You do know that getting better at tamping down those perfectionistic traits is a good thing, right?

Being perfect is impossible. We know that and may smile in agreement, yet turn around and continue the same stressful habits underlying perfectionism.

You may be the worker who stays late and checks everything over and over again, cringes when she can’t remember someone’s name thinking I should be able to remember, feels extra pressure to “be perfect” when around the boss and verbally beats herself up hours after delivering her part in the conference call, fearing she sounded incompetent.

So what’s wrong with that, you may think. Isn’t that doing your best? What’s wrong with wanting perfection?

According to Tal Ben-Shahar PhD., author of The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life, perfectionism includes some dubious traits like…

— A desire to experience positive emotions all the time, like a constant high of positive feelings.

— A rejection of failure and acceptance of life’s ups and downs as well as

— A rejection of success because truly, nothing really is good enough.

You can imagine how these traits translate into habits that invite anxiety and an ongoing sense of fearfulness. It takes a lot of energy to be alert for mistakes and ever ready to fix the problems…and there are always problems because satisfaction doesn’t register… there’s always something that could be improved… it’s draining to keep an emotional high of positivity… it’s not how we are naturally wired.

In today’s article…

We will discuss a better, adaptive way than perfectionism to approach goals. Dr. Ben-Shahar calls it optimalism. When we strive to improve, make goals and actually reach those goals with an appreciation of the bumpy process of highs and lows, the range of joy and painful emotions, we’re on the optimal end of the achieving goals continuum. So, on one end is perfectionism and the other end, optimalism. 

Perfectionism <—————————————————————————–>Optimalism


Here are 4 habits an optimalist develops in contrast to a perfectionist approach…

Habit #1—Just get started…now!

Perfectionism and procrastination hold hands. Excuses galore. I need to read this book first before I write the blog. I can’t go to the networking event until I listen to the networking lecture my friend said was helpful to her but now I can’t remember where it is so I’ll call her first. I need to clean the closet, the toilet, the garage, etc.

Fear of failing along with thoughts of, I’m not enough, I’m a fraud just go to town and suck the motivation out of us, especially when perfectionism is in control.

Website Coach Kenn suggests choosing a 10 minute, no more than 60-minute goal Monday morning to accomplish within 24 hours. May sound small and insignificant, but it works. And I admit, it is especially helpful to hold yourself accountable by sharing your goal with at least 1 person who will agree to ask you if you’re not sharing on your own, how it’s going.

When do you have 20 minutes to work on that project you need to get started on?

Habit #2—Time matters. Keep your boundaries with time.

And by the way, be strict with that 10- 60 minute time frame mentioned in Habit #1. That’s right, you know the cliché too well: You can’t get too much of a good thing…well, yes you can! The perfectionistic notion that it can always be better never ends yet as well-rounded humans, we need to stop and move on to other aspects of our lives.

Time matters. I can spend all day and night writing…I just enjoy it and it’s meaningful to me, yet I have other tasks and responsibilities. And to tell you the truth, the rewriting isn’t always better. More importantly, I have other commitments that require more attention than I am giving. I can feel guilty and be negatively impacted because I haven’t been disciplined with time.

Time matters.I know when I have energy and can schedule accordingly. For me, mornings are golden. I’ve always been able to accomplish that 80% of work in 20% of the time in the morning. The 80/20 rule. Morning is my prime time and it’s a great time to do projects that require focus. I can also be intentional about the amount of time I use for a project and shut it down.

What’s your most productive time of the day and how can you plan your tasks accordingly?

Habit #3—Invite feedback by practicing openness to learning rather than being protective and defensive.

When in the optimalist mindset, defensive reactions are few or if recognized can be quickly adjusted to invite openness. In fact, I suggest that you know you’re in the maladaptive perfectionistic mode when you react defensively to a critique or comment related to your work.

My favorite go to habit is from Marshall Goldsmith’s book, What Got You Here, Won’t Get You There. Feedforward is a practice of asking people to make suggestions that you can work on for the future. So, if I was working on being more supportive of my employee’s concerns, I might ask my employee’s for recommendations that would help promote that goodwill.

This is particularly successful I think because I’m giving myself the control to inquire vs. just randomly being given feedback I may or may not be ready to hear.

So, that’s where the conscious decision to respond from a learning position vs. defensive position is useful. I can stop myself from continuing a defensive line of thinking/listening/responding immediately because I’m conscious of my goal. So can you. It’s a matter of saying, Wait a minute…tell me again…I’m being defensive and I truly want to learn. It works in relationships at work and home.

Look and listen for those few seconds of awareness when you KNOW that you have a choice to stop the defensive reaction and start again with openness.  Go ahead, and stop. Start over. Be open to feedback and learn.

Habit #4—Be creative and come up with freeing strategies to enjoy the process of growing/learning/achieving goals.

I love the story Dr. Ben-Shahar tells about British philosopher Samuel Coleridge, who in the 18th century was struggling with perfectionism which produced anxieties that kept him from writing. He would get so anxious he couldn’t get started… his mindset that his writing needed to be perfect was unmovable.

He told himself, Okay, I will write my best work at the end of my life…everything else is rough draft. It freed him so he could go on to write…and he did hundreds of thousands of prose.

It’s the same strategy that works for exercising goals, losing weight, starting a business, turning a team around. It begins with identifying the goal, the limiting belief, often embedded in perfectionism and creating an alternative that is believable.

What is something you can rename or get creative about that you’re trying to accomplish that needs to be freed from a perfectionistic grip?

The takeaway is…

We all want to succeed. It’s a wonderful thing to set improvement goals and strive for our best, stretching beyond our comfort zone and achieving more.

Yet, when the process becomes riddled with stress and anxiety, joy is less and satisfaction never comes. It’s time then, to step back and take a look at the way perfectionistic habits are problematic.

There is a better way than perfect…become an optimalist. Keep the commitment to the “ be your best” and layer some realistic understanding for human failings, painful emotional learnings…imperfection.

It’s really better.

I’m interested: How do you free yourself from perfectionism?

Seek me out so we can free your pathways towards the success you want in your career.  Go to Love My Work Strategy Session and let me know more about your interests. I’d love to schedule 45 minutes to talk with you!