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How to Stop Perfectionism from Ruining your Life

Was that good or do I need a ninth take? I kind of feel like I was talking too fast like I was stressed. I’m not stressed! Was I hunching? I think if I sit up a bit straighter it’ll look better. I really don’t like this lighting though, that’s for sure. If only it wasn’t so bloody dark here in City, my shots would look way better. Maybe I should just put off making videos until I’ve taken speaking lessons and my back is straighter and the lighting is better. I’m sure that would make my videos perfect.

What do you think when you hear the word, ”Perfect?” Acing a test? Drawing right inside the lines? Putting your art out there and not getting a single bad review? If I ask you to name the order of the planets in our solar system, starting nearest the sun, and you do just that, is that then a perfect answer? or is it just the right answer? Is it both? Could something be wrong, yet perfect? Perhaps, sometimes, perfect is more about how something feels, rather than what it actually is.

When I think of perfect, I think this morning. Waking up just early enough to where I have a moment of complete silence. It’s the weekend, so the streets are so quiet. I think of this cup of coffee. Not because it’s the best cup I’ve ever had, but because, at this moment, it just sits right. The thought of “How it could’ve been Better” doesn’t even cross my mind.

When I think of perfect, I think of this pen. It does have its flaws; It’s made out of plastic; the ink doesn’t come out sometimes and it’s not the prettiest. But it’s silky smooth to write with and it makes me feel like less of a muggle. I couldn’t really ask for anything more out of a pen. I also take the price into consideration; it was pretty damn cheap. So, perhaps when we determine whether something is perfect, we need to take other factors into consideration, such as cost, and perhaps the time and effort invested. What would happen if I got a pen that didn’t have those “flaws?”

Would that pen then be perfect, and would my current pen cease to be perfect, or can several things be perfect at once, but in different ways? Can anything be perfect at all, or is that just an impossible standard we set to have something guide us? How the hell does one find the perfect (oh the irony) balance between having high standards, being a high-achiever, and all that kind of stuff, without turning into a stressed-out, anxious, miserable person who never feels satisfied?

In other words: what’s a healthy and balanced way of dealing with Perfectionism? “Perfectionist” isn’t amongst the top 5 words I’d use to describe myself, but it is something that I’ve dealt with and still deal with in some areas of my life, and it usually looks something like: I have this vision of an ideal, oftentimes I can’t even articulate exactly what that ideal looks like, yet when I fall short to match it (it just doesn’t feel quite right) I feel deeply unsatisfied. Now, I’d like to note that I don’t have all the answers to these questions. I’m just trying to navigate these things just like everyone else to find ways that work for me.

And the things I’m about to talk about have been written about by authors whose work, including James Clear’s book “Atomic Habits” which I think everyone should read. Now, there are really only two simple concepts that I’d like to discuss, starting with:

Outcome vs Process:

“When you think about your goals, don’t just consider the outcome you want. Focus on the repetitions that lead to that place. Focus on the piles of work that come before.” – James Clear

For instance, I’ve been wanting to start my writing website for over a year. Do you want to guess why I didn’t? Because I kept thinking that I didn’t have the perfect idea for it and that my writing wasn’t good enough and what if I don’t have anything to write about. I finally started my website a few weeks ago, not because I suddenly got a perfect idea or because I took a writing course, or because I moved to a different country so suddenly, I had all this inspiration for stories to tell.

Well, one reason for starting was because I wanted to create a little community, where I can reach you all directly, but mainly because I decided to focus more on the process of writing and learning and becoming better and getting feedback and making mistakes, instead of thinking, “Each week, I’ll need to send out a perfectly written, interesting, thought-provoking, well-researched article, and if I fail to do that, then I suck”.

As for not having a perfect idea or not knowing what to write about, here’s what I think a lot of people, myself included, get wrong sometimes: ideas usually don’t pop up in our head when we want them to. Most of the time, they appear when we’re actively doing. Like, the only way to become a better writer, is to write. And the more I write, the more I have to write about.

And this can be applied to basically anything. When I focus more on the process of, for example, writing, rather than the end result of my work, I’m less fearful of things not going exactly according to plan, and I’m able to enjoy what I’m doing a lot more, and both those things pretty much exclusively lead to me creating better work, at the very least in the long run. If I were to just sit around, waiting for the stars to align, before getting to work, I’d be waiting forever. The stars got other things to do. Now, this often goes hand in hand with:

Quantity over Quality:

Which to any Perfectionist sounds absolutely terrifying. As James Clear wrote,

“It’s not the quest to achieve one perfect goal that makes you better, it’s the skills you develop from doing a volume of work.”

I’ve always thought “quality” over “quantity”, and I still find myself leaning that way. But there’s definitely something to be said about quantity over quality. Now, I wouldn’t interpret it as mindlessly throwing out shitty work, but rather, as we just talked about, I’d interpret it as acknowledging the fact that the more you do something, the better you’ll become at it. Now, I’d like to briefly talk about something that I think we oftentimes forget in the pursuit of whatever it is that we’re pursuing, especially when we’re outcome-focused, and that is to enjoy ourselves. Like, if I can’t find a single enjoyable aspect of something that I’m doing, whether that’s writing a script or filming a video, or doing yoga, it makes everything feel heavier.

And for some reason, it makes me more nitpicky, and I’m more likely to get into a negative spiral of feeling inadequate and like I’m not good enough or that my work isn’t good enough. Now, I don’t want to get into this one too much, because I feel like it could be its own separate post, but if I could share one small piece of advice, it is:

Wrapped Up:

Understand the power of your words and pick them carefully. If I sit down to write and think “I need to write this script till Friday”, I’m already off to a bad start. It feels heavy and boring and like an obligation. If I instead think, I want to learn more about topic x and write about it” that makes me feel more excited and encouraged to sit down and start, and it makes the process feel more like something I’ve chosen to do, rather than this heavy burden that needs to be done.

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