Giving perfect the middle finger
Have you ever felt excited, driven and raring to get started on a work or personal project, only for perfection to creep up on you and, like sinking sand, render you completely incapable of moving in any direction?
Well, I have! It has got in my way throughout my life and more than ever it is getting in my way now as I work on setting up and establishing my business.
Not being a “detail” sort of person, I never really had myself down as a perfectionist, but now I see that my perfectionism is about needing to know the how and why of everything immediately, and if I don’t then I surely must be stupid, unworthy and judged by everyone!
In me it causes extreme procrastination, overwhelm and fear, and brings progress to a halt. My feelings of low self worth and the ridiculously high expectations I set for myself are deeply rooted in this quest for perfection.
At this very moment “perfection” is getting right in my way of writing this blog post, but I am making a conscious decision here and now to let that shit go now. It’s unhelpful and completely subjective anyway.
So, how can we stop letting perfect get in the way of good enough, or simply done?
It’s still a work in progress for me, and I’ll probably always need strategies in place to keep me on track, but here are a few things that I’m doing and find helpful. I hope you will find them helpful too.
First, reconsider your goals/desired outcome in a situation
Before you start a project/task, ask yourself what you want out of this. For example, if you are redecorating your house, do you want it to be perfect? When you imagine how it will look finished I’d bet money that perfect isn’t a word that has sprung to mind. You might think, I want it to feel relaxing, or be bright or functional, or quirky. So, make those things your goals. Before you start something big or that’s important to you, spend some time getting clear about what you want out of it.
And then, when you notice perfect rearing its ugly head (and it will), planting nasty little seeds of doubt and being all judgey, just STOP, ask yourself, what am I aiming for here that’s more tangible and objective than perfect? Do I want my blog post to be perfect, or do I want it to be helpful and honest? Do I want my website to be perfect, or do I want it to be authentic and warm?
Do I expect my very first attempt at something to be 100% perfect? Or do I expect it to be perfectly acceptable? Be realistic!
Then, keep reminding yourself
Changing bad habits or unhelpful thoughts that you’ve carried around for years is no walk in the park and can’t be done overnight. Thinking about your goals/intentions & even writing them in a book will help, but it’s almost definitely not going to be enough if you close said book and shove it in a drawer. Different stuff works for different people, but here are some ideas that I’ve found helpful so far, or am trying now:
- Daily mantra or quote – mine is “Learn the way on the way” Find something that resonates with you and stick it somewhere you’ll see it every day, or set a mantra alarm on your phone!
- Set intentions – every day (okay, not every day, but most days! – not perfect here either!) I write down how I want to feel that day based on my mood and energy and specifically what I have on that day. So, if I’m facilitating a workshop, I want to feel calm and prepared (not perfect). If I’m with my 3 year old (perfection seeps into parenting for me, and makes me feel pretty shit about myself, so I have to be extra vigilant here!) I want to be present and patient, not perfect (and I don’t want him aspiring to be perfect either)
- Visual reminders you’ll see every day – vision boards, post-it notes, words on a blackboard, pictures; I love visual reminders of what matters to me as a way of keeping me on track, and guess what, perfect doesn’t feature on any of them!
- If you’re less of a visual person, a song you listen to daily or each time you need a boost could really help too
- Acknowledge perfection - when it comes up, and it does, I acknowledge it by saying to myself “oh that’s interesting” and then I try to move on, back to the things I’m actually aiming for, the things that matter; like being “helpful” (not perfect) or “improving” (not being perfect) or inspiring (you guessed it, not being perfect)
- Metaphors and visualising – what works here will be totally personal to you. I imagine carrying a big shopping bag bursting at the seams and full to the brim with perfection (and/or any other unhelpful/unkind thoughts) and then I imagine it ripping open at the bottom and the contents falling out. I don’t know why but I find this so powerful, it really helps me to let go, I literally feel so much lighter when I think of this
Try setting time limits
I’ve found it helps me to set time limits and have deadlines to work to so that I have less time for the never ending demands of perfect!
One particular technique I’ve used is the Pomodoro Technique which is where you work solidly on in short intense blocks with set breaks in between. Depends what sort of thing you’re working on, but for certain tasks I’ve found it useful.
Setting calendar deadlines could help too.
Practice on things that are less important to you
Put 70% into something instead of 110% and see what happens. Does the sky fall down? Do people laugh and judge you? Has it ruined you life, or even your day?
I’ve learned to do this with housework/tidying. I’m not a naturally super tidy person, but becoming a mum and part time “housewife” I suddenly thought I needed to live in some kind of show home and it very rarely looking like that really made me feel like I was failing. But now I have a cleaning schedule which means cleaning for set limited times and if it still looks messy or unclean after that (which is does!) then so be it. Disclaimer *sometimes I don’t even stick to the cleaning schedule, and when that happens, whatever I’ve missed has to wait until the following week (and, shock horror, it has not impacted my life in any way I know of!).
Perfection is a fallacy. What I mean is that it can’t be manufactured; it can only occur completely spontaneously upon the happening of many contributing factors and is usually a fleeting feeling.
Think about when you last experienced something as perfect..... was it when you had expected something to be perfect? I doubt it. In fact, expecting something to be perfect can leave you feeling incredibly disappointed and deflated.
Here’s an example that has stayed with me: Following a difficult labour with my son, I saw a Perinatal Psychologist because, if we decided not to have another baby, I didn’t want fear of labour to be the reason. During my conversation with the Psychologist I asked her what she thought about Hypnobirthing classes. What she said really struck a cord and has stayed with me ever since, and I think it can apply to any area of life.
Whilst she agreed that it could be helpful, she also thought the problem with it was that she’d seen mums-to-be develop an ideal in their mind about having a “wonderful and perfect” birth and then feeling so incredibly disappointed in themselves if it didn’t go quite as they’d expected. I think this goes back to my first suggestion – get clear and realistic on your expectations and goals.
So when did you last feel like something was perfect? More likely it was something like a perfect summers day, or a perfect evening at the pub because the atmosphere was just right for your mood, and you happened to sit in a really comfortable chair by the fire which was great because you were tired and cold, and the music was so relaxing, and your partner happened to be in a lovely caring mood, and then you bumped into an old friend and had a real laugh which perked you up no end, and then when you went to the ladies you noticed in the mirror that the top you’d rediscovered at the back of your wardrobe earlier, hung perfectly on you. What a perfect evening you think to yourself....
Let’s enjoy perfect when it spontaneously occurs.
Where does Perfect get in your way?
Where would you benefit in giving perfect the middle finger?
Drop me a line, or leave a comment, I’d love to hear about your run-ins with perfect and anything you’ve found helpful in letting it go of it!
Don’t let perfect get in way of good enough!