Perfectionism is a dangerous trait. It makes good mothers think they’re bad and keeps artists and writers staring at blank pages.
It’s no less dangerous in the workplace, where it stops you achieving your fullest potential, holds back your career and makes you worry about things you can’t control.
The aim of this article is to get you comfortable with ‘good enough,’ which is perfectionism’s natural enemy – and your best friend.
Start being happy with ‘good enough’ and you’ll develop a healthier attitude to work and be the most productive you’ve ever been in your life.
Perfectionism is not the same as having high standards. In fact, it’s kind of like its evil twin.
Having high standards is great, when they are your overall driving goal and you treat yourself with kindness and know that the journey to success is long and winding.
Perfectionism is not the same as high standards.
It’s a demand for perfect standards all the time – with self-criticism and negative evaluation when these standards are not met.
It doesn’t recognise the natural ups and downs of human performance and is grounded in a need for consistently flawless results – which is unrealistic for anyone.
This means that perfectionism will always result in failure. You cannot beat it.
Perfectionism has many costs: when you see what you miss out on, you’re more likely to accept ‘good enough.’
It’s easy to think the costs of perfectionism are just procrastination and not getting as much done.
But it’s not true.
The most significant impact is on health. Perfectionism causes long-term stress and one study linked it to earlier mortality.
There’s also the opportunity cost when you expend so much energy on negative self-evaluation and a preoccupation with meeting unrealistic standards.
What could you be doing with all that brain power and energy if you treated yourself with kindness?
In today’s world you must please many stakeholders, making trade-offs – and ‘good enough’ results – an unavoidable reality.
The world is complex and interconnected and many tasks need to provide benefit to more than one stakeholder.
Good performance becomes about balance, giving attention to all stakeholders and ensuring the solution meets everyone’s needs to a lesser or greater extent.
This is why perfectionism can lead to so much inaction, because you’re striving for perfect results in an environment where trade-offs are essential.
Action, action, action: understanding the first law of success helps you become comfortable with ‘good enough.’
The nature of perfectionism is to tie you up in a game of ‘…but what about?’ and at some point you have to say no.
This means taking action. Talking and thinking and generating ideas are great, but if they don’t result in action, what’s the point?
Action is the enemy of perfectionism: it turns the cogs of progress in the workplace. Successful people prioritise action.
That’s not to say they’re not creative, collaborative and take their time to think things through properly – but they regularly and without procrastinating move forwards.
Abandoning perfectionism – and embracing ‘good enough’ – unlocks your ability to learn and improve.
When you’re less focused on being perfect, your learning goes through the roof.
It’s hard to learn and improve every day if you’re self-critical in the face of imperfection. This mindset keeps you focused on the negative.
It means that when things go wrong, you spend energy beating yourself up – leaving none left to analyse the situation objectively and make changes to your approach in the future.
Which is what, if you want to be successful, you need to do on a daily basis.
Outside of maths, there are no right answers. Unless you set criteria on what ‘good’ looks like, it’s easy to slip into perfectionism.
How do you judge when to stop and take action?
If it’s based on instinct, or how you feel, then you’re on a dangerous path.
Because then if you ‘feel’ under confident, you’ll continue plugging away – when objectively you’ve done what you set out to do and should move on.
This is why KPIs are so important, because they set objective criteria for success. They keep you focused on the outputs of a task or project, rather than the process.
As a general rule, you should always start with the end in mind. Decide at the beginning what ‘good’ looks like so you know when to stop.
If you’re a manager, you may find perfectionism drives you to ignore delegation and take on far too much work – read this article if you’re nodding your head now.