I may not know you, but I’m going to make a guess about you: You tend to be a perfectionist, and you don’t even think about it. I don’t mean to sound assuming. I’m in part reflecting on my own experience – I’ve been a perfectionist in many situations, myself.
In my case, it always happens when I genuinely care about making something important (at least from my point of view). It has to be A-ok, as I wanted it to be successful. I had all these great feelings; things went well in my mind. And then nothing was happening, literally.
I used to often think about a specific situation I’d like to be in. The blurry image of that spot was driving me while I’d been setting my goals. But I understood it had been a terrible approach. Now I’d instead do something and let it turn out to be wrong, instead of just waiting and ruminating.
Examples? Here you go!
Each time I started wondering about a new initiative, I tended to overthink, while not doing anything for real. Can you imagine how many times I was trying to create a space where I could share my experience and knowledge with other people? More than a dozen! And it took all these domain names I bought so far for every single attempt. I used to always stop at this point. I couldn’t decide on how to continue, what to share and with whom. I had to keep thinking while I was worried about making the next steps. It turned out having a domain name was everything I could achieve, back in the day. And there was nothing else. Oh, maybe except the domain name registration fees 🙃If I felt less insecure about sharing my thoughts publicly, I’d be running this blog for a few years now.
I also need to mention me having too high expectations when it comes to my closest family and friends. Every time they were OK with a second-best choice, I’d been thinking: “Why on Earth they decided to go with a worse alternative?!“. It’s always an easy thing to criticize someone else’s decisions. And because I want nothing but the best for these people, I was getting impatient and strict. I was expecting them to do what I thought was best. I must admit: it wasn’t a great approach. A way smarter one is to encourage; to show why my idea can be better and let them understand it. If they still stay with the alternative choice, that’s fine. At least I tried. 🙂
Another case, this time from my professional life. I’ve been working as a software engineer since 2006. All the time, I was trying to re-create the functionality using better technology, improved techniques, and making it easier to use. At least I thought so. In many situations, the outcomes were not that significant as I wanted them do be. It’s because I was focusing on improving things that were already good. They’d been working well before I even started making my improvements. It is an excellent example of trying to make something perfect instead of moving on to the next challenge.
I hope the examples above helped you to understand where I come from. I feel these hard times are gone for me now! Further, I’ll describe what I learnt over all these years on how to deal with keeping a comfortable balance between the expectations and the outcomes.
Setting the bar (too) high
Let me be more objective and justify what I said in the very first paragraph:
You tend to be a perfectionist, and you don’t even think about it
Here’s the MPS II sub-scales form, feel free to use it to evaluate yourself and see if you’ve ever been a perfectionist. Below are a few examples (grouped by a sub-scale) of too-perfect thinking.
- When I am working on something, I cannot relax until it is perfect
- It is very important that I am perfect in everything I attempt
- I must always be successful at school or work
- I have high expectations for the people who are important to me
- I can’t be bothered with people who won’t strive to better themselves
- I cannot stand to see people close to me make mistakes
socially prescribed perfectionism
- I find it difficult to meet others’ expectations of me
- Anything that I do that is less than excellent will be seen as poor work by those around me
- People expect nothing less than perfection from me
My evaluation based on MPS II scales
I discovered that I’ve shifted from matching self-oriented perfectionism characteristic to socially prescribed perfectionism one. It’s more likely for me to relax when it comes to what I’m expecting from myself when there’s no external pressure. However, while seeing how my environment reacts to the outcomes of my actions, I feel a need to become perfect and present better results. 😱 Wow! Writing a post and finding out about such facts – it’s intense!
While I’m a perfectionist in some ways, I don’t want to feel blocked by that fact.
Good enough is OK
I wouldn’t say that it’s possible to stop being a perfectionist entirely. But it’s possible to learn how to minimize the negative side of perfectionism.
As I discovered before, there’s always some force driving your actions. It’s either you, the people you care of, or your environment. What I think is most important here, is finding a balance among these three forces. I’ll tell you now, what’s my take on that!
It doesn’t have to be crazy
There’s a very personal question to ask: what really makes one happy? In my case, the answer is:
Spending time on things that I find valuable and reduce the time I spend on something not relevant to me.
As I mostly do things that I like (I’m fortunate I’m able to!), I’d instead focus on minimizing the presence of irrelevant things happening around me.
Only important is what’s important
There’s a simple way to prioritize tasks/activities in a given context (personal, project, etc.), use the MoSCoW method. It has been designed for project management, but I believe it can be applied almost anywhere (unless it can’t be translated a project-like concept).
In my personal life, what I think works well for me is not watching TV (my Won’t have). I find it only stealing the time. Once you think about it: when was the last time you learnt about anything useful in day to day life from the TV? The time I save on not watching the TV can be spent on learning about communication, psychology (both are my Should have) and other topics (my Could have) that currently fascinate me. Another thing that I’d exchange the TV time for is a body-weight workout. It helps to stop thinking and start breathing (my Must Have). When the body is occupied, the mind can relax - and vice-versa!
If you feel you’re facing some hard-to-achieve challenge, try thinking on how to break it into smaller, actionable tasks. Then, aim to complete 80% of the most critical tasks. The remaining 20% either will not be that relevant (and you’ll do them later) or turn out to be not required anymore.
An excellent example of this principle is its application on eating habits. I used to eat a lot and didn’t care about what I was eating. From time to time, I had this reflection: what if I started eating healthier? The self-oriented perfectionism had me thinking. Whenever I wanted to go on a diet to lose some weight, I had to eat things I didn’t like, at the time of the day that didn’t suit me. And guess what? I was never successful: a few days were passing; that was it. Because it’d been easy for me to put on weight, I still wanted to somehow be on a diet but didn’t want to feel forced to do it. What worked for me was to allow myself for 20% of junk food, while 80% was for healthy meals. I’ve been eating like this for more than three years, and I must admit, it feels easy now. There’s still room for comfort food, but it’s not that huge one as it used to be.
The very same rule helps me in my professional life. Over the years, I was working on anything that was assigned as my task. I didn’t think if it was something I was curious about or not. Although, it seemed professional – and now I know it was driven by my environment (socially prescribed perfectionism) – I started getting bored by my job. I was interested in other areas of web development than I was working on. Everything improved when I learnt to say no. It doesn’t mean that I stopped doing my job! I started talking about things that keep me interested as these are the ones I’m most experienced with. It turned out great! Still, most of the tasks (roughly 70-80%) are related to business goals, and I have to work on them. However, I also get the freedom to investigate more exciting areas and expand my horizons. That’s precisely a bare minimum of 20% that helps me to keep the balance between what’s required and what’s pleasant.
- Everyone is a perfectionist in some ways;
- It may be helpful to know when you tend to be chasing perfection – try solving this short test (make a sheet copy or download), for yourself:
- read each item and decide whether you agree or disagree and to what extent,
- to score your responses, put the number of your response in the column that is highlighted next to this question,
- the higher you score on each scale (max 105 in total), the more unhealthy your perfectionistic attitudes and behaviours may be.
- Spend time on things that you find valuable and reduce the time you spend on something not relevant to you,
- the MoSCoW method can help you to find out what’s essential in a given situation.
- If you struggle to meet 100% of expectations continuously:
- aim to achieve 80% of what’s required (and most important),
- use remaining 20% of the focus to do something related AND what also makes you happy - it gives you the balance you would otherwise be missing.
- I recommend trying to use 80/20 rule as it’s been helping me for a long time 🚀