If you want a surefire way to make sure that big project or goal you're looking to get launched off the ground NEVER DOES, look no further than your perfectionism.
We live in a world that praises perfect. It seems anymore the lost art of making mistakes, of being a beginner, of starting somewhere and allowing room for growth has gone out the door. In a lot of ways, the comparison trap and the perfectionism myth are good pals. They go hand in hand. If you're particularly prone to worrying too much about what others think and how your own performance stacks up against theirs, then it's likely that you're dealing with some degree of perfectionism, too.
Just like we can use comparison to our advantage under certain circumstances, there are clear advantages in striving for perfection. The key is harnessing this force and using it to your benefit, knowing how to spot when perfectionism is getting in the way, and how to course-correct.
Perfectionism as Procrastination
Let's say you want to start your own business. You've gone through the process of honing your craft, product or service, and now it's time to build out your website. NOT your forté (if it was you'd be in web design, right?). You know that having your product/service clearly displayed and communicated on the internet will only help you get the word out and allow you to get your offer in front of more people more quickly and efficiently, but you're "bad at it". You don't know what you're doing, and the times you've tried it didn't come out right, and other business websites look way better and more professional. Instead of starting where you are, getting something going and allowing it to be a work in progress, you put it off.
And off. And off... until it never starts, momentum is never created, and room for growth and evolution doesn't exist. IT doesn't exist.
It takes much more effort/time/energy for you to try to market your services in other ways, you continue to neglect and avoid, creating a mountain out of a molehill. As more time goes on the obstacles seem to stack up higher. This ultimately distracts from your goal of simply doing what you've already identified you want to do; offering the actual product/service of your business. All because you told yourself you weren't good enough, or your starting point wasn't good enough, so don't bother?
Identifying the Root Cause
It's unlikely that this is an isolated incident. If you start investigating, you'll probably find other times the "not good enough" mentality got in the way of simply starting. What lies underneath this need for something you do to be perfect in order for it to exist? Is "nothing" really better than an "imperfect something", or are you being too hard on yourself?
The hardest part is starting for a reason. As we get older we glorify expertise, we favor a linear model of progression, we ignore how multi-faceted the human experience, the individual experience, the aging experience really is. Learning something new, being really bad at something and creating for the sake of creating are all reserved for childhood. We falsely identify some stage in life where "growing-up" turns into "grown-up", implying that we're done.
You wouldn't expect someone else doing something for the first time to be an expert at it, right? Why would you only reserve this unrealistic expectation for yourself?
If the root of perfectionism that stops you in your tracks is in fact related to being too self-critical and holding yourself to an unrealistic standard, it's time to work on developing more self-compassion.
Self-Compassion expert Kristin Neff has created a step by step audio course that covers approaches you can use in the moment, immersive practices, and guided meditations spread out over 6 sessions. In her training course, you'll learn:
- how to stop being so hard on yourself
- how to handle difficult emotions with greater ease
- how to motivate yourself with encouragement rather than criticism
- self-compassion practices for everyday life
- the theory and research behind self-compassion
- how to become your own best teacher (Neff, 2019).
Taking Self-Compassion for a Spin
As a stepping stone towards finally getting started on that big picture goal, try this exercise with something smaller that you've been wanting to do and putting off. Maybe you want to start cooking at home more, or you're working on getting your first pull-up, push-up or pistol squat. Maybe it's learning a new language, starting a DIY project at home, or picking up a new instrument. Whatever you choose, make sure it's something you're interested in, you've thought about doing before, but you haven't yet (or didn't stick with it when you tried before). Commit to just starting for one month, and see if you can:
- Treat yourself the way you would treat a beloved friend, family member or child bravely trying something new.
- Allow yourself to do it, no matter how imperfectly, just for the sake of doing it.
See how this process can translate over to your big picture goals. Practice allowing "good enough" to be good enough. Let a first draft work as a starting point, an imperfect something. Give yourself something to build off of, and see how momentum takes hold and launches you into success.
Take these thoughts and apply them to just about anything: exercise, eating habits, learning a new skill, developing a new routine, working towards a big life change, career change, business startup, etc.
Looking for some support as you start laying out the groundwork for your future self? Click the link below to schedule your free consultation call with one of our coaches!