As an entrepreneur, you have to be driven, passionate, and always aim as high as possible. That’s why sometimes, perfection can be beneficial. It encourages us to always put in 110 percent. Keep in mind there’s also the dark side of perfectionism. Instead of wanting to do the best you can, you keep raising the bar higher and higher. There are nine specific ways to stop perfectionism in its tracks.
Eventually, your expectations are so unrealistic that you fail. In turn, this pushes you to try even harder. Next thing you know, you’re in a vicious cycle of failure and shame.
Perfectionism prevents you from improving and discovering new opportunities. And, it also wrecks your productivity since you’re spending too much time second-guessing yourself. In short, it’s a terrible trait that can do serious damage to your business, relationships, and health.
Nine ways that you can finally stop perfectionism in its tracks.
I know that this may sound a bit out there. After all, we entrepreneurs pride ourselves on never throwing in the towel and digging our heels in. But, Erin Dougherty has a valid point over at Tiny Buddha.
“When we surrender to the moment, to change, to messiness or imperfection, we allow the seeds of excellence to grow,” writes Dougherty. “Excellence is that drive toward raising ourselves up to our own highest good, thereby allowing our unique gifts, talents, and personalities to benefit the highest good of all.”
Here’s the best thing about excellence. It helps push us “to act, think, relate, and create from the highest part of ourselves.” Perfectionism, on the other hand, is attempting “to control the outcome to receive love and acceptance.”
The reason behind this is that we’re afraid. As Katherine Keller points out in a previous Entrepreneur article, “The paralyzing pursuit of perfection is rooted in fear.” It’s “the fear of making a mistake, the fear of disappointing others, embarrassing ourselves and feeling unworthy.”
However, if you let go and surrender, then you’re able to accept “where we are at in any moment, knowing that we are a work in progress,” adds Dougherty. Additionally, this not only helps us get centered, but it also invites self-forgiveness. Self-forgiveness is “an act all perfectionists need to practice daily.”
2. Set goals that you’ll actually reach.
I know that we expect the best possible outcomes in both business and life. That’s why entrepreneurs are continually learning and growing. But, that doesn’t mean you have to be perfect to achieve the goals you set.
Instead of wasting your time and energy on the impossible, establish realistic goals. Because that may sound a bit vague, here’s where you can start, according to Calendar’s Choncé Maddox.
- Before setting new goals and expectations, take the time to examine what contributed to your past successes and failures.
- Limit yourself to only creating one to three SMART goals.
- Determine your “why” to keep you motivated.
- Have a plan to bounce back if you experience any setbacks.
- Break up any larger goals in smaller and more manageable chunks.
- Always track your progress and hold yourself accountable.
3. Welcome feedback.
It’s taken me a while to get here, but I’ve learned that if you want to become more successful in life, you have to embrace feedback. It’s not always the easiest thing to do — particularly when you’re a perfectionist since it means that you could have done better. But it’s one of the best ways to learn and grow.
Of course, as Nicole Williams perfect puts it in a Medium post, accepting criticism is “a hard pill to swallow.” How can you welcome constructive criticism? The first step is not to take the feedback personally. While this is a normal reaction, you need to realize that others aren’t attacking you to be malicious. In reality, they want you to succeed.
Williams also suggests that you listen instead of responding with a defense. Also, consider whether or not the proposed improvements are in your control. And, don’t be afraid to store this info and use it in the future.
4. Remove yourself from the competition.
Most perfectionists are incredibly competitive. If you fall into this group, then why make life any harder then it has to be. Instead, stop surrounding yourself with other highly competitive people who also want to be the best. Therese J. Borchard writes on PsychCentral that you should “choose your friends and your groups wisely.” For example, join a more supportive professional organization as opposed to competitive ones.
What if you can’t avoid a competitive situation? Borchard recommends that “you need to make some rules.” For example, let’s say that you’re feeling insecure. Instead of visiting the Entrepreneur homepage to see if you’re article is included in the most popular, do something more productive like writing in your gratitude journal.
5. Use “hypothesis testing.”
The “hypothesis testing” technique may force you outside of your comfort zone. But, as Martin M. Antony, Ph.D. writes in his book “When Perfect Isn’t Good Enough: Strategies for Coping with Perfectionism,” it’s an “excellent way to test the accuracy of your perfectionistic thoughts. You look at the predictions and carry out small experiments.
So what’s this process called? It’s known as hypothesis testing. And, it simply involves conducting “carefully designed experiments” that give you “an opportunity to disprove your perfectionistic beliefs.” For example, try leaving out some details in a report. “Regardless of the outcome, you will obtain valuable information.” And, if there aren’t any consequences, “you will learn that your beliefs about the importance of including all of the details are not true.”
You could also start much smaller, like not proofreading an email or blog post before submitting it. You don’t want to make a costly error. But, the chances are that whatever mistake(s) you created are so minor that no one will probably notice. But, the bigger picture is that this will help you realize that the world will keep spinning regardless if you’re perfect or no.
6. Stop ruminating.
What exactly is rumination? According to Rebecca Knight in a piece for the Harvard Business Review, it’s the tendency to “repetitively mul[l] over a thought or problem without ever coming to a resolution.” It’s not only”unhealthy, but” it’s also an “unproductive” perfectionist behavior that prevents us from solving problems. The best way to thwart ruminating is to identify your triggers. This way, you can find the best ways to break the rumination cycle.
Alice Boyes, a former clinical psychologist, suggests to HBR that one way to accomplish this is to do a mundane but “practical task … that ‘breaks the chain” for ten minutes. If you’re stuck in the past, then Boyes recommends that you put some time between yourself and the episode. Hopefully, this will allow you to gain a new perspective.
If you find yourself dwelling on a past event, Boyes suggests taking some time to distance yourself from the episode. Gain perspective, as your initial reaction may not be trustworthy. Finally, she recommends adopting a positive mind to combat the notion that something that is not perfect is not worth doing, and avoid ruminating over the looming task.
7. Be more selective.
“The biggest obstacle for the perfectionist is letting good enough be good enough,” time management expert Julie Morgenstern told Fast Company. “A perfectionist doesn’t even know what it means — to not be perfect. They don’t know what good enough is. It’s an all-or-nothing way of evaluating things,” she adds. “Work is amazing or a disaster.”
Morgenstern uses a technique called “Max, Mod, Min” to strike a balance between being good and perfect. And, it works something like this.
Before jumping into a task, jot down what the maximum you could do for that task will be. Also, write down the minimum and the moderate as well.
“This allows you to break black-and-white thinking,” says Morgenstern. “You can find options to right-size an approach for any task or circumstance. Defining three levels of performance for a task builds edges that help you move forward.”
8. Enjoy the process.
“Perfectionists measure success and self-worth by their achievements, but when we put so much emphasis on the outcome, we sometimes miss out on enjoying the process,” says Sharon Martin, LCSW .”Try doing things for the experience, for fun, or because you’ve always wanted to try them, not because you’re good at them or to please others.”
Additionally, when you focus on the process, it “takes the pressure away from the results. It’s not just about whether you win, or get a promotion, or are praised,” adds Martin. “Some things are worth doing, even if the outcome is imperfect.”
They say that you can’t be a perfectionist and be an entrepreneur. I’d say that you can be a perfectionist and an entrepreneur, but you get cranky, you get an ulcer, your hair can fall out, you become nervous. The best thing about all of the entrepreneur processes — even late in life — is that you can always work toward change. Difficult, but possible.
The next thing that is great about the entrepreneur process is that no matter what you struggle with — you are not alone. Many entrepreneurs have the same feeling you do and we help each other.
Finally, a great way to stop perfectionism in its track is to become more self-aware when entering this state. Of course, this isn’t the easiest of tasks since it feels healthy for perfectionists to be self-critical.
However, life coach Melissa Escaro suggests that you, “Notice how your body feels when you are working on a project. Are you feeling tension, stiffness, or even aches in your body?” If you weren’t already aware, stress could manifest itself in several different physical ailments. Even worse, we can experience them daily. And, if left unchecked, stress can lead to fatal consequences.
It sounds easy. But, one way to de-stress and feel better is to stop being your own worst enemy. Take a moment and take inventory of thoughts when you’re in this state.
For example, Escaro feels “nervous and very judgmental, and I doubt my work by double, triple, and quadruple checking it.” She also experiences “frustration and anxiety physically with tightness in my chest and shallow breathing, and mentally I am non-productive.”
“When you notice you are experiencing symptoms stemming from perfectionism, stop it in its tracks!,” says Escaro. “Be honest, accountable for what you are experiencing, and go back to your intention to remind you to be gentle on yourself. You may have to repeat this often at first, with the ultimate goal of you accepting yourself for being you.”
Editor-in-Chief at Calendar. Former Editor-in-Chief and writer at Startup Grind. Freelance editor at Entrepreneur.com. Deanna loves to help build startups, and guide them to discover the business value of their online content and social media marketing.