The Big Idea
You, by design, are beautifully imperfect.
Questions I Answer
- How do I know if I’m a perfectionist?
- How do I stop being a perfectionist?
- Is it bad to be a perfectionist?
- Does perfectionism cause me to be unproductive?
Key Topics in the Show
Why we go after perfectionism in the different areas of our lives and the cycle of it.
How learning from your mistakes creates a better system for yourself.
Signs and examples of how you can know if you’re a perfectionist.
Why we need to “stop smashing our marble jar.”
Tips to creating a healthier mindset instead of keeping the cycle of a perfectionist one.
How high-stress perfectionism can affect your mental health.
Resources and Links
- 5 Steps for Letting Go of Perfectionism:
- Stop referring to yourself or others as perfect or not perfect. We all have bits of perfectionism tendencies in us, but we’re all human, so you never have to apologize or defend yourself. You don’t have to judge yourself or others to this unattainable idea.
- Practice self-compassion. This allows you to give yourself the same understanding and kindness you give to others. Having compassion means you offer understanding and kindness when someone fails. Try to think of your mistakes as lessons. Allow yourself to make mistakes, because they give you opportunities to grow.
- Let go of the mindset, ‘I am what I accomplish, and how well I accomplish it.’ Authenticity is a practice that you choose every day by letting go of what other people think. Treat new opportunities, new experiences like a rough draft. It’s rare for someone to go and try something and do it extraordinarily well the first time. But trying something is the first step at being good at it.
- Do a reality check. Ask yourself these questions: Are my expectations attainable? Are my thoughts factual or are they interpretations? Am I jumping to conclusions? Is this situation really as bad as I’m making it out to be? Spoiler alert … It’s probably not. I am guilty of that a lot. Ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that could happen? How likely is that to happen? And here’s a great one. Will this matter in five years? At a pivotal moment in my life, will this moment actually matter? I’m guessing that a lot of times, you’ll answer no.
- Keep note of your accomplishments. Write down what you get done at the end of each day. You’ll start to feel more accomplished, regardless of whether those things turned out perfectly or not.
Hello, hello everyone. Welcome to Productivity Paradox. I’m your host, Tanya Dalton, and this is Episode 28. Today’s episode is sponsored by FreshBooks … A cloud-based accounting software, that’s designed with productivity in mind. It’s the easiest way to get paid quickly, and easily, if you’re a freelancer, or entrepreneur, and they’re giving you a free trial. I’ll share more about that, later on in the episode.
But let’s jump in to today’s topic. We are going to be talking about perfection. Now perfection is one of those things that we make light of. We coyly say that we’re a bit of a perfectionist, when we’re asked about our flaws in a job interview, or we laugh and say, we just have a certain way we want things done … My way. But true perfectionism, is rampant in many of our lives, and it can be debilitating.
As a former elementary school teacher, I would have these kids enter my classroom, and I could spot their perfectionism a mile away, and it became one of my biggest missions, as a classroom teacher … To help these kids walk away from that need for perfection. Why would I do that? Don’t most teachers love perfect students? Well, I made it my mission, because I would watch these kids, these great children to struggle to make every project perfect, every report perfect, every paper perfect, and when they got a 95, if there was anything out of line with their perfect vision, it was devastating, and because these kids are so much more transparent than we are as adults, you can really see the mental abuse that they would give to themselves, when they failed.
It’s that same self talk many of us secretly say to ourselves. We’re adults so we’re just really good at hiding it, and yeah, I said, “Us”, because I do it too. That little voice in our head says, the ugliest things to us. Things we would never say to anyone else. We think nothing of doing that to ourselves, especially if you’re a perfectionist. So, for my students, and as their teacher, it wasn’t about them doing their best work, which was really what I wanted from them. It was about setting themselves up for something unattainable. I would even, as the teacher in the front of the classroom, purposely make mistakes, so they could see me failing. So, I could laugh, and tell them, “Well, at least you know I’m not a robot. No-one’s perfect.” I often tell my own children, that there are no perfect people, just one man in the history of the world has been perfect, but he was not like us.
So, what do I mean when I talk about perfectionism? I’m gonna borrow heavily from Renee Brown, for a few minutes. Renee is a perfectionism expert, and she’s the author of, Gifts of Imperfection. She says, “Perfectionism is a self-destructive, and addictive belief system, that fuels the primary thought. If I look perfect, live perfectly, and do everything perfectly, I can avoid or minimize the painful feelings of shame,
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judgment, and blame.” I love what she says there. She calls perfectionism the 20 ton shield that many of us carry around, and we do that because we think that will protect us, and really that big heavy shield, it’s the thing that’s preventing us from really being seen, and going further, and pursuing those big things we really want to do. Perfectionism is not the same as self-improvement, or wanting to be your best. It’s about managing your reputation, and being focused on pleasing others, rather than pleasing yourself. So, when you think of it like that, it seems like, why are any of us perfectionists? Right? Why do we seek perfectionism?
Well, throughout our lives, there is this pressure to be the best at whatever we do. There’s a competitive nature to win, and be in first place. We’re shown perfection in ways that don’t actually exist in reality … Airbrushed and photoshopped models, photos of perfect homes, that probably only look perfect in that one moment, that that image was shot. Images of perfect food that’s really, in reality, completely inedible, and if any of you are in the restaurant industry and you’ve been to a photo shoot, you know what I’m talking about. Don’t get me started on the Pinterest feed, and how that feeds our need and desire to be something that is unattainable … Perfect. We are shown that failure, is not an option.
It’s not a black or white thing here. There’s a lot of gray. It’s not pass or fail, perfectionism or failure. There is reality in the middle. The message though, that we’re seeing in most of our advertising, is that you are not good enough, and it’s a cycle. The worse we feel about ourselves, the more we feel the need to be perfect, because we fear our imperfections, that will expose us as failures. That’s what we believe, and it just continues on and on. I think one of the things that’s hardest, about perfectionism, is that sometimes this pressure to be perfect, is not just internal. There is so much pressure from other people, to do things exactly right. To always do it perfectly. To never have a mistake. You can’t make a mistake or else people will think nothing, of jumping all over you, or judging you. Trust me, I know this from personal experience, and I’m willing to bet, you do too.
Recently, there was a story that circulated about a recent college graduate who, on the first day of his job as a junior software developer, made a copy and paste error, and inadvertently erased all of the data, from the company’s production database, and apparently, the CTO of the company told him to pack his bags, and don’t even bother coming back. Worst case scenario, right? It’s stories like this, that really make us fearful of going out there, and being fallible of showing our flaws, but I think what’s important to know is this … A lot of times the people who are willing to jump all over others for their mistakes and their imperfections, are really looking to fill voids in themselves, or they’re looking to feel superior, because of their own imperfections.
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For example, with the case I just mentioned, why didn’t the company have systems in place that backed up that database? Why was it possible for an entry level position to even edit a database like this, and instead of taking accountability for their poor security features, or their unclear onboarding process, they fired the poor rookies, who revealed these issues. If they learn from those mistakes, that were clearly already present, before this person was even hired, they would have a much more cohesive system, and rather than holding this poor guy to a perfectionistic standard, they should have understood their processes needed a little more help. So, you can see what perfectionism is an issue. Not just internally, but externally as well. So, are you a perfectionist? Some people think that they don’t struggle with perfectionism. They point to things like OCD tendencies, and say that it’s not like them. An obsessive compulsive disorder, is not perfectionism. It’s a serious disorder, and it’s not to be confused with perfectionism.
So, how do you know if you’re a perfectionist, or rather, you know, have some perfectionism tendencies? Well, here’s a couple of ideas. You feel weighed down by your goals, with a sense or a feeling that you won’t succeed, or do as well as you’d like. So, you anticipate the perfect moment to do something, which means you really just end up procrastinating, and then because there’s a definite correlation, between this self-imposed perfectionism, and procrastination, you just don’t get things done. One study even suggests that most procrastination stems, in part, from the anticipation of disapproval … The fear of not being perfect. Nothing’s ever enough, and you constantly feel dissatisfied, with what you’ve created, or what you’ve even achieved. Maybe you’re even obsessing with correcting small mistakes, even when they have no real impact, on the big picture, and often times, it’s at the expense of your true priorities. You know, you beat yourself up, over every single failure, even if it’s a teeny, tiny mistake, and rather than using mistakes to learn from, you feel an intense regret, even for ones that have long passed. You maybe are extremely hard on yourself, especially when something goes wrong, no matter how big, or how small, there’s no room for error, in anything you do. You always spot mistakes, when those around you, don’t see any. Sometimes those mistakes are real, and maybe even sometimes, they’re a little bit self-imagined. Does any of that sound like you?
Because all of that, is part of being a perfectionist, or having some perfectionism tendencies, and we really need to let go of perfection. I talk about the marble jar, and you’ve probably heard me say it before, but I believe we have a marble jar that lives inside of our heads. Now, a marble jar, for those of you who are not aware of what that means, is something that we use as teachers, to encourage good behavior in the classroom. So, every time the students do something well, a marble goes into the jar. PE teacher says, “You did a good job.” Marble in the jar. The kids do a really good job lining up, after recess. Marble in the jar. Once the marble jar gets full, there’s some sort of reward, or treat. Well, I believe, as adults, we have a marble jar inside our heads. You just can’t see it. We get up in the morning, and we
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work out. All right, marble in the jar. We make a healthy breakfast for our family. Good work. Marble in the jar. We go to work, and our boss tells us we did a great job on a project. Marble in the jar. Marble in the jar. Marble in the jar. Over and over again, throughout the day.
All these little wins. All these little marbles are going in our jar, and they’re adding up, and then the end of the day comes, and we make it all the way home, and we realize we have no groceries. We have nothing to make for dinner. So, instead of looking right then, and thinking, Well, I really screwed that up. No marble in the jar. We take that jar, we take that jar that’s full of marbles that we have filled all day long, and we take that jar, and we smash it against the wall. There are marbles everywhere. They is shattered glass. It’s a mess, and we no longer look at all those marbles. All those little wins we had throughout the day … All we can see is nothing. We feel like we have failed. We have to stop smashing our marble jar. We have to stop looking at our day, based off of one small mistake, or one failure, and instead, count those wins.
Start adding up those marbles in your jar, and stop smashing it against the wall, when you make one teeny, tiny mistake. Even if things went perfectly, there are many times that we still don’t feel satisfied. We don’t look at that marble jar, and reward ourselves at the end. We are not perfect, and we’re not in control of most things. You don’t have to be perfect, to be worthy. You don’t look at your children, at your friend, or your pets, and you don’t say, “Well, you’re not perfect, but I love you anyways.” You’re not blind to their flaws, but their worth doesn’t hinge on the concept of perfectionism, but we think nothing of doing that to ourselves, to holding ourselves up to this impossible vision of what we should be, what we should look like, or who we are. Don’t hold your worth to the concept of perfection.
Perfection can lead to analysis paralysis. So, you miss all the opportunities, because you’re too afraid to put anything into the world that’s imperfect. So, you’re paralyzed by your high standards. If you’re a leader in your business, or your workplace, or in your home, your vision narrows to constantly refining the same things over and over again, to make them perfect, instead of introducing new things. So, those around you, become afraid of taking risks themselves, because they don’t want to be seen as failures. They stop asking for help, because they don’t want to be viewed as a weakness, and on, and on. It’s a cycle, and it just spreads and continues.
Perfectionism is about being perceived as perfect, so you’re constantly spinning the story to control other’s perceptions, which is exhausting. When in reality, we’re all imperfect. But it’s not just that. Perfectionism can cost you even more than you think. According to a Trinity Western University study, published in the Journal of Health Psychology, those with the highest need for perfection, had a 51% increased risk of earlier death, compared to those with low perfectionism scores, and this is
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because of the high stress perfectionists, put on themselves. That’s amazing, right? So, not only is it affecting your mental health, but also your physical health as well.
So, I want to talk about the five steps to let go of perfection, and I want to cover that in just a few seconds, because first, I want to give you a really, really quick word about our sponsor. So, let’s talk about FreshBooks. I love their accounting software. I’ve said it … I’m not a big accountant, but I love their cloud accounting software. They’ve designed it, so it’s not only ridiculously easy to use, but it makes your workday even more productive. It’s easy to create professional looking invoices, in less than 30 seconds, and you can even set up online payments, with just a couple of clicks. I love how it takes the stress, and the extra work, out of keeping on top of your finances, if you run a business. Customers who use FreshBooks, save an average of two whole business days worth of work, each month. Thanks to the simple streamlined process, and you know I love that. What’s great about FreshBooks, is they have generously offered a free unrestricted trial, for my listeners. So, just head to freshbooks.com/paradox and in that section that says, How did you find us? Type in Productivity Paradox. They’ll take care of you.
Okay, let’s get back to talking about perfectionism, because I want to talk about the five steps to let go of perfectionism. Are we ready? Don’t worry about taking notes on this. I am going to have all of this listed out in the show notes, so if you go to inkwellpress.com/podcasts, and you look under Episode 28, you’re gonna see these listed there.
Okay, step number one … Stop referring to yourself or others, as perfect, or not perfect. This was one of the first things I dumped from my vocabulary, when I became a teacher, and it’s a word I really work hard to avoid using now, with my own children. I don’t want them to ever feel they have to live up to a standard of perfection. It’s not attainable, and I don’t want them to think it’s my expectation, and I can tell you that this works, because when they see me beating myself up, which happens, they throw my words about perfection, right back in my face. I like to think about it as accountability, but I think they really just like to bust me. We all have these little bit of perfectionism tendencies in us, I think, and my kids like to point that out, and they remind me, that you know, I am not perfect, and you know what? They’re right when they do. I love that they see that in me, and they see that struggle, because then they know that they are okay, if they struggle with it too. We’re all human, so you never have to apologize or defend yourself. You don’t have to judge yourself or others, to this unattainable idea. So, that’s step one.
Step two … Practice self-compassion. This allows you to give yourself the same understanding and kindness, you give to others. Having compassion means you offer understanding and kindness, when someone fails or make a mistake, and it’s okay to offer that compassion to yourself. Realize you are not alone. You are not the only
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person suffering, or making mistakes. All of us are humans. We all suffer. We all make mistakes. Having self-compassion, is recognizing that this is a shared human experience. So, try to think of your mistakes as lessons. Allow yourself to make mistakes, because they give you opportunities to grow, and learn, and at the same time, we’re recognizing our emotions, trying not to get swept up in reacting to them, being mindful of them, and feeling compassion for you.
The third thing you can do is, let go of the mindset, I am what I accomplish, and how well I accomplish it. Authenticity is a practice that you choose every day, by letting go of what other people think. Many times, this is the thing that keeps us from trying new things, because we know that when we start, well, we’re gonna suck, probably right? So, treat new opportunities, new experiences, treat it like a rough draft. Everyone stinks at something the first time they try it. It’s very rare for someone to go and try something, and do it extraordinarily well the first time. But trying something is the first step at being good at it. So, I want to encourage you to let go of that mindset, of you’re only what you accomplish and how well you accomplish it.
The fourth step is do a reality check. Ask yourself these questions. Are my expectations attainable? Are my thoughts factual, or are they interpretations? Am I jumping to conclusions? Is this situation really as bad as I’m making it out to be? Spoiler alert … It’s probably not. I am guilty of that a lot. Ask yourself, what’s the worst thing that could happen? How likely is that to happen? And here’s a great one. Will this matter in five years? At a pivotal moment in my life, will this moment actually matter? I’m guessing that a lot of times, you’ll answer no.
The fifth step, is keep note of your accomplishments. Write down what you get done, at the end of each day. You’ll start to feel more accomplished, regardless of whether those things turned out perfectly, or not.
I feel so strongly about this practice, that I’ve even created a product around this process. It’s called, Our Daily Download. I suffer from perfectionism. See … No judgment from me on this. But I found that I would, in my days, feeling like I got nothing accomplished, but when I take one minute, sixty seconds, to really think through my entire day, and write down a word or two about the things I had done, I could look at that list, and I felt almost a sense of relief. I had gotten things done, that I had worked hard, and I deserve to feel good. At the end of the day, it boils down to the fact, that we are human. We are designed to make mistakes. We all need to extend a little grace to others, and to ourselves, to allow ourselves to walk away from perfection. Don’t confuse perfection, with doing your best work. They’re not mutually exclusive. Your best work, no matter how hard you try, will be imperfect, because you, by design, are beautifully imperfect.
So, I hope this little pep talk today, has helped, that I’ve given you some strategies and some ideas, on how you can walk away from perfectionism, because I
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know personally, what a struggle this can be, and I believe, that walking away from perfection, is the first step in really creating good systems for yourselves. Now, next week, I am excited to talk to you about batching your tasks.
So, make sure you tune in next Tuesday, for our episode when we’ll be talking all about strategies on batching your tasks, and getting the work done, that’s important to you. Remember, if you want to go over those five steps I talked about, or anything else in this episode, you can find it in my show notes, which are at inkwellpress.com/podcasts, under Episode 28.
Alright, I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions or comments, feel free to contact us. You can post questions at inkwellpress.com/questions, and I’ll be happy to answer those on an Ask Tanya episode, or you can connect with me on social media, using the username, @inkwellpress.
Alright, until next time … Happy planning.
**This transcript is created by AI, so please excuse any typos, misspellings and grammar mistakes.
Tanya Dalton is a woman who loves helping other women be more productive. She is a keynote speaker, workshop facilitator on the topics of productivity, time management, goals, and purpose.