When Perfectionism Gets in the Way of Performance

When Perfection Gets in the Way of Performance

Do your ideals get in your way? Mine do. It happens all the time, and it starts with a well intentioned goal. 

I tell myself I’m going to workout three days per week. And, then I feel like a failure when I work out once, and sit in front of a computer for the rest of the time. 

Or, in an attempt to write more often, I set a goal to write one blog post per week. Then I stare frustrated into a folder of half finished blog posts, that continues to grow each day. 

What did I do wrong?

After all, these aren’t that lofty of ambitions. I’ve scaled them back over time, and tried to make them reasonable for my schedule. Yet, I’ve still struggled. So, where do I go from here?

Should I Quit Working Toward My Goals?

These smaller goals all stem from larger goals. They’re intended to create a staircase to my summit. In this case, those summit goals are to have a well-trafficked blog that connects with people, and to have a healthy body that allows me to enjoy my life. 

But if I keep failing on these smaller goals, what should I do? Should I just quit and say I’m hopeless? In my life I have no control. 

What do you think?

Let’s say you’ve planned a road trip to Yosemite National Park. You’ve charted out on a map the best path to get there. You hop in your car, and you drive for hours. And, then all of a sudden, what is this? There’s a closed road.

The park is still open, but you’ll have to find a different route. So, you decide to turn around and go home. You failed to pick the most efficient path possible, so you might as well quit. Cancel your holiday. You’ve failed. 

Or, maybe you decide to hit the gas. Road closed be damned. The throttle hits the floor, and you smash through the road closed sign, refusing to alter your course… only to find this path is not usable. 

Either of these examples are ridiculous. Yet, when we encounter obstacles toward our life goals, we sometimes behave in this way. 

  1. We give up because we can’t gain traction… we’re frustrated with failing. 
  2. We keep trying to achieve our goals with the same strategy… even though it’s not working. 

Rerouting Your Goals 

Neither of these methods are effective. Instead, to hit your goals, you need to reassess your strategy, and make it work for you. 

If you hit a road detour, it used to be that you had to pull out a map, and recalibrate your plans. Today, your phone will do all that for you. But, the path to our individual goals and destinations are seldom clear as a roadmap, and no technology is going to reroute the path for you.

We all want a roadmap to ourselves. But that doesn’t exist in the outside world. Instead you have to look within. And, when you do, you might find…

Perfection May Be the Answer

Perfection is an ugly beast that too frequently rears its head. It hides away, where you don’t even notice, and cannibalizes our best efforts, hollowing them out. It might be the reason you’re struggling to hit your goals. It’s usually the reason I fail to reach mine. 

With a perfectionist mindset, I decide I want to create a blog. I look at other blogs, and set lofty ambitions for what mine will become. I strategize and read about how to grow a blog. I spend hours perfecting my blog posts. 

But ultimately, I get nowhere. By aiming for perfection around every corner, I don’t get very far. Perfection, and idealism clouds the way. It slows my growth.

With a perfectionist mindset I decide I’m going to get into shape. I join a gym and read about all the best workouts I should be doing. I look at all the people hitting the gym every day, the body builders who spend hours at the gym. Then, I struggle to find the time. I can’t get into the gym for an hour every day. So, what’s the point? I make a crucial mistake.

In an attempt to gain perfection, I prevent myself from achieving progress. In reality, my idea of perfection is based on what I see others doing, and is inherently flawed anyways. Instead, I need to define my own success metric… that’s not perfection.   

Redefining What Success Means to You

Sometimes you need to redefine what success is. For me, it’s not a challenge to write good quality content. It’s a challenge to write more. Finding the time to write is the challenge.

The same goes for exercise. When I work out, I try hard, and work hard. But the challenge is building consistency.

So why am I aiming for perfection? It’s not really the metric that I need right now. I just need to build consistency. Because if I can consistently write, I’ll get better. If I can consistently exercise, I will become stronger. 

I need to redefine success. Perfection is not an achievable goal. It’s not measurable. But, consistency is measurable. So, rather than aiming for perfection, I focus on consistency. By doing that, the goal then becomes to eliminate anything that gets in the way of that consistency. And you know what usually gets in the way of consistency? 

You guessed it… perfection. That ugly bastard. 

So, here’s how my goals can be redefined to achieve success for me. Here’s how I rework my goals to align to achieve what I need to succeed. 

For writing, I remind myself to ignore perfection. Ignore the nasty gremlin on my shoulder that says “this isn’t good enough”, “you can’t push publish!”… “let’s work on this for 2 more weeks, then it will be good enough”. That voice is not helping me. Because, to find success, I don’t need perfection right now. I need consistency. 

Rather than creating hour long exercise programs, I scale it back to more reasonable time commitments. I aim for ten minutes of exercise, because that might be something I can achieve consistently on a day to day basis. When I think, “I should workout today”, I’m not intimidated by having to drive to the gym and lose an hour of my day. Instead, I think “I can handle ten minutes”. 

The goal is consistency. The goal is forward progress.

You can never achieve perfection. You can achieve progress. And, you can achieve a little of it every day. It’s far more sustainable than perfection. Plus, you’ll get far closer to perfection by orienting your focus on progress instead of perfection. 

When you aim for perfection, you are stuck in park. The last thing you want to do in life, is get stuck in park.

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