a constant state of flux.

We cannot see all of the changes going on around us since rates of change vary. Unfortunately, when we try to create a feeling of certainty and solidity in our lives or operate from the illusion of stability and order, we are fighting reality and our natural evolution which is built on adapting to change.

It is better to continually bend into this reality rather than fight every change we experience. Fighting it can cause us to make more mistakes. Finding the benefits in change can be useful and help us minimize unnecessary mistakes.

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Lessons Learned from Making Mistakes

Life has so many uncertainties and variables that mistakes are inevitable. Fortunately, there are many things you can learn from making mistakes.

Here is a list of ways to harness the mistakes you make for your benefit.

  1. Point us to something we did not know.
  2. Reveal a nuance we missed.
  3. Deepen our knowledge.
  4. Tell us something about our skill levels.
  5. Help us see what matters and what does not.
  6. Inform us more about our values.
  7. Teach us more about others.
  8. Let us recognize changing circumstances.
  9. Show us when someone else has changed.
  10. Keep us connected to what works and what doesn’t work.
  11. Remind us of our humanity.
  12. Spur us to want to better work which helps us all.
  13. Promote compassion for ourselves and others.
  14. Teach us to value forgiveness.
  15. Help us to pace ourselves better.
  16. Invite us to better choices.
  17. Can teach us how to experiment.
  18. Can reveal a new insight.
  19. Can suggest new options we had not considered.
  20. Can serve as a warning.
  21. Show us hidden fault lines in our lives which can lead us to more productive arrangements.
  22. Point out structural problems in our lives.
  23. Prompt us to learn more about ourselves.
  24. Remind us how we are like others.
  25. Make us more humble.
  26. Help us rectify injustices in our lives.
  27. Show us where to create more balance in our lives.
  28. Tell us when the time to move on has occurred.
  29. Reveal where our passion is and where it is not.
  30. Expose our true feelings.
  31. Bring out problems in a relationship.
  32. Can be a red flag for our misjudgments.
  33. Point us in a more creative direction.
  34. Show us when we are not listening.
  35. Wake us up to our authentic selves.
  36. Can create distance with someone else.
  37. Slow us down when we need to.
  38. Can hasten change.
  39. Reveal our blind spots.
  40. Are the invisible made visible.

Reframe Reality to Handle Mistakes More Easily

The secret to handling mistakes is to:

  • Expect them as part of the process of growth and development.
  • Have an experimental mindset.
  • Think in evolutional rather than fixed terms.

When we accept change as the natural structure of the world, our vulnerability and humanness lets us work with the ebb and flow of life.

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When we recognize the inevitability of mistakes as part of the ongoing experiment which life is, then we can relax more. In doing so we may make fewer of them.

It also helps to keep in mind that trial and error is an organic natural way of living. It is how we have evolved over time. It is better to be with our natural evolution than to fight it and make life harder.

When we adopt an evolutional mindset and see ourselves as part of the ongoing human experiment, we can appreciate that all that has been built up over time which includes the many mistakes our ancestors have made over thousands of years. Each one of us today is a part of that human tradition of learning and experimenting,

Mistakes are part of the trial and error, experimental nature of life. The more you adopt the experimental, evolutional frame, the easier it becomes to handle mistakes.

Handling mistakes well can help you relax and enjoy all aspects of life more.

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Featured photo credit: Sarah Kilian via unsplash.com

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