How to Get it Done When it’s not Perfectly Right

Perfectionism is a pain in the Glutis Maximus. The reason is that perfectionists obsess unnecessarily about the details of a decision, sweat the uncertainties of the situation, at times miss deadlines, turn themselves into emotional pretzels, and kill themselves with worry.

Here are some perfectionism changing behaviors to help you reduce stress and execute on tasks with greater efficiency.

1.  Aim for Excellence not Perfection

Recently I asked a leader why her perfectionism was a problem for her?’ The answer she flashed back was, “You can never achieve it”.

“So why do you set the bar of performance so unbelievably high for yourself?”I asked. 

What she said next was telling about the burden she put on herself (and others). “As a woman leader I have to work twice as hard as a man to be recognized by senior leadership. I also am trying to avoid being criticized for anything short of perfection”.

That was a lot of self-awareness packed into a few words. She had nailed the WHYof her condition. However, she was stuck on HOWshe could move on from her self-paralysis.

Here are some ways she adopted to exit her hamster wheel.

No matter what you do you will be criticized.In fact not to be criticized is a dangerous place to be in. So welcome criticism either as a course correction or an affirmation that you are on the right track.

Aim for excellence insteadbecause it factors in the learning curve introduced by our mistakes. A friend of mine who was struggling to complete her doctoral dissertation was told by her professor, “Get it done but not perfectly right. Remember this is a exercise to get you to graduate not a monument that you are building”.

Focus on what you have done welland look forward to the improvement that you can make. A friend of mine who is on the Board of Directors of a non-profit organization routinely asks her fellow Directors “How can we do better next time?” Continuous improvement trumps aiming for perfection.

Excellence gives one a set of high standards not the impossible bar of perfectionism. It also builds on a set of best practices that ensures a job well done.

2.  Focus on Reflection not Rumination

A perfectionist shows his/her true colors at those “two in the morning” moments. Here sleep is disrupted by “stinking thinking”episodes. Thoughts rattle around one’s head like a BB in an empty rail car. You seem powerless to make them stop and then add insult to injury by telling yourself “I am going to be a mess tomorrow at work because I’m not sleeping”

 Such a thought disability is called rumination

For disclosure purposes I suffer from this condition myself from time to time.

Here are some of the solutions that I have personally used and recommended to others. 

Plunge your head in a bowl of icy water. This shocking intervention dramatically interrupts your restless thought patterns. It actually works. It’s like a self-inflicted slap in the face wake up moment.

Declare yourself temporarily insanewhich in that moment you are. Then tell yourself that your disabling perspective will emerge right side up in the morning at sunrise and you’ve had your two cups of coffee. Don’t be amygdala driven. That seat of the emotions in our brain can be an unruly critter. So, wait for morning to come and use other more rational parts of your noggin.Q

The ultimate cure for automatic and unconscious rumination is intentional reflection. This is the learned ability to step back from our disabling (and also effective) behaviors. It is the heart of leadership and personal success. Here we create rest stops on the rushed journey of life to reconstitute and take a breather. It is in those moments of reflection that we shift from not ready, fire, don’t aim to “this is what I really need to do”.

What is you ‘recover from perfectionism’ best practice?

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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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